10 Ways To Eat More Real Food

October 4, 2013

A few months ago I wrote a guest post for Zen Habits on eating real food. I wanted to share it in this space as well to continue the Real Food Series!

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1. Read the ingredient list on a package and ask yourself “Could I make this in my kitchen at home if I had the knowledge and time?” An example of a “yes” answer might be homemade yogurt. An example of a “no” answer might be hydrolyzed whey protein.

2. Make leafy greens a diet staple. Enjoy them as salads, in smoothies (you can’t taste baby spinach in a banana smoothie!) or as crispy baked kale chips.

3. Prep for busy weeknights on a weekend. Boil beans, cook some brown rice, chop veggies or make a pasta salad so you’ll have “fast food” when you’re hungry.

4. Eat a diverse diet as a means to cover your bases and combine foods that work together, such as citrus and leafy greens or herbs with grilled meats. Make a simple plan for the day based on your preferences to ensure you get a good balance. An example: dairy, whole grains and fruit for breakfast; grains, protein and veggies for lunch; fruit, dairy and nuts for snacks; and veggies, protein and grains for dinner.

5. Start plain and add your own flavor. Rather than buying sugary yogurt or flavored instant oatmeal, use plain yogurt and rolled oats and doctor them up with your own toppings. Stir pumpkin into either base and top with cinnamon and a dash of maple syrup, or swirl a little jam into plain yogurt.

6. Plan your meals around vegetables rather than meats. Let meats act a garnish to the meal rather than the focus. And eat more sardines!

7. Invest in a crockpot or rice cooker. to help you cook staples from scratch. You’ll not only save money and excess packaging, but you’ll be more efficient with time too.

8. Pair carbohydrates, proteins and fats for meals and snacks to feel the most satisfied. For a snack, put almonds with an apple or cheese with crackers. Add a slice of whole grain toast to your salad, a tablespoon of nut butter to your oatmeal or a half cup of brown rice stirred into your soup.

9. Try new sauces, spices, herbs and seasonings to take plain, boring vegetables to delicious. Try smoked paprika, lemon juice, Liquid Smoke, herb blends, Garlic Gold and other flavor-packed garnishes. A drizzle of maple syrup takes greens from bitter to better. {More ways to spice up your veggies here!}

10. Just because a brand is popular for being “healthy” doesn’t mean all of its products are. Look for products with simple ingredient lists. There are both processed and real-food versions of veggie burgers, ice creams, nutrition bars and cereals. Look for the simplest ones and ask yourself if you recognize all of the ingredients as real food.


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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jackie October 4, 2013 at 8:29 am

Thanks Kath


2 Anele @ Success Along the Weigh October 4, 2013 at 8:29 am

Great tips Kath! Definitely some stuff I can incorporate.

Have a great weekend!


3 Becky October 4, 2013 at 8:31 am

A few years ago, I did an exercise in reading food labels with my Girl Scout troop. The girls were amazed to see that a certain brand of ‘organic’ granola bars had more sugar than the non-organic option. After reading the ingredients, they came to the conclusion that the non-organic ones were actually better for them, which lead to an entire conversation of how food is marketed. It was an interesting exercise to say the least!


4 Spice Chicken October 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm

What a cool activity! Wish I’d had a troop leader like you.


5 Kinsey October 4, 2013 at 8:48 am

I absolutely love all of these tips. Every weekend, I make a big grain and bean salad for my lunches or make a batch of quinoa in the rice cooker and freeze it in small containers. When I need a quick meal, I reheat the quinoa (you can’t tell the difference!), toss in some chickpeas, vegetables, toasted nuts, lemon juice, and olive oil. In five minutes, I can have a nutritious meal that cost merely pennies.


6 Spice Chicken October 4, 2013 at 7:22 pm

This is a great idea. Thanks. I frequently freeze whole and pseudo grains — you’re right, you can’t tell later — but hadn’t thought to prep a batch for the week in advance.


7 Tiffany October 4, 2013 at 8:54 am

I love these tips! They are so helpful! I love using my rice cooker to make meals in advance, it’s such a time saver!

Have you stopped your lately posts? I hope not because those were my favorites!


8 KathEats October 4, 2013 at 9:03 am

Nope, writing one right now!


9 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats October 4, 2013 at 9:29 am

The buy plain one is definitely something I’ve learned. Flavored things like yogurts or instant oatmeals have so much more sugar, but you can make it taste just as good (or better!) when you add your own stuff. I really need to work on using less protein powder and more natural proteins!


10 Jesse October 4, 2013 at 9:35 am

you’re so right, the prep is so key to success. thanks for sharing!



11 Katie October 4, 2013 at 10:07 am

Great post Kath!


12 Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs October 4, 2013 at 10:30 am

Love this — great post! Have a wonderful weekend!


13 Ashley @ Hudson on the Potomac October 4, 2013 at 11:22 am

Love this! I used to buy sugary yogurt and I am so glad I stopped and started sweetening it with jam, peanut butter, or honey. I love having control and knowing exactly what goes into my morning yogurt!


14 Lisa October 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

This is why yours is my favorite of my blogs (I regularly read about 5 blogs). Thanks for all you do Kath!


15 Calgary Caterers October 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

This was so helpful. I definitely use these tips to eat more real food.


16 Elizabeth October 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

Great post! I really loved the one about the seeing if you are able to make the food at your house, but at the same time making sure you reading the list of ingredients!


17 Anna @ Fitness à la Anna October 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Such a great list. #6 resounds for me in particular – I usually focus on the protein and then add the sides accordingly, but I like this approach of focusing on the veggies and then adding the protein to it. Thanks for sharing!


18 Kaila @healthyhelperblog! October 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Great tips to keep in mind! I’m all about eating real whole foods! :)


19 Parita @ myinnershakti October 4, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Great tips! Personally, preparation is key for me. When I’m hungry, I’m hungry! And if a healthy option isn’t available, I am 10x more likely to make a less healthy decision. I like to take some time on Sunday to prep one large meal to serve as lunch for the week as well as make a few different snacks for both me and my husband. Makes a world of a difference!


20 Dana @ Conscious Kitchen Blog October 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm

These are great tips! I especially like #5. When I start reading labels I was amazed at the differences in nutrition between plain oatmeal, yogurt, etc and the pre-flavored versions. Now I buy plain and keep a bag of frozen mixed berries on hand to flavor them myself.


21 Livi October 4, 2013 at 1:31 pm

great tips!


22 Hillary | Nutrition Nut on the Run October 4, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I really like #2, 5 & 6. #realfoodrocks


23 Miss Polkadot October 4, 2013 at 2:01 pm

All of these are great! Adding your own flavour is really one of the best tips to avoid all kinds of sketchy ingredients and get creative with real food. I shudder at some of the ingredient lists of storebought flavoured yogurts and desserts.


24 [email protected] for the soul October 4, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Super great and practical tips, Kath! I’ve always loved the way you eat (sounds kinda funny saying that, haha) because it’s so wholesome and “complete”, and you’re not afraid to indulge a little every now and then.


25 Irene October 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm
26 Katie October 4, 2013 at 4:11 pm

This is a great post. I like the simplicity of it, it’s a good reminder of how easy it actually is to eat real foods, it just takes a little thought and some planning, but it feels so much better when you know you’re doing something fantastic for yourself! Thanks!


27 Tess @ Tips on Healthy Living October 4, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I love your idea about sneaking some spinach into banana smoothies. What other types of veggies have the similar effect?


28 KathEats October 5, 2013 at 9:32 am

Any of the leafy greens would work. Foods like carrots too. I haven’t ever tried a smoothie with broccoli or peppers to know how detectable they are.


29 Alex @ Kenzie Life October 4, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I remember one of the most valuable nutrition tips I ever got was from the RD I met with during my sophomore year in college. She’s the one who told me to combine foods to ramp up my satiety levels, so instead of just having some sort of carb or starch, pair it with a fat or protein, like crackers and peanut butter for a snack. It was definitely something I kept in mind while trying to make good food choices as a college student and fueling myself properly instead of loading up on empty calories that would make me hungrier in the long run!


30 Deb @ Dietitian Debbie Dishes October 4, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Love these simple tips – especially #3 and #6! My boyfriend and I make a big pot of most weekends for a healthy veggie based protein to add to salads and stir fry.


31 Spice Chicken October 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm

This is such great food sense. I think a lot of blog readers, me included, are the “choir” as far as eating real food goes. I wish more Americans were getting on board with this.


32 Alison @ Daily Moves and Grooves October 4, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Thanks so much for another helpful “Real Food” post! These are great tips. I’ve come to love plain Greek yogurt with my own toppings a lot more than flavored yogurt, which I have more sparingly. I’m also always inspired by your yogurt bowls!


33 Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers October 4, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Thanks Kath! I love this! I have a question. My personal trainer at the gym told me she wanted me to follow the Eat four your Blood Type diet. I think it’s crap, saying I can’t have peppers, coconut milk, beef or coconut. What do you think? Have you ever heard of it? I’d be curious of your opinion.


34 KathEats October 5, 2013 at 9:31 am

If you feel great eating peppers, coconut milk, etc. then I wouldn’t hesitate to eat them.


35 Live Love Yum October 5, 2013 at 10:53 am

I would take the good and bad parts of the diet and adapt it to what works for you.

Experimentation is okay if you want to find what works for you.

Ultimately…why do you think it’s crap? (I’m not saying it isn’t…I don’t adhere to the Blood Type Diet)…but in my experience and knowledge, often the foods we don’t want to let go of (are attached to) may be the ones we should let go of. We tend to crave foods or want the ones that may not be healthiest for us (whether they are healthy foods or not).


36 Laura Carlotta October 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Solid tips for healthy eating, Kath. Do you have any concerns regarding the safety of Liquid Smoke as a flavor enhancer?


37 KathEats October 5, 2013 at 9:30 am

I didn’t know about the carcinogenic compounds – that is a concern. But I also use it in very tiny amounts maybe once a month, so I’m not terribly worried.


38 Lili October 6, 2013 at 2:19 am

I know we learned about that back in my nutrition classes in undergrad… I think there was a fear there for a while, but it’s largely been shown that the concentration of carcinogenic compounds is still less than in actual smoked fish and meats, because manufacturers filter out as many as they can… and because you use such a small amount for flavour, they’re most likely not clinically significant. Just depends how careful one wants to be!


39 Kori October 6, 2013 at 7:15 am

So canned wild caught smoked herring would be of concern then? This may be slightly off topic, but I believe I learned in undergrad that certain vegetables, such as broccoli, can develop carcinogenic compounds if roasted to the point of slightly charring.I suppose the same would go for Brussels sprouts and kale, but what do you know about this?


40 Alexandra October 4, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Great article! Love your blog :)


41 Emily October 4, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Thanks for the reminder! Since starting a new job this week I have been way too dependent on packaged food and take-out lunches, and now by Friday I feel crappy. I’m motivated to recommit to eating from my own kitchen next week!


42 GiGi Eats Celebrities October 4, 2013 at 11:55 pm

# 9 — YES YES YES!!!!! We need to convince people that eating REAL and CLEAN is still DELICIOUS! :)


43 Morgan Barker October 5, 2013 at 8:27 am

Always an educated, clear and awesome voice Kath – LOVE the simplicity and relevance of this piece. I will pass this one on as an excellent model to follow. Mostly, so I can stop my lengthy explanation to people of how I do it — now I will say — I have a great article to send you :)


44 Emily @ Life on Food October 6, 2013 at 11:47 am

one of my rules is add color. i think having a color plate ensures real, fresh, nutritious food.


45 mannythehealthnut October 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Love it, anything that gets more people to actually cook real food over using packaged processed stuff and bringing home the fast food!


46 Liz October 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm

What is new at the bakery? Could you put up a post about fall offerings at Great Harvest. I miss reading about the business.


47 KathEats October 6, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I’d be worried it might suit too small of an audience, but you can find out more on our website, which was just updated with pumpkin offerings ; )


And our Facebook page always has the latest info!


48 Tara | Treble in the Kitchen October 6, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Such great advice that is approachable and not too overwhelming :) Love the “add leafy greens to your diet.” They are SO full of nutrients, it’s like a multi-vitamin every time you eat them! :)


49 Mandy October 6, 2013 at 9:55 pm

I love tip number 6 – for so long I let meat be the centre of my dishes, but now I let vegetables do it and I must admit I’m enjoying it A LOT MORE :)


50 Jo Craven October 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

These are some really nice ideas and great tips. Thanks for sharing. Keep sharing :)


51 Becca October 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Great post! Thanks. Good suggestion re: creating your own flavor from something plain. You mention cooking rice ahead of time, which seems like a great plan – but any suggestions on how to reheat rice?


52 KathEats October 7, 2013 at 6:49 pm

I usually just microwave it and add a splash of water and some butter to keep it moist


53 Chelsea @BigBitesLittleBudget October 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm

These are awesome tips! I am a huge supporter of having balanced meals with whole, unprocessed foods. Protein, fat, and carbs in every meal and snack is the way to go!


54 Alexandra October 8, 2013 at 9:49 am

Looks amazing! Can’t wait to use these tips! :)



55 Tara October 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

Great tips! I love to use my crockpot on Sunday to prep for the week-soups, chili, meats (pulled pork, salsa and bean chicken, refreied beans….). Just freeze in individual containers and take out as needed.


56 Personalizowane kartki October 10, 2013 at 7:22 am

great tips! Thx!!


57 Katie October 10, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Love your straightforward, do-able approach, Kath.

Eating well was simplified for me when I started buying mostly ingredients at the store– no mixes, no premade soups, no flavored couscous, etc. It also forced me to be a better cook!


58 Matt October 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Thanks for another great post Kath! The thing I love about your content is that it’s all about simple, no-nonsense changes that everyone can make. Improving your diet doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be fun and exciting and help to widen your horizons. Maybe you’ll try something you’ve never tried before and really love it! The truth is, when you eat garbage, you feel like garbage. But when you eat well, you feel well. It’s that simple!


59 Neil Butterfield November 8, 2013 at 2:58 am

Great post Kath. I’d like to add that we should all strive to eat more water rich foods such as fruits and leafy greens. Foods with high water content contain less calories and are extremely healthy.


60 Suzie October 21, 2014 at 11:05 pm

Hi Kath,

I have a question about nutrition which I have been wondering about for some time. As I know you are a very busy person, there is no need to respond, but if you do have time I thought it was worth asking. The last two days I have overeaten and I am wanting to “even it out” both calorie-wise and just let me stomach relax for a while. So I was wondering if I could eat less the next few days, I have done this a few times before but have been concerned that some times I’m so not hungry from overeating that I eat too small of an amount, say 1000 calories for a few days which I know is not good for your body and can slow down your metabolism. So I guess I have two questions, 1. is it ok to balance out calorie intake when you overeat and 2. are calories in reference to metabolism slowing counted by the day (so if you under eat in a day that is harmful) or maybe per week so the under and over eating would balance out?



61 KathEats October 22, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Hi Suzie,

Good question. I think you should listen to your body first and foremost. So if you’re extra “full” from eating a lot, say after a vacation, I think your body will naturally want to eat a little less when you get back. If you didn’t count the calories, you might be under the recommended amount for you (but I doubt you’d go as low as 1,000 multiple days in a row without being hungry!) This is a case of quality over quantity, so I think it would be best to focus on eating really nutrient-dense, plant-based foods for a few days rather than focus on the numbers. I don’t think you’d go into starvation mode eating really good real food for a few days after an overeating trip.


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