The shift in my kitchen pantry and fridge from conventional products to more nutrient dense, “real” foods took some time. This did not happen overnight, I want to make sure I reiterate to you guys over and over again, because unless your personality can handle it, the “balls to the wall” approach when trying to change your dietary lifestyle can be demotivating, overwhelming and sometimes disastrous. At times my shifts were more subtle, and other times involved extreme cold turkey action. For instance, in preparation for writing an article for Babble back in August of 2013, I was researching the ingredients in some commonly used packaged foods, and I had a moment of clarity. We had been at the “clean eating” thing for a couple of months by then, and while I had been feverishly cooking most of our meals from Gwyneth’s cookbook, when it came to snack food, add-on items like coffee creamer, and when dining out, we were sticking with our old ways. Still continuing to frequent fast food places as a “treat”, continuing to use coffee creamer on the daily, and continuing to allow my kids to eat what I deemed to be, way too many freaking chicken nuggets. It got to the point where I could tell Syd was way too hooked on them because it was all he would order at a restaurant, and if I dare suggest he consider something else, he would sulk and get ridiculously moody. At one point I told him he could absolutely not order chicken nuggets when we were eating out on our summer road trip, and he erupted in tears. Something was not right.
I tell you all this because there wasn’t a whole lot of method to my madness in the beginning, and I just sort of made up rules and flexed as I needed to, and put my foot down when I needed to. In the end this approached has worked out for us, but once I did in fact make some “rules” when it came to allowing or ditching certain foods in our home, it made things a lot easier and our road a lot more clear. You know that saying when parenting, that kids need boundaries? Well once I established some boundaries for all of us, we were a lot less wishy washy about the whole lifestyle shift.
The first 7 food items I banned from the house were Nutella, Coffee Mate, Eggo waffles, Country Crock margarine, frozen chicken nuggets, Cheez-Its, fake maple syrup. These items were the biggest offenders in our household because they were filled with sugar, artificial colors, additives, preservatives, MSG, and hydrogenated oils. And we were consuming them on an almost daily basis. My biggest break through in all of this came when I started to see these as “fake foods” which were made to mimic real products, and offered no real nutrients. Here are the items I replaced these foods with, I’ll share the rest of my grocery list must-have items and swaps below.Coffee Mate replacement: I tried several suggestions including coconut milk, almond milk, even butter, but I switched over to better coffee, and now just use a splash of good old half and half. The Strauss brand in particular is fantastically yummy, and if you still want a little bit of sweetness, add in a tsp of maple syrup.
Margarine replacement: Good old fashioned grass fed butter. I love the Kerrygold brand in particular, and buy blocks of it at Costco, and keep a small container of it on the counter so it’s nice and spreadable fr morning toast.
Eggo replacement: My kids love waffles and could eat them almost daily. Many weekends I make a double batch of my own from scratch and freeze leftovers for the week, but for moments I’m in a pinch, I love Kodiak Cakes. Natural ingredients, delicious and nutritious.
Fake syrup replacement: Real maple syrup which is lower on the GI index and offers a host of added nutritional benefits including manganese and magnesium. It’s sweet and pricer, so you just need a dollop and can be used as a white sugar replacement in many baked goods.
Frozen chicken nuggets: I replaced those with real homemade baked nuggets that my kids most definitely love more than frozen anyhow, so much so that Syd requested them for his birthday dinner yesterday. Now us moms love frozen nuggets for the convenience, I know, so on nights when I’m in a rush or just can’t cook another thing, I make them a box of Annie’s mac n cheese, which uses natural coloring and flavors.
Cheez-Its replacement: We still love to snack and I pack the kids with something crunchy almost every day for school, but we’ve switched from the addictive, artificially flavored orange crackers to more natural old fashion snacks like kettle corn, sea salt popcorn, tortilla chips, etc. We love Angie’s, the TJ organic corn chips, and Kettle brand potato chips. All have less than 5 all natural ingredients, are non-GMO certified and still satisfies the urge to munch on something.
Let’s talk about some other kitchen staples, and what I have swapped this for that. Feel free to dive right in, or slowly make the transition as the need arises. This list of items and brands is obviously not all-inclusive and I’ll add items as I think of them. If you’re curious about a brand or item not listed, feel free to ask. Also, some of these brands may not be available across the US so don’t get too caught up in the brands, I just include them as a frame of reference.Sugar Replacements: Maple syrup is my favorite liquid sweetener, followed by raw honey. I have also switched from white granulated sugar to coconut sugar, and love it because it can be swapped cup for cup. I still see lots of “healthy” recipes for agave, and get asked about that one quite often. I don’t use agave because it has as much fructose and go through as heavy of a processing system as high fructose corn syrup. Here’s another great read on agave. I also don’t use sugar alternatives such as Stevia and Truvia, as those are just as chemically processed as artificial sweeteners, and I hate the taste. Sugar is still sugar, so even with the more natural sugars I keep in my pantry, I try to use with discretion. Brands I love include the Kirkland Organic Maple Syrup, Wholesome Raw Honey and the Organic Coconut Sugar from Trader Joe’s.
Oil Replacements: I was already a pretty avid olive oil user anyhow, so not much changed here, but I have added in coconut oil and keep that stocked at all times. It can be used for anything and everything including smoothies, sauteing foods, and as a moisturizer! When choosing between refined or unrefined, base it off of your cooking and eating needs. Refined is great for high temp cooking, but if you’re just using it to add to smoothies and other baking recipes, go for unrefined to get the most nutritious bang for your buck. I also just started cooking with ghee, which is clarified butter used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Because the milk proteins have been gently boiled down, this is a great high-heat cooking alternative. I do keep a small bottle of expeller pressed organic Canola oil on hand for when I need a neutral flavor, and I also use touches of sesame oil here and there, just to enhance flavors of dishes, as you really only need a tablespoon of the fragrant oil to have an impact. I love the Spectrum line of oils.
Flour Replacements: While I keep a small container of regular all-purpose flour on hand in my pantry, my go-to is now whole wheat flour and rice flour. Enriched white flour has been stripped of all its nutrients, and therefore the nutrients are “enriched” back in. The goal in eating “clean” is trying to eliminate food that has been overly processed, so this is definitely one of them. This is why we also want to try and avoid enriched foods like white pastas and breads, as much as possible during our 30 day challenge. I keep rice flour on hand just because I’m often cooking from sites or books which happen to feature many gluten free recipes, even though we are not a gluten-free house, so it’s easier to just go with their recipe instead of trying to fiddle around with subbing ingredients. For all my flour needs I love Bob’s Red Mill, in addition the bulk bins at Sprouts. I also just recently added hazelnut meal or flour as a pantry staple for making “Nutella alternative” recipes and as a breading for chicken nuggets, in replacement of bread crumbs. It actually has a lot of great uses. Can’t find hazelnut flour, go with almond flour which is more widely available.
Animal Products: When we began eating clean I didn’t really give much thought to how this tied in with the animal products we were eating, but the more I delved in, and in particular after reading Eating Animals, I started to realize that there was an advantage to eating “clean” proteins as well. Following is a break down by category of the animal products I try to source as much as possible. Also, please read this helpful article I wrote a while back which helps decipher animal product labels. I’ll refrain from including specific links here so we don’t get too click happy, but if you want specific site sources, that article should include everything.
- Eggs: While I would love to strictly purchase truly pastured eggs, and did indeed try for a couple of months, here in SoCal it proved to be cost-prohibitive so I stick with organic free-range eggs. I’m fortunate to know that the farm I’m sourcing my eggs from truly allows their chickens free range outdoor access, so I feel good about them. If you can get free range eggs at the farmer’s market, that’s your best bet because you can ask the farmer questions and raise concerns directly, versus a huge market where the stores often package under their own private label.
- Dairy: I try to be pretty diligent about only organic dairy products because the organic label requires that by law, the cows must spend a specific amount of time on pasture. Plus, in a study published last year, organic dairy was proven to be more nutritious than conventional dairy products. You want to look for dairy products that have gone through low temp pasteurization versus ultra high temp pasteurization (UHT), which kills most important beneficial bacteria, and also changes the milk proteins, making it harder to digest (Horizon Organics is one company which uses UHT, which is why they are able to have such a long expiration date). UHT also makes the milk taste burnt, so companies often have to include additives to make the smell and taste pleasant again. A lot of natural foodies love raw milk, and it is indeed good but just too pricey for my family of 5, so I love Strauss and Clover dairy products, as well as Brown Cow Yogurt. When it comes to cheese, I have cut down on how much cheese I eat in particular, but I do like to always have a block of good parmesan cheese on hand, and buy nice cheeses on occasion from a local cheese shop. Once you start getting the hang of eating this way, I promise you won’t miss all that cheese, which now seems to upset my stomach more than anything else.
- Non-Dairy: We have substantially cut down on how much dairy consume and so we always have coconut milk and almond milk on hand at all times.
- Red Meat: I began sourcing most of my red meat through a local farmer who offers a discounted CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Here’s the details of the CSA program, and another way you can save money buying more expensive cuts of meat. The organic label is helpful but not necessary, and if you can source from a local farmer who is labeled organic or not, even better. Note that grass fed is starting to become diluted a bit, as all cows start off on pasture and are “grass fed”. The grass finished label means that the cows stayed on pasture its entire life and never went to a feed lot. The article at the header outlines all these specifics if you have questions.
- Poultry: Happy healthy chickens, and in particular turkeys, are hard to find in conventional supermarkets. Most are raised on antibiotic laden feed, have their beaks clipped, grow so big so fast they can’t even support their own weight, and are confined to windowless coops, some holding as many as 40,000 birds. I belong to the DaLeRanch CSA, and I also purchased whole chickens in bulk, which I receive every month, through Primal Pastures. Both farms set up at various farmers markets or have drop off locations throughout Southern California. When I have to supplement with products from the market, I stick with Mary’s or Rosie’s Chicken, which are both air chilled, and I occasionally buy Diestel Farms turkey sandwich meat, which is a bit harder to find but is fantastic. I also love Applegate Farms, which is available all over including Target, and Colombus Farm To Fork Naturals (not to be confused with their regular label). There is a kosher label Empire which sells various poultry products at Trader Joe’s.
- Pork: In learning about how animals are raised for meat production, I was most saddened to read about how pigs are raised, all in the name of fueling our bacon obsession. Most of the very large scale hog ranches use gestation crates for their sows, including Smithfield and Tysons. These crates confine the momma pig so she can barely move and most certainly can’t move around. Big ranchers explain they do it for safety, but the truth is they are cruel, and there are plenty of small scale farms raising their pigs in bedded pens or the outdoors, the old fashioned way, Yonder Way Farm is one such lovely example. DaLe Ranch supplies me with some lovely pork products that are beyond tasty, and when I need to supplement, I look for pork products from Niman’s Ranch.
Sauces and Dressings: I make most of my own dressings and sauces now because once you get in the habit they are really quite easy and quick. Some are more complicated and I reserve those for the weekend, but a simple salad dressing requires nothing more than olive oil, a squeeze of citrus or vinegar, and some salt and pepper. I keep a bevvy of sauces on hands to heighten foods and dishes including Red Boat Fish Sauce, hoison sauce, tons of vinegar including red wine, white wine, balsamic, white balsamic, rice wine, red plum wine and apple cider. For richer dressings and sauces, I always have a container of plain yogurt on hand, as well as Vegenaise. Check out Gwyneth’s Old Bay Ranch dressing for an example of a great and easy dip you can make at home from scratch.
General Pantry Items: Nut butters, both peanut and almond. Contrary to some beliefs, both have just about equal nutritional value, but almond butter has risen in popularity because for those following a Paleo diet, it falls under the nut category, versus peanut butter is a legume. Dates are awesome for sweetening baked goods and other awesome things like these Carrot Cake Inspired Energy Bites. I love having cacao powder, cacao nibs and chia seeds on hand as well. I like Navitas Naturals for some of these items. Quinoa flakes are great for hot cereal and making Quinoa Granola, and the kids love having oatmeal for breakfast so I always have old fashion rolled oats on hand. Quinoa of course, brown rice and arborio rice for making risotto, and I’ll often browse the grains aisle at Costco to see what they have new and exciting in. Last time I was there I picked up the ancient grain freekeh and absolutely love it, as well as a yummy Qui mix for cereal and smoothie toppings. I have also added arrowroot powder/starch to my cooking rotation and have swapped it out for corn starch to thicken sauces and soups.
Herbs & Spices: Cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, cardamon, dried sage, turmeric, fresh basil, cilantro, parsley (flat leaf), the list goes on. Anything fresh or dried is on the table and up for grabs when it comes to adding flavor to dishes. If you want to make your healthy homemade food taste flavorful like the not so healthy food you love, you need to be bold and freely use herbs and spices, I cannot stress this enough!
Produce: There’s really nothing in the produce aisle that should be avoided! But to narrow it down, items I love to have on hand at all times include a selection of greens like kale, spinach and chard. Carrots and beets. Oranges and lemons (and limes too if it weren’t for our lime shortage). Onions, any shade and size and garlic! Potatoes, both white and sweet, but I prefer small reds or golden potatoes over starchy russets. Broccoli, cauliflower and whichever squash is in season. Apples, avocados, tomatoes and melons if in season, and bananas. I focus first and foremost on what’s in season, and try to source locally as much as possible, and definitely try to stick with US grown, but do buy bananas and pineapples.
Snack Item Faves: Kettle Brand potato chips, Trader Joe’s Organic Olive Oil Popcorn, Angie’s Popcorn, both Kettle Corn & Boom Chicka Pop, Mary’s Gone Crackers items, plain organic graham crackers, organic tortilla chips, Pure Bar fruit strips and sandwiches, and just about anything that has few, all natural ingredients. Look out for hidden forms of MSG, added sugar and artificial coloring. Take one look at that MSG list and your head will spin, this is why I try to just stick items with basic ingredient lists I can recognize and don’t need a science degree to decipher, but of course it’s always helpful if you’re wondering, to do a quick search on your smart phone.
Sweet Treats: Justin’s peanut butter cups, Yum Earth Naturals jelly beans, fair trade chocolate bars (Green & Blacks is my favorite), Ruby Rocket’s popsicles, treats from Plum Organics and Happy Baby.
As I said above, this list is not meant to be exhaustive of every product I use, but it’s a general overall guide. Once I have it all fine tuned, I plan to make a cute printable you can take with you on shopping trips or when meal planning. But for now, I’ll add a bullet point list in my recipe format plug-in, so you can at least have something printable until the list is finalized. You can print that up below. Please let me know if you have any questions or products/categories to add. I think I’ve thought of almost everything, but know it’s not everything!
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- Sugar Replacements: Maple syrup, raw honey, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar. No agave, artificial sweeteners or no calorie all-natural sweeteners. Kirkland Organic Maple Syrup and Lundberg Farms.
- Oil Replacements: Coconut oil (refined for high temp cooking, unrefined for general use), ghee (clarified butter), olive oil, sesame oil. Spectrum brand is great but there's countless other great choices too.
- Flour Replacements: Whole wheat, rice flour, almond and/or hazelnut flour, arrowroot starch for thickening. Bob's Red Mill for most of my flour choices.
- Eggs: Pasture raised or free-range organic preferred.
- Dairy: Organic, non UHT pasteurization. Strauss & Clover Organics, but whichever is local/regional in your area.
- Red Meat: Preferably grass fed and grass finished if possible. Organic.
- Poultry: Free range, air chilled if possible. Mary's, Rosie's, Diestel Farms, Empire Kosher, and Applegate Farms are all good, but whichever is local to you at your store or farmer's market.
- Pork: Applegate and Niman's Ranch, or whichever is local to you at your store or farmer's market.
- Grains: whole grains trying to avoid "enriched" products. Organic if possible, especially with wheat since it is one of the heaviest sprayed crops.
- Bread: Dave's Killer Bread, Alpine Valley, Silver Hills Bakery and Essential Baking Company for gluten free option, these are all great faves in our home.