20 First Steps to a Real Food Diet

20 First Steps to a Real Food Diet - RichlyRooted.com

If someone told me that they wanted to eat a real food diet but didn’t know where to start, this post is what I’d tell them.

These 20 first steps to a real food diet aren’t hard or esoteric, but they do require new habits and a mental shift. As you implement these steps, your appreciation for food is going to go miles deeper than it is now–and you will love the way you feel when you eat real, unprocessed food!

Two things before we get started: 1.) This list isn’t exhaustive. Maybe I’ll do Part 2 sometime! 2.) There’s a free printable for you at the end of this post!

1. Learn

Before you begin changing up what you eat and buy, dig in to some good books and documentaries on real food. You’ll get a better sense of what kind of diet you should be aiming for, and why it’s important. Some of my favorite book resources are Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck, and Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food by Catherine Shanahan and Luke Shanahan. A few good documentaries are Food, Inc. and Fresh. You can check your library or Netflix for these, but the books in particular are worth owning!

2. Make a list of top ingredients to avoid

There’s a lot to learn about which ingredients are good and which are unhealthy. So, pick a few that you especially want to avoid, and just focus on steering clear of those. You can add more to the list later. Some big ones to avoid are MSG, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, artificial food coloring, soybean oil, hydrogenated oil and partially-hydrogenated oil.

3. Cut back on sugar

Find the three areas where you have the highest sugar intake and eliminate the sources or downsize them. Juice, Coke, snacks, and store bought desserts are common culprits. Here are 7 things we did to reduce our sugar intake.

4. Focus on ingredient labels, not nutrition facts

The research you did in step 1 taught you that not all fats and calories are the same. Shift your focus to the ingredient list and put items back on the shelf if you don’t recognize the names or if you see ingredients that you’ve blacklisted.

5. Switch your snacks

We keep only healthy snacks on hand, so if we get hungry, healthy is the only option. For snacks, we usually eat almonds, natural peanut butter, bananas, a glass of milk, yogurt with honey, quesadillas, carrot sticks, or leftovers. Here’s a list of 100 healthy snack ideas from Red and Honey.

raw milk

6. See if there is raw milk in your area

Switching to raw milk was one of my favourite real food steps. That stuff is GOOD! I wrote about raw milk in this post, and this one. Check the state-by-state listings and rules for raw milk HERE.

7. Make your own yogurt

Probiotics are a must for healthy diet! Store bought yogurt cups sneak extra sweeteners and artificial colours into your diet. Making yogurt at home is easy and frugal, and gives you complete control over the ingredient list. There’s no special equipment required–you can make it in the crock pot or on the stove top! Once you’ve mastered yogurt, you might also want to look into kefir!

8. Switch out your oils

Canola, soy, and vegetable oil are bad news. Use virgin coconut oil instead. We also use peanut or grapeseed oil on occasion. Extra virgin olive oil is great when used raw or for light sauteing, but high heat will damage it.

9. Buy meat on the bone

I hope your eventual goal is pastured meat, but in the meantime, buy bone-in meat and whole chickens from the grocery store. They have more flavour and nutrition than white meat or processed chicken tenders.

10. Make bone broth

Save the bones from your meat to make stock! Fill a crock pot with bones, cover with water and a splash of raw apple cider vinegar, and let simmer 8-24 hours. Use the nutritionally-rich broth as the base for soups or sauces, or to cook rice in.

11. Buy pastured eggs

Eggs from chickens raised outdoors are better nutritionally than eggs from battery-raised chickens. Pastured eggs are usually more expensive than store bought eggs (the cheapest I’ve seen them here is $2.50/doz.), but they’re worth “investing” in! You can find them at the farmer’s market or from local homesteaders on Craigslist. To be honest, we’re still working on this step and usually buy regular (although locally-sourced) eggs from Aldi. We have started buying pastured eggs to make our own mayonnaise, though!

12. Change your salt

As you do research, you’ll learn that the main “talked about” real food salt options are Himalayan pink salt, Celtic sea salt, and Real Salt, which is what we use.

13. Buy butter instead of margarine

It’s an easy step; just put a different item in your cart! Someday I’m going to write a post called “Margarine: Evil, Gross, and if They Didn’t Dope it Up with Food Colorings, it Would Be Grey.” Or something along those lines.

14. Use unbleached white flour and white whole wheat flour

Somewhere down the road you can grind your own wheat berries, but for starters, just change the flour you buy at the grocery store! When you need white flour for a recipe, buy unbleached. Start incorporating more whole wheat into your baked goods using white whole wheat flour, (made from white wheat berries) since it has a milder, lighter taste than whole wheat flour made from red wheat berries.

Vegetables for Breakfast - RichlyRooted.com

15. Eat way more vegetables

Buy more vegetables, and eat your way through them before they go bad. It’s hard to get enough vegetables in one day, so incorporate them into every meal! Here are some ideas for eating vegetables for breakfast.

16. Use half-and-half or cream instead of coffee creamer

I really used to like flavoured coffee creamers until I learned what the ingredient list meant. Use straight-up dairy instead, and add your own flavourings with almond or vanilla extract or a dash of nutmeg. If you can’t do dairy, try almond milk.

17. Stop buying salad dressing

Like the coffee creamer, it’s just gross. Save some money by making your own dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Here’s a simple recipe for red raspberry dressing.

Rapadura, A Natural Sweetener - RichlyRooted.com

18. Use wholesome sweeteners

Learn about raw honey, rapadura/sucanat, and blackstrap molassesOnly use white sugar if a recipe truly “needs it.” (I determined that this gooey butter cake needed it!)

19. Buy nitrate-free breakfast meat

Even if you haven’t found a local meat farmer to buy pastured meat from, you can get nitrate-free meat in almost any grocery store! Look for the Hormel natural line of uncured bacon and lunchmeat. There’s a nitrate-free hotdog brand, too, but the name is skipping my mind.

20. Stop using mixes

Making a dish from a mix isn’t really making it from scratch. Save money by ditching the mixes for cake, muffins, salad dressing, pancakes, stuffing, soup, drinks, pudding, biscuits, etc. Blogs are your friend for making these things from scratch! My cookbook is full of easy, from-scratch recipes.

[question]That completes my list of 20 first steps to real food! What do you think are some other easy or important steps to take towards a healthier diet?[/question]

My cookbook is all about making real food from scratch! It includes 75+ recipes that are simple to make and use wholesome, familiar ingredients, and has 8 chapters on topics like food substitutions, kitchen tools, and freezer cooking. Pick up a copy HERE.

Further Reading: Check out these posts on real food substitutions for the pantry and for the fridge.

FREE Printable!

Want to save all these steps and check them off one by one? I’ve created a free printable checklist for ya! Right-click the picture below and hit “Print”!

20 First Steps to a Real Food Diet - RichlyRooted.com

A note on the affiliate links in this post: I’ve linked to a number of Amazon products in this post to give you an idea of what items to look for. However, you may find the best prices in your local grocery store! I do buy dry goods on Amazon occasionally, but the prices may change–so do your research! As always, if you buy anything on Amazon after clicking my affiliate links (even items I haven’t linked to), I make a small commission at no extra cost to you! So, thank you!

P.S. To earn Amazon gift cards for free, I recommend checking out Swagbucks! Swagbucks is a search engine that randomly gives you “Swag” points when you search for things online. You can redeem the points for all kinds of prizes and gift cards, but I almost always use it for Amazon! You can learn more through my referral link, and when you refer friends you’ll get extra Swagbucks, too!


  1. I think juicing vegetables is another good first step. Either add it to a meal as an appetizer or use it to replace a meal. If you don’t like the pulp that sometimes occurs if you don’t have a great juicer, crush ice cubes in a blender, add a little of the juice and 1/2 an avocado, blend, then add remaining juice. My husband was a little leery of green juice at first, but now he has it every day with me! My son said it’s the worst thing he’s ever tasted, but he didn’t eat vegetables AT ALL till he was 12!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Karen! I love kale blended with yogurt and fruit, but I haven’t done much juicing! I bet it would be especially refreshing to keep chilled “green juice” on hand during the summer!

  2. Thank you for the encouragement in taking “baby steps” to a real food diet. I have been implementing some of these changes s-l-o-w-l-y so the family won’t balk at them. As their tastes change and they accept the newer foods I add another change. Hang in there fellow sojourners! 🙂

  3. Thanks for your blog post. I’m using it on my farming blog to help a friend who is just getting started on the path to eating real food. I added some more thoughts on what this type of lifestyle means on my own blog post. I’d love your thoughts on what I had to say.

  4. I have just started into a raw foods diet with protein. It is a amazing the volume of vegetables and fruit may be juiced in a blender. So nutritious for you.

  5. Half my food being veggies, and half my veggies being uncooked was my first baby step toward eating well.
    My second was placing a small bowl of syrup next to my breakfast plate, for dipping my forked bite of pancake/waffle. I didn’t have to saturate my pancake, and I actually enjoyed and noticed the yummy maple delishness more that way. This new habit was taught to me by a 4 year old friend (whom I day-cared for).
    New for me is making my own salad dressing from 3 TBS organic sour cream, 2 tsp sweetener (organic sugar or honey for me), 1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and any bit of onion/garlic/herbs I want.
    I love to stir it all up in my empty over-sized salad bowl, and then stir in 1/4 cup of frozen peas & 2 TBS real bacon bits. After that I can even stir in crumbled cheese. Lastly I add 2 cups of washed salad greens, moving the greens thru the dressing a bit before eating my yummy salad.

  6. Excellent suggestions. I already follow some of them, but hadn’t thought of some others. Thank you!

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