As I sit typing this post, there’s a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream keeping me company. It’s not organic, and if I read the ingredient list aloud, some whole food purists would certainly scoff. Now why in the world am I telling you that when we’ve been deep in the middle of a series on whole foods? Well, I confess for two reasons. First, because I want to be honest and transparent about our own whole foods journey, and that means letting you know that although we eat unprocessed, organic food nearly 85% of the time, we have our own shortcomings too. We’re not perfect in all of this; we still have quite a bit of ground to gain.
And secondly, I share this confession because it provides a real example that directly corresponds to point number 1 in my list of top tips for making this lifestyle work for families. So here you go. Without further ado … my tips for making a whole foods diet both manageable and attainable for a busy family with little ones underfoot.
- Give yourself some grace.
If you’ve been eating a diet that relies in part on processed foods, making the switch to unprocessed options can seem like a daunting task. Don’t expect to dive into these eating habits overnight. It’s certainly possible (and kudos to you if you can do it), but I don’t recommend it. Rather allow yourself some grace to take it slowly, and don’t get discouraged if it’s one step forward, one step back for a little while.
- Make one change at a time.
This could operate as an extension of number one, but I think it’s important to make it a separate point. Choose one thing you’re going to change, get comfortable with incorporating that new food (or process) into your family, and then make another change. Our first step in this lifestyle was joining an organic produce co-op. Shortly after that I began making homemade whole wheat bread and a few pantry items. Then I slowly replaced store-bought salad dressings with homemade, and we just recently started purchasing raw milk. But had I tried to do it all at once, I would have felt so overwhelmed that I would have been defeated from the start. Little steps and small successes (like culturing yogurt at home) have made the entire lifestyle that much more doable.
- Meal plan.
This was also one of my money-saving tips, but it’s an especially important (perhaps more important) component of making a whole foods lifestyle work for busy families. Feeding your family an unprocessed diet isn’t hard, but it does require some foresight. Things like dried beans and some grains require soaking, chicken broth needs to simmer for several hours (I usually simmer mine overnight in the crockpot), pizza dough needs plenty of rise time. Thus I find that meal planning really is crucial in helping to alleviate a lot of the stress associated with mealtime prep work. If you need a little meal-planning inspiration to get you started, I’ll be sharing a week’s worth of whole-food menu ideas next week, so be sure to check back!
- Make double batches and freeze.
Because a whole foods diet does include a bit more planning and a bit more work, it just makes sense to reduce your workload by making extra and freezing it for future use. My aunt’s bread recipe makes three loaves, which means two go in the freezer for the another time. And I usually double a batch of granola and freeze one. Also learn what entrees freeze well, and then double those recipes so you have an easy dinner option when you’re in a pinch. Things like browned ground beef and cooked black beans freeze well and can be easily defrosted to whip up tacos in no time.
- Let the kids pick a recipe.
A great way to get the kids excited about a transition to whole foods is to let then help you with your meal planning by picking out one recipe for the week. You choose a few options and then let them make a selection. That way they have some input, and it’s perceived as a team effort, rather than you trying to force changes.
- Let the kids help with meal prep.
This one is hard for me (with my type-A, desire-for-order personality and all), but I do think kids are more apt to try something when they’ve had a hand in creating it. Homemade whole wheat pizza is always a good option for little hands. They can toss on freshly shredded cheese or any other topping. And when we’re baking bread, my older two like to help with the mixing. Even a one-year-old can help with the salad spinner when washing fresh greens.
- Reduce (or eliminate) snacking.
This is one of the French Food Rules that author Karen LeBillon details in her book, French Kids Eat Everything, and I think it’s crucial. Kids have a tendency to fill up on snacks when they’re offered. And if their bellies are full at mealtimes, they’re going to be a lot less likely to try that unprocessed, whole foods plate you just set in front of them. Reduce snacking, and your kids will eat more of the goodness you’re serving at breakfast, lunch and dinner because they’re legitimately hungry. We usually eat one small snack in the afternoon (fruit, a piece of whole wheat toast with nut butter, stove-top popped popcorn). It’s enough to satiate their little tummies till dinner, but they’re still hungry once the meal is on the table. (On a side note: I’m reviewing French Kids Eat Everything in the next few days, and Karen has given me permission to share a few recipes from her book, so be sure to check back then!)
- Find a few ‘keeper’ recipes.
No matter how intentional you are about meal planning, you’re still going to have those moments when something unexpectedly arises and the planned meal just isn’t going to work. In those instances, you need something that you can whip up quickly without much thought. Thus, I recommend having a few tried-and-true whole foods recipes that contain ingredients you always have on hand so you’re never without an excuse. My keeper recipes include lentil soup; quiche; and sweet potato, black bean and egg mash-up.
- Do advance prep work.
Prep lunch during breakfast, prep dinner during lunch. Simply put, plan ahead. If you’re going to have an egg salad for lunch, go ahead and hard boil the eggs while you’re making breakfast. If you’re having roast chicken and veggies for dinner, chop the vegetables while you’re busy preparing lunch. A little advance preparation goes a long way, especially when it’s 6 o’clock, your family is hungry, the dogs are barking and the baby is pulling on you. I’ll be honest, I’m not always able to do this (I do it a lot less than I’d like), but when I do, I’m quite thankful!
That’s it … my top tips for making a whole foods lifestyle work for your busy family. Now it’s your turn! Let me know what tricks you’ve discovered for getting unprocessed foods to your table. And put those whole-foods skills to good use with this FREE 5-day meal plan, click here!