Last month, something prompted me to think about how I feed my own family. Someone publicly criticized me for using canned beans in chili. While I could absolutely make my own corn tortillas, cook with only dried beans and make all our meals from scratch using ingredients from our organic backyard garden, I live in reality. I work full-time in my own business, have two kids, each with their own activities, am actively involved at our school and in our community, and while I enjoy cooking, I appreciate every minute I can spend with my family.
I’m thankful for modern appliances like my slow cooker, rice maker, blender and programmable oven that allow me to make family dinners happen around our busy schedule. I’m glad that Bob’s Red Mill (right here in Portland) offers gluten-free flours and mixes so that I can avoid gluten and still enjoy bread and cupcakes. Especially the cupcakes! I’m grateful for companies like Annie’s, Stonyfield, Pacific Foods, Muir Glen and Whole Foods who support our preference for organic, whole foods without artificial ingredients or GMOs.
I want the very best food for my family, but I have no interest in spending all day in the kitchen. We still eat what I call real food. For us, real food means that I might have the same ingredients in my own kitchen. I could make it, if I wanted to, using the same ingredients. There’s nothing artificial and it’s not overly processed. The nutrients are still there.
What fits my definition of real food? Canned beans! The beans we buy are organic and have two ingredients: beans and salt. We rinse them well before using so much of the added sodium washes away. The luxury of canned, organic beans means that we eat beans more often and less meat. Doesn’t that sound like a win?
In future posts, I’m going to go further into our definition of real food with even more examples, but I want to share what other “foodies” think about the topic first. Many of us who advocate for real food have been criticized that we live in a fantasy world where only the wealthy can afford and have access to real food. People think that we buy 100% local, organic, non-GMO foods all of the time, without deviation. Not so. And here’s proof:
Real food is food my grandmother would have fed my dad and his brothers. It’s pronounceable and not hopped up on artificial dyes, growth hormones or loaded with GMOs saturated with pesticides. It contains ingredients that have been in our food for a while, not the recent additives, preservatives and synthetic ingredients intended to drive margins, make food cheap and enhance profitability by lengthening a products shelf life on a grocery store shelf.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Boiling noodles for a prepackaged box of mac and cheese is the same as boiling noodles you can drizzle with olive oil or shred your own cheese onto! An english muffin with spaghetti sauce and cheese, a handful of dried fruit, a banana, some nuts if you don’t have little ones with allergies.
Do what you can where you are with what you have. Take baby steps. Go at a pace that you can manage successfully. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good and focus on progress not perfection.
It’s all of us doing these things together that add up, that send messages to the food industry that we want real food not fake food that looks real. Our children are our future.
Instead of thinking of food as “real” and otherwise, I label the way I eat and feed my family as “a diet centered around mostly whole foods”. That means food close to its natural source–or foods made up of simple ingredients. Sometimes it’s organic (when it’s something generally high in pesticide residue and that we eat frequently, like apples and salad greens). During farmer’s market season, it may also be local, such as local eggs and chicken. It could also come from a package: For instance, Triscuits are my go-to cracker because they’re made with three ingredients (wheat, oil, and salt). I would never say that a product made with artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners isn’t food–it’s just food made with additives I try to avoid.
This is how I try to structure our meals, around whole foods.
Real Food to me is something you would recognize as food, and in most cases is pronounceable by someone (hey, there are languages I don’t speak, and even my English is sometimes marginal). Real food is something I can make in my kitchen, or teach my son to make.
Does this mean I always cook from scratch? Uh, no. Does that mean I never eat out? Oh heavens no.
Real food nourishes our bodies. It feeds our very cells. It tastes good, in a supremely satisfying way. A fresh strawberry is so much more satisfying than a strawberry flavored gummy treat.
Real bread with simple ingredients is more satisfying than fluffy white loaves with no soul. Real food is often passed on thru generations, prepared with love and techniques perfected over time. It’s something to be learned, appreciated and enjoyed.
Real food is also unpretentious. I get almost angry when those of us advocating for real food are called “elitists”. Our great grandmothers weren’t elitists. They were cooks, feeding their families and loved ones. That’s what we are saying: real food is feeding all of us.
My definition of “Real Food” is food that is minimally processed so that it keeps its natural integrity. I believe Mother Nature knows best not food scientists! In our family we aim for foods with 6 ingredients or less that has been sustainably grown and produced. We know that the food choices we make impact our bodies and our earth so we do our best to choose wisely every day!
Want to share your definition of real food? Let us know in the comments below! We’d also love to learn about new real food recipes that your family likes.