Real Food Made Simple: Making The Switch

Real Whole foods

Eating can be complicated.  What is "real" food?  Should I eat carbs?  Should I go vegan? (more on plant-based eating in an upcoming post)  When I first decided to switch to eating a diet consisting only of whole food I thought that it wouldn’t be hard because we rarely eat processed food.  Or so I thought.  When you really think about what you buy, it’s amazing to see that, sure enough, processed food is in my home.  I think we get so blinded by what we shop for week after week that we lose sight of the fact that our refrigerators, freezers and cupboards are filled with foods that aren’t whole.

I’ve always done a majority of our grocery shopping from the outer edges of the store but the reality is I was still filling my cart with processed items in the aisles.  Boxed pasta using white flour, salsa’s and dips using refined sweeteners, yogurt (read the ingredients, some of them are awful), crackers, and the list goes on.  While we weren’t eating what I thought of as prepared or processed foods, we were actually eating exactly that.

Switching has not been easy and my husband is still a hold out on a few things – he eats chips, sweetened iced tea, lunch meat, hot dogs, boxed mac & cheese, packaged cheese dip, and white pasta and rice.  I’ve gotten him to switch his bread over (thank you Dave’s!!) but he’s digging his heels in about the pasta and rice. 

I haven’t given up – I will keep trying to sway him to the other side......  I make two different meals anyway (mine primarily plant-based and his with meat), so he gets to keep his small selection of processed food.

For now.

What is “real” or “whole” food?
(I prefer whole but I know the term real food is popular right now)

This is the number one question!  It is food that is in its natural state.  I would say “unprocessed”, however, most food purchased at the grocery store is processed (bagged spinach or canned beans, for example).

It incorporates fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, grass fed pastured meat, seafood, dairy products, natural sweeteners (in moderation),  fats (in moderation), and eggs; and excludes synthetic things such as highly refined foods like bleached flour (and products containing it) and refined sugar (and products containing it).

Breaking It Down:
Fruits & Vegetables – preferably in season and grown locally (where possible).
Whole Grains – including, but not limited to, brown rice, oats, whole-wheat flour, rye flour, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, and millet.
Legumes – including beans, nuts, peas and lentils.
Grass-Fed Pastured Meat  - all parts of the animal.
Seafood – wild is preferred over farmed.
Dairy – raw and/or full fat including milk, kefir, cheese, sour cream, yogurt & cottage cheese.
Natural Sweeteners – including raw local honey, date sugar, agave, & maple syrup.
Fats – including extra virgin olive oil (first cold processed), unrefined coconut oil, tallow, lard & butter from grass-fed cows.
Eggs – from pastured chickens.

How To Make The Switch?
As with any change, baby steps are the easiest.

1. Go through your family’s favorite meals (if you’re also meal planning, you’ve got the list!!) and see if you can alter any that currently use ingredients not listed in the whole foods list above.  Make a list of all recipes you can continue to make with adaptations.

2. Try switching a few meals a week until you’re comfortable finding recipes, shopping for ingredients, and adjusting you and your family’s taste buds.

3. Make small changes:
     a. switch out most of the white flour in recipes with whole wheat flour (I like white whole wheat flour and I also like to substitute 1 Tablespoon of liquid in homemade bread recipes with fresh orange juice - it seems to counterbalance that whole wheat flavoring)
     b. increase vegetables at mealtime and decrease meat
     c. switch some of your meat and dairy products to grass-fed
     d. find soda alternatives
     e. switch out sweeteners in some of your recipes with real food-approved sweeteners

4. Ask your family to commit to a 2 week challenge of eating only foods that meet the real foods definition above.

5. Go through your pantry, refrigerator and freezer to make a list of processed ingredients that won’t be a part of your new lifestyle so you can try to use them up over the next week or two.

6. Set time aside, once a week, to prep veggies, etc. making it easier to craft homemade meals.  Eating out can be challenging, so preparing home-cooked meals for the first few weeks as you transition is key to the success.

7. Find alternatives.  Lifestyle changes fail when people feel deprived or like they'll never be able to have something again.  Try to seek out healthy alternatives to whatever food or drinks are your families' favorites.

8. Continue slowly introducing whole food into your family's diet, switching things out as you can.

Real Food Meal Plan - Week of January 14, 2018

If you’re just tuning in, this is an ongoing series in which I share our weekly meal plan as I (attempt) to convert us to a Whole/Real Foods lifestyle. I actually meal plan monthly but share it here weekly because it makes more sense to do so.  Meal planning is my way of controlling the grocery budget (read as a LOT of dollars saved), ensuring there is no food waste for the week, as well as saving time.  You can read more about meal planning here.

Weekly Meal Plan:
Breakfast - Breakfast Sandwich
Lunch - (me) Lentil Soup, (J) Ham Sandwich
Dinner - Burrito Bowls, Tortilla Chips, Salsa

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) No-Tuna Salad Sandwich, (J) Ham Sandwich
Dinner - Baked Cod, Baked Potato Bites and Roasted Butternut Squash

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) No-Tuna Salad Sandwich, (J) Ham Sandwich
Dinner - (J) Teriyaki Chicken with Rice and Veggie Stir-Fry

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Sweet Potato Hummus & Crackers, "Greens" Juice, (J) Hot Dogs
Dinner - Enchiladas, Mexican Rice, and Corn Salad

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Sweet Potato Hummus & Crackers, "Greens" Juice; (J) Hot Dogs
Dinner - (me) Black Bean & Kale Burger, (J) Quick & Easy Chicken Cordon Bleu, Pierogies, Roasted Butternut Squash 

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Berries & Raw Almonds
Lunch - (me) Sweet Potato Hummus & Crackers, "Greens" Juice; (J) Hot Dogs
Dinner - (me) Baked Sweet Potatoes & Veggies, (J) Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork, Mac & Cheese, & Spinach

Breakfast - Breakfast Pizza
Lunch - No-Chicken Noodle Soup
Dinner - (me) Vegan Chili, (J) Beef Chili, Cornbread Muffins, Sauteed Greens

Meal Planning To Save Time And Money: A Beginner's Guide

A breakdown of meal planning to make it so much easier - saving you time and money

This post contains affiliate links. Affiliate links come at no extra cost to you. These links allow me to share the products I authentically recommend (and use) and support Cobble Hill Farm by receiving a small commission.

If you don’t currently plan your meals weekly, bi-weekly or monthly then the idea of it can feel very overwhelming.  It certainly did to me when I first started a few years ago.  I would sit and stare at a blank calendar for what felt like hours.  Some weeks I would just give it up, not wanting to make the time to try and sort it out.  But not anymore.  I’ve seen how much money and time I save and it’s a practice that I intend to keep.

I highly recommend starting with weekly, even if your intention is to eventually plan for the month.  Once you’ve mastered your weekly process, as well as have a few weekly meal plans under your belt that you can reuse, monthly isn’t much more time at all.  Because let's face it - almost all of us recycle the same 15-30 recipes over and over.

I plan monthly mostly for the purposes of creating freezer meals.  Like you, we are limited on time in the evenings.  Because of this, I purposely plan quick meals (under 40 minutes), slow-cooker or instant pot meals (I own this slow-cooker and this instant pot), and freezer meals for the weekdays.

Why Meal Plan?

1. To Save Money
I can’t even begin to tell you how much money I’ve wasted (WASTED I tell you) in the past because I didn’t have a plan when grocery shopping.  Honestly, we went from spending anywhere from $150.00 - $175.00 per week (2 people) to $60.00 - $115.00 per week (2 people).  And I definitely over-purchased which means I also threw things away.  Every. Single.Week.
With meal planning you save money in 4 ways:

  1. You’re buying only what you’re going to use = no more throwing rotten veggies, fruit, etc. away that you didn’t fit into the week’s meals.  You aren’t purchasing random items that will sit in your pantry or freezer for days or weeks on end.  (have you thrown away expired cans or boxes because you didn’t shop your pantry first?)
  2. You will grocery shop once a week.  Because you have a full menu you are able to complete a comprehensive grocery list which means your one trip to the grocery store will be your only trip to the store that week.  A win-win - saving time AND money.
  3. If you buy any expensive ingredients for a recipe you want to try you can plan enough meals to use them up in the week.       i.e. you want to try a recipe that uses truffle oil, you can plan more than one recipe to try over the course of the month to ensure you use it up so it’s not thrown.  Same goes with more ordinary ingredients – you use refried beans in a recipe but you only need ½ a can.  You find another recipe to include in the week that also uses a ½ can and you don’t throw any of it away.
  4. You will likely go out to eat less.  Before meal planning I would not have any idea what I was making for dinner which meant I didn’t thaw out meat or I was without a few ingredients to make what I could come up with.  Also, we would go out to eat just out of sheer frustration over not knowing what to cook.

2. To Save Time
Yes, it takes time to start the process of meal planning but I promise you, in the end, you truly do save time.  No more staring at the refrigerator on a Tuesday night trying to figure out what you can make for dinner based on what you have……

3. To Rotate Your Meals
We all have a nice handful of meals that our family loves.  And that’s great!  But if I don’t write them into a rotation I often forget a meal or two for months at a time.  Additionally, this is a great way to begin planning a new meal you’d like to try.  If you have a folder full of recipes that you would like to make someday but always forget when you’re grocery shopping, this is how you can begin incorporating them.

So you’ve read all of the pros to meal planning and you’ve decided to consider it.  But how do you actually do it?  We’ve got you covered!

How To Meal Plan
1. Create A List Of Favorite Meals
Start with creating a list of your family’s go-to meals.  I divide mine out by breakfast, lunch, dinner main, dinner side and dessert (you can further divide out by protein type if you desire, i.e. dinner main – seafood, dinner main – poultry, etc.)

2. Create A Folder Or List Of Recipes You’d Like To Try
You certainly don’t have to go through cookbooks and list them all, but maybe select 4 (1 per week for 1 month) that you would like to try.  Include page numbers and cookbook name if they are from a cookbook.

3. Create A List Of Your Freezer & Pantry Inventory
This seems like it is quite time consuming, and it certainly does take a bit, but it’s the best way to ensure you’re shopping your pantry, freezer and refrigerator first.  No more throwing expired food away!

4. Look At Weekly Sales Flyers
This step is entirely up to you and the time you want to give to meal planning, but an additional way to save money is to plan meals that have ingredients on sale this week.  An alternative is to purchase expensive ingredients (meat, cheese, etc.) when they are on sale and add them to the meal plan the following week.

5. Create Themed/Designated Meal Days
Another optional step, but one I find useful, is to create designated protein and/or themed days.  For example, here’s my typical meal plan week:
Sun = Beef or Pork, Mon = Seafood, Tues = Poultry, Wed = Pork, Thurs = Beans, Fri = Beef, Sat = Poultry or Seafood; this is my guideline only – it’s not set in stone.
You can also create taco days or soup days, slow cooker days, new recipe days, etc.

6. Recycle Your Meal Plans
Keep your weekly meal plans and reuse them!  If a new recipe didn’t make the “make it again” list, cross it out.  You can at least use the remainder of the list and plug another recipe to try into the now empty slot.

And before you know it, you're on your way to saving time AND saving money!!

Related Posts:
16 Ways To Effectively Cut Your Food Budget
A Beginners Guide To Writing And Using A Meal Plan
More Meal Planning Tips

Quick & Easy Vegan Pad Thai

a great weeknight meal because it's so quick and easy!

This post may contain affiliate links. Affiliate links come at no extra cost to you. These links allow me to share the products I authentically recommend (and use) and support Cobble Hill Farm by receiving a small commission.

Switching to a plant-based diet can be challenging in trying to figure out filling and nutritious meals that are quick & easy for weeknights.  This is one of them.  It's a super easy dish that is chock full of flavor.  Although I rarely eat peanut butter, I keep a small amount on hand specifically for this dish which I usually make at least once a month.  Because you can use any number of vegetable combinations, it can even be served weekly!

Pasta has always been a comfort food for me and I adore Udon noodles so I use those many times or brown rice noodles.  This recipe is a great main dish for myself and I use it as a side dish for J.  I usually grill a chicken breast for him to keep the entire meal super simple. The sauce is lightly adapted from the Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cookbook.

Vegan Pad Thai
Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as a side

6 ounces noodles (you can get rice noodles, stir-fry type noodles, or use any type of noodle you would prefer)
2 cups of vegetables (I like to use a combination of zucchini, red pepper, orange pepper, green pepper, carrots, red cabbage and/or snow peas)
2 Tablespoons oil (or use water or veggie broth if you are trying to avoid oil)
1/2 cup fresh herbs like cilantro, parsley, mint and/or basil, chopped
4 Green Onions/Scallions, chopped
Sesame seeds, optional
Chopped peanuts, optional

3 Tablespoons Prune Puree Baby Food (check the label to ensure this is the only ingredient)
2 Tablespoons Salted Creamy Peanut Butter
4 1/2 Tablespoons tamari, coconut aminos, or soy sauce
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 tsp Sriracha sauce
Squeeze of fresh lime juice, optional

Prepare the noodles according to package directions.  In a separate, medium-size bowl or pyrex measuring cup, combine the sauce ingredients.  Set aside.  Slice the vegetables into strips (those that can be), and chop the rest into manageable pieces.

Heat a tablespoon of oil (or water or broth) over medium high heat. Add the veggies and stir fry, with tongs, for 4-8 minutes or until tender-crisp. Do not overcook. Transfer to a dish and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil (or water or broth) to the pan. Strain the noodles of any water and add to the hot pan.  Stir fry for 1 minute, tossing with tongs constantly.  Add the sauce and stir fry for another minute or two, until the sauce is starting to thicken and stick to the noodles. Add in the vegetables, toss together, and remove from heat. Stir in the herbs and distribute among the serving dishes. Top with sesame seeds and/or peanuts if using and squeeze of lime juice.

Serve immediately.

a quick and easy weeknight meal!

What Is Simple Living? A How-To Guide For Living A Simple, Homemade Life

When you think of the words “simple living” the word minimalism often comes to mind, and for good reason since they are used interchangeably much of the time.  With that being said, I recognize for myself that I will never be a true minimalist.  Although I have much appreciation for that lifestyle, I love “things” too much to make any attempts at fully converting.   Additionally, the frugal side of me makes me buy things in bulk which doesn’t necessarily fit with the minimalist theme either.

Instead, the journey that my husband and I have been on for the past 10 years is about simplifying our lives and making things homemade & natural where possible.  And we’ve definitely got some room to improve…..

Lest you think this has been an easy transition for me, let me share with you a little of my history.  I come from a family of collectors.  That means, you don’t buy one of anything, rather, you buy (at minimum) one of everything within the “collection”.  Like lighthouses?  Well then you need anything and everything that has a lighthouse on it.  Like Disney?  Ditto – and there’s a whole lot of Disney memorabilia out there.  Antique dolls?  Ebay, thrift stores, online stores, etc. are full of them.  And there’s a ton of different types (I owned over 1,000 at one point……).

You get the idea.

At some point, about 15 years ago, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  The dusting was taking too much time.  Trying to find space in our home to properly display items was a challenge.  I felt overwhelmed at the clutter.  And don’t even get me started on the fact that we actually rented a storage unit to store “things” that we’d convinced ourselves we needed.

Once I began reading about voluntary simplicity, I gained an appreciation for the thought of owning less things and allowing there to be space in my home.  I also gained an appreciation for the same thought process with my time.  If I agree to take on anything and everything thrown my way, I no longer own my time.  You begin to feel a loss of control over it and now the goal is in keeping our heads above water rather than enjoying moments and having time and space to breathe and enjoy.

What is Simple Living?
There are many definitions that exist, depending on who the author is.  That being said, they are all very similar.

Simple living is basically a reduction of things in an effort to have more.   More freedom, more happiness, more time and more purpose.  

It’s a minimalistic (low consumption) view about owning your time and things versus allowing your things and time to own you.  Simple living takes minimalism a step further and incorporates living a purposeful life.  It’s a more holistic view and approach to life.

What does that mean, not allowing your things to own you?  We must take care of possessions – dust/clean them, have space for them, or store them.  That’s fine if you absolutely love those items.  But if you own things whose sole purpose is to fill up empty space, or gifts you feel guilty getting rid of, or things you thought you should own because you saw them in a magazine, on HGTV, etc., then those things own you.  Those are the “things” we are talking about.

To live simply means that we should only surround ourselves with what adds to our life.  Be it possessions, relationships, or actions, by reducing excess we will be left with only what matters.  

Things that have purpose.

This can also translate into work-life balance for some.  Often, seekers of simplicity seek to spend less money which means they don’t have to work so many hours or maybe not work at such a stressful position, therefore, spending more time doing what they love.

Increasing self-sufficiency is also sometimes tied to living a simple life.  This is where we tie in the “homemade” portion that I’ll speak to next.

What is a Homemade Life?
The obvious answer is making things from scratch.  Taking it a step further, it is hand crafting those items that make sense (financial, quality, time, etc.) for you to make from scratch.

For us, our homemade life includes trying to surround ourselves with natural products as well as adding a touch of self-sufficiency such as raising chickens (for meat and eggs), bees (someday) and growing much of the vegetables and herbs we consume in our garden.  It doesn’t have to be that way for everyone – each journey will have unique pieces.

Putting It All Together
Our definition of a simple, homemade life is this:

Purposely reducing excess in order to focus on things that have meaning.  Transitioning to a natural and homemade lifestyle, making things from scratch when it makes sense to do so.  Living an intentional life (intentional about what we buy, what we keep, what we eat, what we use in our homes, how we spend our time, etc.) and being more present in the moment.  

Breaking it down for our life, it means:

Home – surrounding ourselves with only things that bring us joy.  Limiting our purchases to primarily needs over wants.  (wants only if it’s something we truly love)  Making the switch to natural products, and making it homemade when it makes sense to do so.

Food – eating real, wholesome, unprocessed, food (more on that in an upcoming post).  Keeping meals simple, nutritious, and delicious.  Making meals from scratch.

Relationships – surrounding ourselves with positive, supportive people.

Time – saying “yes” and agreeing to do for others only when we truly want to do so and/or those limited times when we feel we really should do so.

Posts on Simple Living:
Grateful for the Extraordinary on an Ordinary Day
Living In A Small{ish} House
How To Live The Simple Life
25 Ways To Simplify Your Life
Voluntary Simplicity: Consume Less
Making Your Money Work For You
Living Within Our Means
12 Things You Can Do To Change Your Life In 2018

Easy Weeknight Chicken Piccata

I'm always trying to find nice and quick weeknight meals that J will enjoy.  Chicken Piccata is typically made with capers as well, but because they aren't a favorite in this household, they are omitted from this recipe.  If they are a favorite in your home you can add a couple Tablespoons to the sauce at the end.

Easy Weeknight Chicken Piccata
4 chicken breast cutlets (about 1-1/2 pounds)
2 medium eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1/4 cup chicken stock

In a shallow bowl, beat eggs well.  In a second shallow bowl, combine flour, onion powder, garlic powder, kosher salt, and black pepper. Dip chicken into egg mixture, making sure to get both sides, and then dredge both sides of chicken cutlets in flour mixture.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the chicken in one layer and cook on the first side for 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn and brown the other side. Turn only once. (It will cook more later.) Remove to a plate.

Add the white wine to the pan drippings and cook, scraping up the browned bits, until syrupy. Stir in the butter, lemon juice, and chicken stock. Cook for 2 minutes.  Stir in cream.

Return chicken to the pan and simmer until chicken is no longer pink in the center (160 on an instant-read thermometer).  Let rest for 2 minutes, then serve with pan sauce.

Real Food Meal Plan - Week of January 7, 2018

If you’re just tuning in, this is an ongoing series in which I share our weekly meal plan as I (attempt) to convert us to a Whole/Real Foods lifestyle. I actually meal plan monthly but share it here weekly because it makes more sense to do so.  Meal planning is my way of controlling the grocery budget (read as a LOT of dollars saved), ensuring there is no food waste for the week, as well as saving time.  You can read more about meal planning here and here.

Weekly Meal Plan:
Lunch - (me) Greens & Beans Soup, (J) Ham & Cheese Sandwich
Dinner -  Homemade Pizza 

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Pumpkin & Walnuts
Lunch - (me) Greens & Beans Soup, (J) Ham & Cheese Sandwich 
Dinner - Roasted Salmon Tacos & Baked Potato Bites

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Pumpkin & Walnuts
Lunch - (me) Kale & Quinoa Salad, (J) Hot Dogs
Dinner - (me) Pad Thai, (J) Orange Chicken with Rice & Steamed Broccoli

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Pumpkin & Walnuts
Lunch - (me) Greens & Beans Soup, (J) Ham & Cheese Sandwich
Dinner - Spaghetti and (J) Meatballs, Spinach Salad

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Pumpkin & Walnuts
Lunch - (me) Kale & Quinoa Salad, (J) Hot Dogs
Dinner - (me) Roasted Veggies with Balsamic Glaze, (J) Slow-Cooker Pork & Beans, Roasted Veggies

Breakfast - Oatmeal with Pumpkin & Walnuts
Lunch - (me) Greens & Beans Soup, (J) Ham & Cheese Sandwich
Dinner - (me) Veggie & Bean Stir Fry, (J) Chicken Piccata with Rice and Veggie Stir Fry

Breakfast - Pancakes
Lunch - Minestrone Soup
Dinner - Steamed Clams with Pasta, and Roasted Cauliflower