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I’m a severely conflicted person when it comes to Real Food/Healthy Eating.

On the one hand, I love the idea of real food. And on our trips to Kenya, when we’ve eaten nothing for two weeks except for fresh vegetables, I’ve always felt amazing–so much better than when I pepper my menu with fast food.

On the other hand, I also believe that modern medicine has done wonders, and I am a big believer in the scientific method. If something truly is healthy, then studies should show that it is. So, in general, I’m very wary of anything that says that wholly natural is the way to go. I love real foods; but I also love medicine. Thus, I often find that I don’t truly fit in either camp.

Because of that perhaps I tend too far towards the “herbal stuff is hooey” side. I don’t like it when people make claims they can’t back up, especially when they start saying that doctors are all evil and they don’t know what they’re talking about (my husband has saved countless lives as a doctor, and I saw how hard he studied. He knows what he’s talking about).

Yet increasingly, as I age, I’m starting to realize that I do have to pay more attention to what I put into my body.

It started with my oldest daughter, who decided that she was going to eat nothing but real foods. I didn’t think it would be that big a change for us, and I wanted to support her, but then I realized how much white rice we ate. And she even wanted to banish soya sauce!

When we went camping it was even harder. Camping is always the time of year when we eat terribly. I give myself an excuse to buy all those packaged foods I don’t normally buy–Hamburger Helper, Chunky Soup, Vegetable Soup. We don’t eat out of boxes and cans that much, but when camping: keep it coming!

Yet this summer I abided by her wishes and left that stuff on the shelf. We filled our trailer with tons of veggies and meat instead. And lo and behold, it actually tasted quite good.

I’ve tried to keep it up, and though my youngest daughter and I still succumb to fast food a little too much, we have embraced a healthier diet. I think that’s important, because what I’ve noticed is that so much of my lethargy, and my depression, and even occasional headaches can be traced back to eating crap. When my insides go wonky, it’s likely because I’ve eaten something that isn’t actually food.

And so I’d like to tell you about some books that are changing the way I’m thinking about eating:

Real Food on a Real BudgetReal Food on a Real Budget by Stephanie Langford

She tells us what real food is, how to find it without wrecking your budget, what to steer clear of, and how to create meals your family will love.

I thought about this paragraph for quite a while after reading it:

It is rather astounding to consider, but North America is a continent full of overweight and yet highly malnourished people! We stuff ourselves full of food, but our bodies continue to cry out for the nutrition that they not only crave but desperately need in order to perform essential bodily functions and to keep us in good health and full of energy. We might wonder why people overeat to such a large degree. It becomes easier to understand when you think about the fact that the body was not meant to be sustained on mere calories, but on a multitude of different vitamins, minerals, macro and micro nutrients that fulfill very specific duties. When they are not present in the diet, our bodies send the message “keep going-­‐‑ I don’t have what I need yet”.

Isn’t that the truth? We eat things that have no nutritional value–like a bag of chips–and then we’re hungry again quite soon. We need to change this pattern. If you need motivation, Stephanie can help!

Better Than the Box by Katie Kimball

Okay, this book is just too good.It’s totally practical, absolutely brilliant, and rather beautiful on the inside to boot.

Better Than a BoxKatie begins by telling us that tons of the recipes that we love to make, our staple “go to” meals, use ingredients from a box or can that are TERRIBLE for us. So how can we “reverse engineer” those meals so we don’t need those boxes or cans?

It all started when she tried to recreate her mother-in-law’s “basic pepper steak” recipe, which required onion soup mix. But she made the mistake of looking at the ingredients:

onions, salt, cornstarch, sugar, caramel (color), corn syrup solids, yeast extract, natural flavor

Basically onions with a whole lot of filler. Do you really need that?

She figured out how to recreate the taste by caramelizing 2 onions and adding a pinch of molasses and salt. Much better for you! And so she began to tackle other recipes, until she created a book that is over 200 pages chock full of great tips, cooking explanations, and tons of recipes.

Honestly, this is the only cookbook anyone would need, because it goes over how to store food, what different herbs are used for, and more.

And she recreates everything from Cream of Whatever Soup to Barbecue Sauce to whatever you often throw in. And it’s so much easier, cheaper, and healthier! I use so much Cream of Whatever soups in my cooking (it’s pretty much the only canned item I still buy), so I’m thrilled to be able to ditch that, too. Some of her motivating philosophies are C.O.S.T.–Cook Once, Serve Twice–and C.O.R.N.–Clean out the Refrigerator Night. If we do these two things, we’ll use up our food, and we’ll spend less time cooking. I love it!

In fact, last night I did a “C.O.R.N.” meal! I’m leaving tomorrow morning for a tour in Michigan, giving my Girl Talk, and I wanted to leave my family some leftovers. But I also knew that they likely wouldn’t use up a lot of the veggies that were in the fridge while I was gone. So I made chili with ONLY real food–tomatoes, dried kidney beans (I finally used up all that was left in my jar! I don’t want to know how old those beans were), 4 tomatoes, ground beef, half an onion, lots of garlic, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. And then I threw in some frozen corn. It was awfully good, and now my fridge looks a lot better.

Clean out Refrigerator Night--from Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle Sale

She spends the first third of the book teaching YOU how she “reverse engineers” things, so that you’ll have the skills to do it yourself. Then she provides all the recipes she’s already figured out. It’s brilliant! And she teaches you how to think about all the stuff you have lurking in your cupboard and fridge, so that you can use it up, too.

From Garbage to Gourmet by Carrie Isaac

I don’t know if I like this book because it teaches you to be healthy or if I like it because I’m basically cheap. I use cloth everything, not only because I want to help the environment, but mostly because I can’t bear to pay money for disposable things.

And we treat our food like so much of it is “disposable”! Carrie writes,

Americans waste about 25% of their food purchases every day, an equivalent of wasting over $1,300 per year for the average family.  Frustrated with the amount you spend on groceries? Think about how much you could save by wasting less.

From Garbage to Gourmet
She gives tons of amazing tips on how to use up the stuff that you would normally throw away. One big tip: Keep a tupperware container or Ziploc bag in an easy-to-access place in your freezer for broth ingredients–anything you could throw into beef broth or chicken broth. Then throw stuff in there! Bones from plates, certainly, but also things we wouldn’t normally think of, like broccoli stalks, carrot ends (even carrot peels!), celery leaves and the bottoms of celery stalks, and more. She says that she hasn’t used “real” vegetables for stock for years, and it still tastes amazing! All that stuff we normally toss still has flavour. If you wash it well, it’s perfectly fine.

Another tip: substitute ripe avocado for some of the oil in brownies. No one will know the difference once they’re baked! And you can sneak shredded zucchini in just about everything.

It’s a truly beautiful book, full of lovely pictures, that will make you excited to use your garbage! Citrus peels? Soak them in vinegar for a month and now you have a great cleaner to get rid of all that greasy grime that builds up on ovens and ranges. Too many herbs? Chop them and freeze them with water in ice cube trays.

I’m excited to try so much of these things–and stop throwing so much out.

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