The other week I got a message from a reader who is transitioning into real food. And I couldn’t help but picture my own confused self a couple of years back with all the same questions. Maybe you can relate, too. Holly writes:
As I’m learning more about food, I also find myself somewhat more confused and overwhelmed at the grocery store. I usually buy my produce and a just a few other necessities and then end up leaving the store with little else. This results in a relatively bare refrigerator, and throughout the week I realize that I really don’t have much on hand to make myself a nutritious and well-balanced lunch. I would find it so helpful if you could provide some insight as to what your food staples are. What do you find yourself buying and stocking your kitchen with on a regular basis? What are your go-to meals with ingredients you normally have in the house?
Ah yes, those moments when opening the fridge after unpacking the week’s groceries and feeling like you still have nothing to eat. I remember those feelings. Thankfully, over the course of three or so years, I’ve finally found a “groove” that works for my family. And today I’m going to share some of my “go to” basics and staples that we use.
Remember: Everyone is different
Keep in mind that what works for me, may not work for you. And I’m far from perfect… (But I don’t need to tell you that, right?) My family does well on dairy, grains, eggs, and meat. We are not vegetarians. Definitely not vegans. And we are lucky that we don’t have any major food allergies. So if our situation seems to match yours, then hopefully this post will help you as you transition into real food.
To everything there is a season
Much of what we eat depends on the season. During the summer months, for example we will usually sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and that will shape our menus for the week. I do most of my other shopping at smaller “health” food stores where the selection for produce and other perishables will change with the seasons, too. At first this seemed like more work as I would plan for a specific dish only to learn that an important ingredient wasn’t to be found. So before you do any shopping or planning, check in with what’s really in season where you live. It will save you time and it’s better for your body, too.
Ready? Let’s do this.
1. Rice, Beans, Pasta
Whether you cook your own beans and then can or freeze them or choose to buy canned beans in the store (just be sure to get BPA free cans, please!), beans are a great addition to soups, salads, tacos, dips, etc. They are frugal and nourishing.
Rice is another great staple that can be added to soups or used as a lovely side dish. When things are hectic, I will cook some rice and throw in shredded sharp cheese to make cheesy rice. We don’t eat rice all the time, but’s nice to have on hand. Also, we choose to eat white rice after years of thinking brown rice was better. Not only do we enjoy the flavor more, but turns out white rice is actually better for you for a number of reasons.
Pasta is another one of those quick and easy meals that we eat once every week or two. You can find sprouted pasta online, which is easier to digest and more nourishing.
2. Tomatoes, Pasta/Pizza Sauce
Whether in pasta dishes, for tacos, in soup or the like, we love our tomato products. Self preservation and canning will always give you more nourishment, control, and help you avoid toxins like BPA. But don’t let that keep you from having food in your pantry while you keep progressing.
3. Coconut and Olive Oil
We go through A LOT of coconut oil. We use extra virgin for popcorn, french toast, baking, and any other cooking that lends itself well to a subtle coconut flavor. We use expellar-pressed coconut oil for cooking where we don’t want a coconut flavor. Olive oil is used more sparingly in things like salad dressing, humus, and other heat-free dishes.
4. Flours, Oats, Quinoa, Pop Corn, and other grains
While some people may think it’s heresy, I have both whole wheat flour and white flour on hand in small amounts. And honestly, I haven’t use the whole wheat flour for months and will probably be tossing it soon. If I’m going for nourishment I will always choose my sprouted flour (coming up), but if I’m making cookies for a family gathering, white flour is the way to go. It stores much better than plain ole’ wheat flour and is actually easier to digest. So while it’s not really nourishing, I choose it over wheat flour (unless that whole wheat flour was freshly ground… that’s a different story.)
We also like having oats on hand for soaked oatmeal. We LOVE popping popcorn on the stove top in coconut oil. And we occasionally eat other grains like quinoa, millet, and the like. (Although, I try to keep my quinoa consumption down as it’s devastating the areas trying to keep up with our want for exotic foods.)
5. Dried Herbs and Spices
What finally got me hooked on real food was the flavor. Herbs and spices are a must to bring some real goodness to the table. The ones I use the most include: Oregano, Basil, Parsley, Chili Powder, Garlic, Cumin, Curry, Paprika, Red Pepper Flakes, and Cayenne Pepper. And of course real salt and freshly ground pepper. Of course, it’s nice to have fresh herbs on hand, too.
1. Raw Milk, Cheese, Butter, Yogurt
Yep. We love dairy in our house. I always have these essentials on hand. Raw milk is my favorite drink. Cheese goes with almost everything. Butter is essential. And yogurt is perfect for a quick snack or to boost the occasional smoothie.
2. Eggs (and lots of them!)
I remember growing up in a home that went through a dozen eggs every couple of weeks (maybe). Boy, are things different in my house. Many morning start with fried eggs, sprouted toast, and raw milk. Grateful to have access to pastured eggs from a local farm. Can’t wait to have my own chickens.
3. Vegetables and Fruits
The type of vegetables and fruits depends on what’s in season. Greens, carrots, beets, root vegetables, onions (lots of onions), tomatoes, apples, grapefruit, bananas, mangoes, etc. Having a bunch of ways to cook different vegetables means you should never go hungry. Salads, roasted, sauteed, blanched, raw… etc. Love your fruits and veggies. (And yes, not all of these should be stored in the fridge. I know that.)
5. Tortillas, Sprouted Flours, Specialty Flours, etc.
I keep my sprouted flour in the fridge so it doesn’t go rancid. I use it to make biscuits, cookies, etc. I also love having my sprouted corn tortillas on hand. They are great for easy tacos, quesadillas, or fry them up in some coconut oil for chips and salsa. I also have things like almond flour and arrowroot powder on hand.
Store bought condiments can be the biggest offenders of nasty ingredients. Read labels carefully, or make them yourself. Our most used include organic ketchup, mayo (without rancid vegetable oils), whole grain mustard, hot sauce (for the hubs), and homemade dressings for salads.
1. Frozen Vegetables and Fruit
I love having this stuff on hand in case I don’t get to the store and need a veggie. We always have organic berries on hand at all times (they are my little girl’s favorite snack).
2. Meat, Liver/Organ Meats
We only eat meat once or twice a week, and since we buy more of our stuff from a local farmer it’s usually frozen to begin with. We’ll almost always have grassfed burgers, a whole chicken, liver, and fish in the freezer.
When we roast our chicken, I make chicken broth and store up until my freezer is full. This is perfect for soups and sauces. I will also cook my rice and other grains in stock to add more nourishment to a dish.
4. Sprouted Bread and Pizza Crusts
We don’t eat a ton of sandwiches. Most of our bread is consumed as a piece of toast in the morning with our eggs. To keep the bread fresher longer I just stick it in the freezer. And I always have at least one sprouted pizza crust on hand. Talk about a 15 minutes start to finish meal that’s yummy and good for you.
5. Ice cream
Let’s be honest, I also almost always have ice cream in my freezer. Best if it’s homemade from raw milk but I’ll take a quality organic store-bought variety if I need to. It’s my comfort food, and I don’t care who knows it.
Keep it simple.
As mentioned in this post, real food doesn’t have to be complicated. We always try to find at least one new dish each week to try and experiment with. But most of the week we will fall back on simple meals like salads, soups, or (what I like to call) “the toddler approach” where we just have a variety of easily prepared options to consume.
For me, meal planning has helped me a lot… but I also find that I need to be flexible. Having a list of 5, 10, or even 20 “go to” meals will help take the work out of planning. Make meal time more than just the food. Connect with others, practice mindful eating, and feel good that you’re making progress.
What are your real food staples?