Guest Post by Hilary Kimes Bernstein of Accidentally Green
For most of my life, I never thought about what I ate. My parents ensured that I tried a wide variety of foods, but I had typical childhood favorites: spaghetti and frozen garlic bread, hamburgers, boxed macaroni and cheese, pizza, and cookies made with shortening. The majority of what I ate was refined; I hadn’t heard of organic food, and genetically modified organisms weren’t used yet.
Once I graduated from high school and began living on my own, my dietary choices didn’t improve. For one, I didn’t know I was making unhealthy choices. My idea of comfort food after a long, hard day of classes or work was a box of macaroni and cheese and a can of soda pop, with a bag of buttery microwave popcorn for a snack. Breakfasts were processed and refined bagels and chocolate milk. Frozen dinners weren’t a part of my grocery purchases, but fruits and vegetables weren’t, either.
I didn’t learn about nutrition until I was 30 and began working with a personal trainer. And I didn’t know about preventable dangers like bisphenol A in canned foods or too much soy until a few years later when I became a mom and was serious about making healthy choices for myself and my family.
Fortunately my family’s dietary choices have gotten a lot healthier in the past five years. I’ve found that it’s possible to stick to healthy food by making one small change at a time. Here are six easy and frugal changes that have worked for my family:
- As much as we enjoy eating out, we’re trying to curb our meals in restaurants. Not only is it healthier, but it also helps our food budget. Our restaurant meals are limited to once or twice a month – and we know they can be an unhealthy splurge.
- We try to cook from scratch with real foods as often as possible. The preparation and cooking time takes a little longer, but the health and taste benefits are worth the extra time and effort. We’re more content to eat at home, because our own cooking usually tastes better than most of the foods we could order at many restaurants. (I’ve learned that good recipes make a huge difference.)
- You won’t find many processed or canned foods in our cupboards or refrigerator. We mainly stick to fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, brown rice, wheat pasta, eggs, butter, cheeses, yogurts, milk and distilled water. From late spring to late fall, we’re harvesting vegetable and herbs from our garden. Because I try to limit any and all processed foods, I also avoid commercially canned foods whenever possible and opt for fresh or frozen varieties.
- I buy as much organic food as I can afford. Sometimes, organic produce costs the same – or it’s even slightly cheaper – than non-organic produce. During those miraculous shopping moments, my organic choice is an absolute no-brainer. I’ve also found a local scratch and dent store that offers some amazing specials on organic foods; since organic options typically are much more expensive, it’s great to find bargains. The good news is that all fresh produce – organic and non-organic alike – provides nutrients. But when I choose organic foods, I do it to avoid genetically modified organisms and pesticides.
- I’m trying to avoid as much refined sugar and flour as possible, but this is a work in process. These particular foods act as fertilizers for cancer – and that’s something I want to avoid. I’ve switched to whole wheat flours, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and I’m slowly trying to integrate unrefined sugars into my baking ingredients.
- Ever since I noticed a huge behavior issue with my son, I steer clear of artificial colors and flavors. When I avoid processed foods, this is an easy step.
I still have a long way to go. For starters, I need to get serious about food preservation. (For the past several years, my idea of food preservation has been freezing it – that includes any and all garden veggies I’d like to keep.) I want to experiment with drying, pickling, and canning. While the prospect of canning is particularly daunting to me, I have a great mentor who is willing to teach me. My husband and I also are planning to purchase a chest freezer and buy grass-fed meat from local farmers. I would love to serve my family healthy meat that’s free from hormones and antibiotics.
How have you made healthier eating choices? What simple changes have you made? What have been some of the more difficult changes?
Hilary has written about many other simple, affordable, and healthy choices her family has incorporated into their daily lives in her new eBook, Accidentally Green.