When I first began my journey in real food, one of the first things I did was replace white, processed foods with whole food alternatives. I also switched to whole food versions for frequently used ingredients such as oils and sweeteners.
The following list is a good place to start when you are new to real food.
1. Replace white bread with 100% whole grain bread. Don’t be fooled like I was. I used to think that whole wheat and whole grain were synonyms. They’re not. Whole wheat bread contains only half the nutrients compared to its whole grain counterpart. If you want to learn more about the differences between the two this article breaks it down for you.
2. Switch to whole grain pasta. Your taste buds may take a little while to adjust but once they do, you’ll never turn back. It took my kids about a month to get used to whole wheat pasta and they now prefer it to processed, white pasta.
3. Replace all-purpose white flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I tried (unsuccessfully) to use whole wheat flour in my baking and the results were far from ideal. I’ve since discovered whole wheat pastry flour which retains the whole grain but is milled from soft wheat. Use it to bake cookies, muffins, cakes and pancakes. Just replace cup for cup when a recipe calls for all-purpose flour. The best part is that you can pass it off as white – honestly, no-one will guess it’s whole wheat!
4. Switch to brown rice. We make a lot of Indian food in our home and I used to cook a lot of white basmati rice. I tried substituting brown rice bought from the local supermarket but it wasn’t the same. I’m sure you can imagine how ridiculous I felt when I discovered brown basmati rice at my local Bulk Barn. Who knew? You can buy brown basmati rice. (duh!)
5. Stock your pantry with a variety of grains. Some of the grains I’ve added to my pantry are quinoa, millet, wild rice and steel cut oats. I’ve always enjoyed porridge for breakfast (especially in the Winter months) but I didn’t realize what I was missing until I tried steel cut oats. I don’t often cook them (they take too long) but my husband and I love them so much that we have our no-cook overnight oats everyday for breakfast. It takes just a couple of minutes to throw together the night before and come morning all you have to do is take it out of the fridge and enjoy. Now that’s what I call convenience food at its best!
6. Stock your pantry with natural oils. Vegetable oils like canola, soybean, corn, safflower and sunflower can not be naturally extracted but are instead chemically removed from the seeds and highly processed. These are NOT natural oils. My pantry is typically stocked with: Olive oil, avocado oil, unrefined coconut oil, red palm fruit oil, roasted sesame oil and ghee (clarified butter).
7. Avoid refined sugars. Honey and maple syrup make great natural sweeteners. It took me awhile to start using honey as a sweetener of choice. I just wasn’t a big fan of the taste. I wasn’t a fan of plain yogurt either. I knew honey was better for me so I continued to experiment with different varieties.
One day I purchased a jar of this New Zealand honey because the label said it had a buttery vanilla flavour and well, I love vanilla! I mixed a small dollop with some plain Greek yogurt. Oh. My. Gosh! It is DEVINE.
If you’re like me and you don’t particularly like the taste of honey, I encourage you to keep looking. Honeys don’t all taste the same! There’s bound to be one out there that will surprise you.
I’ve also learned to use honey and maple syrup in place of sugar when I bake. We love honey sweetened muffins for breakfast and I often include them in my kids’ lunch pails.
8. Table salt is void of any nutrients and is highly processed. Instead use Himalayan pink salt or natural sea salt which are both rich in minerals. These are more expensive than regular table salt but you will find that a little goes a long way.
9. Get rid of processed peanut butter and switch to a natural nut butter. Choose from: almond, cashew, peanut, cashew-peanut, almond-cashew… I could go on…and on… just be sure to read the ingredients. The nut butter should contain ONE ingredient: nuts.
10. Use a variety of spices to add flavours to your meals. Spices can help reduce your salt intake and can help to infuse your meals with flavour. Some of my favourite spices include: garam masala, paprika, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, cinnamon and allspice. If you are new to cooking with spices and would like to learn how to purchase good quality spices check out this detailed post on Simple Kids.
I’m in Ontario and I buy most of my spices from the bulk bins at Nature’s Emporium and from my local Bulk Barn. I also love the Simply Natural organic spices.
photo credit: Marisa McClellan