The Cheater's Guide to Real Food (or the Advice I Gave My Grandmother)

5 years ago

When I tell you to eat the foods your grandmother or great-grandmother would have made, I'm not talking about my grandmother (see her below? isn't she lovely!  Good genes, yes?  Hopefully they filter their way my direction.).

My grandmother is a busy woman—and she doesn't cook. Not ever. Although I have a very vague recollection from childhood of the scent of pinto bean and ham soup wafting from a large pot in her kitchen; although it is a very vague (and isolated) memory.

So while you might recall your grandmother steadfastly kneading dough for bread, or perhaps you might find yourself reminiscing about licking cake batter off your fingers as you cleaned her mixing bowls, I have no such recollections; rather, I remember slathering margarine (or oleo) on white bread and eating over the sink with her so we didn't have to do dishes—and we giggled, and told stories, and ate Oreos, and played.

And while my time with her was special and wondrous and marvelously fun—that time was not spent learning her cherished recipes (there were none), or baking brownies in a hot summer kitchen (we stayed by the pool where it was cool).

The last time my husband and I packed ourselves and the kiddo into the car for an extended visit with her, we cleaned out the cupboards, prepared some wholesome and nourishing meals.  And when she asked how to eat better (without cooking much or spending much), this is what I told her.  So if you're strapped for time, haven't much cash, are cooking for one or just don't like to cook at all—perhaps you can glean something from these simple tips.

Buy a rotisserie chicken each week (and make broth).

If you're strapped for time and even the thought of making my easy roast chicken seems daunting, do yourself a favor and head to the store and buy a rotisserie chicken. If you're lucky, you might stop by Whole Foods and pick up a chicken there. Will it be pasture-raised? No, of course not. But it still fills your belly, provides meat and protein and its bones still make a good broth.

Pick the chicken clean, store its meat in a containers in the fridge and transfer the chicken frame to your slowcooker to make perpetual broth—it's the easiest bone broth you'll ever make, and your body will still benefit from the minerals and protein that leaches from the chicken frame into the broth. Drink a cup or two each day and, if you're adventurous enough, pour it into a saucepan, drop in a few vegetables and make a super simple soup.

Ditch the multigrain and go for true sourdough.

While my no-knead sourdough bread seems effortless to me, if you don't have time to maintain a starter or the idea of baking anything leaves you breathless with anxiety, there's nothing wrong with heading to a good bakery to pick up a loaf of real sourdough bread.

So skip the balloon breads, the white breads and the multigrain, soy-enriched breads and choose something that offers better nourishment and flavor. All grains (plus nuts, seeds and pulses) need to be prepared in a way that deactivates naturally present antinutrients like food phytate which bind up minerals in the food, preventing your body from fully absorbing them.

Sprouting, soaking and sourdough fermentation all help to mitigate the effects of those antinutrients, deactivating them to a certain degree and making the full complement of minerals available to your body.  If you're not prepared to, interested in, or equipped to bake slow-rise sourdoughs at home, do yourself a favor and buy real sourdough bread at the nearest bakery.

Skip salad dressing and use oil and vinegar (or oil and lemon juice).

Salads are quick, inexpensive, and easy to make at home even for those who somehow manage to burn water. Salad dressings, however, are often loaded with unhealthy fats: soy, canola and vegetable oils made from genetically modified organisms. Worse yet, these oils are a source of fragile, heat-sensitive polyunsaturated fatty acids and are subject to an extraction process that centers around high heat and chemical solvents.

Instead pick up a bottle of real extra virgin olive oil (you can find it online) and a bottle of raw apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and dress your salads with that. It doesn't take more effort and it's one of the most effective ways to begin eating real food.

Purchase cut-up vegetables and pre-bagged lettuce.

If you can't even find the time to peel and slice a carrot, remember that you can purchase cut-up vegetables, frozen vegetables and pre-bagged greens in your grocery store's produce aisle. You don't have to make elaborate gratins or timbales; rather, snack on these veggies any time you're hungry. Drop them into that pot of simmering broth for a super quick lunch or supper and mix up a big main course salad—it takes less than three minutes.

Pick up a few pieces of fruit.

Fruit is simple, sweet and packed with antioxidants; moreover, bananas, apples and oranges are typically inexpensive and filling. So instead of relying on chocolates or sweet snacks to satisfy your sweet tooth, rely on fruit. Slice a banana into a bowl of yogurt; munch on an apple as you run errands.  Fruits require almost no advanced preparation, so no matter how busy you are, you can always make time to enjoy them.

Skip the margarine and use butter (or ghee).

Margarine, like refined vegetable oils found in salad dressing, is produced in a way that damages heat-sensitive polyunsaturated oils, and that's the best case scenario. Often, margarine includes industrially produced trans-fatty acids, known to contribute to heart disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer. Even ostensibly healthy margarines sold in health food stores often contain soy protein isolate which can be difficult for the thyroid and the gut.

Margarine is also devoid of naturally occurring fat-soluble vitamins A and K2. Butter and ghee, by contrast, are rich in these fat-soluble vitamins and are prepared in by traditional, non-industrial means and are heat-stable.

You can learn more about why and how to choose healthy fats here.  For maximum nutrition, take care to choose a butter or ghee that is made from the cream of grass-fed cows. You can find it many well-stocked health food stores (look for pastured butter) and online (see sources).

Pick up some yogurt or raw milk cheese.

You don't have to make your own yogurt (but it is super easy), even picking up a good quality organic plain organic yogurt, drizzling it with a bit of honey and dropping in some fresh berries makes an incredibly good breakfast and is much better for you than the many yogurts that line grocery store shelves and contain food additives as well as high fructose corn syrup made from genetically modified corn.

Raw milk cheese, too, is a good source of food enzymes and a super simple and easy snack for when you're busy or don't have much time (or inclination) to prepare something more elaborate at home.

Sardines, anchovies and mackerel are awesome.

Small, oily fish provide much-needed omega-3 fats, protein and calcium. They're also easy to prepare and inexpensive—simply open up a can, and serve them on top crackers or sourdough bread or over a salad dressed with real olive oil and vinegar, and you have a full, but simply-prepared meal. No elaborate cooking. You don't even have to dirty a pot.

In addition to being rich in protein, fat, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, small oily fish are also a good source of vitamin D. You can find sardines and anchovies at many health food stores, but you can also purchase them online very affordably (see sources).

Boil a few eggs.

Pick up some pasture-raised eggs at your local farmers market or straight from the farm.  Pasture-raised eggs are richer in vitamins A, D and E than store-bought eggs. They're also a better source of omega-3 fatty acids and contain less cholesterol. If you can't find pasture-raised eggs, you can buy omega-3 eggs, which are produced from hens who are typically supplemented with flax, and the fatty acid profile of their eggs more closely resembles that of a true farm-fresh egg than the eggs of hens fed a conventional diet of soy, corn and industrial food byproducts.

Once you have your eggs, boil a dozen and keep them in your fridge—they can feed you easily throughout the week for breakfast, lunches or snacks.

Add fermented foods to your grocery list.

While we love fermented foods and most are very simple to prepare, you don't need to make your own; rather, you just need to eat them. They're rich in beneficial bacteria which help to support gut health, support immune system function and which produce vitamins in your digestive tract. They're also rich in food enzymes which help you to better digest your foods, placing less of a load on your body's organs, and they're a great source of vitamins.

If you don't have time to make you're own, make sure to swing by a very well-stocked health food store and purchase real sauerkraut, pickles or kimchi (the ingredient list should be limited to vegetables, salt and perhaps starter culture or spices) and they should be stored in the refrigerator section. For ease, you can also order fermented vegetables online and have them shipped right to your door (see sources).

Skip the multivitamin and use whole food supplements.

Lastly, if your diet is less than ideal, or if you make lots of compromises as many of us do, consider choosing concentrated whole foods to supplement your diet. Unlike store-bought multivitamins which rarely contain natural vitamins, whole food supplements are simply super-concentrated, nutrient-dense foods.  So when you consume these, you're not consuming isolated nutrients; rather, you're consuming foods containing their full complement of natural vitamins and minerals. (Read more about my take on whole food supplements here).

I typically take (and recommend) liver capsules which are a good source of minerals, B vitamins and vitamin A. I also take a fermented cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil blend which offers healthy fats plus vitamins A and D.  We also take a therapeutic-grade probiotic. You can find liver capsules, cod liver oil, high vitamin butter oil and therapeutic-grade probiotics online (see sources).

Read labels and learn to navigate ingredient lists.

If you're like my grandmother and haven't time or inclination to cook, you'll still need to eat - so it's important that you get to know ingredients and what they mean as you navigate store shelves. This Real Food Ingredient Guide—in a .pdf format—can help you to do just that, and it offers a little bit of insurance—helping you to navigate grocery store shelves, decode labels and pick the best foods on the market.  And remember—always stick with single-ingredient foods—or, at the very least, ingredients that can be actually identified as a food.

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