How to Make a Whole Foods Lifestyle Work for Your Family

Tips for incorporating whole, unprocessed foods into your family's meals | Faith and Composition

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.

Tips for incorporating whole, unprocessed foods into your family's meals | Faith and Composition

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!)
  8. 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.
  9. 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

11 thoughts on “How to Make a Whole Foods Lifestyle Work for Your Family

  1. Lisa Craig

    I have loved this series, Shalene! I think you have done a wonderful job hitting the most important and helpful tips when trying to transition to a whole foods lifestyle. I completely agree with starting small, one step at a time. For us, the first step we took was eliminating processed foods at snack time. Our typical snacks used to include crackers, cereal bars, pretzels, etc. And, while it was not easy at first, after about a week of struggling, my children accepted the offer of a piece of fruit or veggies for snack time with smiles on their faces. 🙂 It also helps to completely remove the items you are trying to rid from your snack rotation. When my little ones requested their favorite cheddar cracker for snack time, I could open the pantry and show them that they were “all gone.” Another thing that worked for us was finding healthier versions of our favorite snacks. For example, my husband loves Doritos. I was able to find him an organic, free-of-questionable-ingredients substitute that he deemed acceptable. Now, he doesn’t feel deprived when he wants chips with his lunch.

    I also couldn’t agree more with your meal planning sentiments! It really is extremely helpful. When we first started on this journey, I googled A LOT! Eventually, I decided to purchase a whole foods weekly meal plan from a website that fit our family’s needs. In the beginning, this helped immensely with bolstering my confidence, encouraging me to keep going, saving me time when I was already overwhelmed with changes, and building up my real foods recipe box. Speaking of recipe boxes, one of the best tips I have read somewhere along the way, was to print out recipes that you’ve tried and liked. Keep a binder in your kitchen, and file those recipes away. After a while, you will have an entire folder full of tried-and-true recipes that your entire family enjoys. And on those nights that you can’t think of what to make for dinner, just flip through your binder.

    Again, thanks for this series! It’s always encouraging to hear from others who are going through similar things and to see what has worked for them. Best of all, I love how you season everything with grace. 🙂

    1. shaleneroberts Post author

      Lisa, thanks for the thoughtful comment! I like that you mentioned finding an acceptable substitute for your hubbie’s Doritos (made me chuckle a bit). Getting the spouse involved is key, and if there are feelings are deprivation, it will be harder to get everyone in the family on board. Thanks for your input!

  2. Heather

    Great points! Love that you opened with a REAL LIFE moment! No one is perfect! When people hear we’re “organic” they’re immediately shocked if they see us eat anything that hasn’t come directly from the ground, tree, or animal. It makes me laugh. We strive to eat as pure and organic as possible, but we are human, and it is hard at times. BUT, to the same point, I would say the longer you do it, the easier it becomes. Have grace on yourself, and, like you said, start making small changes here and there. In no time at all you’ll look up and see how many great changes you’ve made, and how all those “little” changes add up.

    Also, another important point I try to re-iterate to people is that it does take TIME. I won’t lie, it takes a lot more time, especially if you’re accustomed to a lot of those quick, on the go, fast food type meals. Food prep is our best friend around here. It’s a must. And honestly, there are easier weeks then others. For us, the payoff is so worth it. Eating better foods, better meals, and just feeling better!

    Great post Shalene!

    1. shaleneroberts Post author

      Heather, great comments! Thanks especially for mentioning time. It certainly is an adjustment when you’re used to preparing typical meals that contain processed ingredients. It dies take more time, and that takes some getting used to, but you’re absolutely right that it’s worth it.

      I’m looking forward to readers hearing more from you when you guest post on Monday!

  3. Heather

    My husband and I eat a lot of the same foods. We’re not ones that need much variety, although we always welcome trying new things. A few things we make multiple meals out of, and butternut squash is one of them. We eat a lot of squashes at this house! A personal favorite of mine is butternut squash hashbrowns. You may already be familiar, but if not, I’ve put the recipe below. Really easy! And really tasty!

    Peel, cut up, and shred the butternut squash into the food processer. We put the shredded up butternut squash into a container into the fridge. One good size butternut squash usually lasts my husband and I an entire week.

    To cook, we put some coconut oil into a pan and season to taste. We just add salt and pepper to ours. The butternut squash shrinks up quite a bit so you might want to put a bit more of the raw squash then you think you might eat. We layer a 10 inch skillet for the 2 of us.


    1. shaleneroberts Post author

      Heather, thank you for sharing! Come fall, we have a lot of butternut squash around our house, and I’m always looking for new ways to serve it. I’ll have to try this recipe!

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  6. Jessica Driggers

    Finally got around to reading this! Ahhh a little behind! But these are some great tips! I especially like how you encourage people to make small changes one by one. I look at where I was with food six years ago and where I am today and if I tried to do it all at once, I’d be so overwhelmed! Thank you for this post 🙂

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