healthier eating

This section is going to help you make “wiser” decisions when it comes to healthier eating.  Many of the recipes given in this course may recommend any of the following:  margarine, all purpose flour, oils, pasta, or packaged ingredients BUT you can substitute these for healthier choices in your diet.

Why should you eat healthier?

  1. Cheaper than buying processed food—I didn’t believe that for a long time.
  2. Healthier for your children–You don’t want them ending up with disease and illness because you didn’t teach them how to eat healthy.
  3. For ourselves, as we are getting older and can see how food affects your ability to keep up with life— physically, emotional, and mentally based on what you eat.
  4. To simplify your lifestyle. Having less things is ALWAYS better.

The question begins with …..Where do I start?

There are articles out there about trans fat, good fats, whole wheat vs white, super foods, caffeine being good or bad, organic vs non organic, the list goes on and on.

I am including a real families journey on how they made adjustments to their diets for the better.  These are all feasible ways.

……..from a month long series Eliminating Processed Food………..

Before I begin, here are some things in our journey that  you will NOT find:

  • The perfect healthy food plan—we are human, making changes one at a time, there is ALWAYS something that we can improve upon and what works for our family in our area, may not work for yours.
  • Only organic foods, even though I like the whole organic plan, it just isn’t financially good for a large family in our area.  We try and buy fresh, local grown items as we can, but it isn’t always feasible to buy organic.
  • Expensive food that is only found at a health food store.  All our food can be bought at your local grocery store and bulk food store–if you have access to one.
  • Tasteless, weird, “my children and husband are NOT going to like beans and veges meals.”  My husband likes a GOOD tasting meal, I can’t really mess around with things like pureed spinach in my brownies.  Besides, do I really believe that my children are going to still eat puree spinach in their brownies after they leave the house?

This is our REAL plan, things we wanted to improve upon in our diets

  1. Eliminate white flour, sugar, bread, and pasta
  2. Replace sugary drinks and sodas with water
  3. Avoid packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients
  4. Replace fake margarine’s and vegetable oils with real butter and olive/coconut oils
  5. Replace table salt with sea or Himalayan salt
  6. Replace snack foods with fresh fruit or veges
  7. Stop eating out and start making meals
  8. Work on replacing foods each month that I buy as a “convenience food”.  Example–canned beans, taco seasoning, ranch mix, yogurt, etc. by making myself.
  9. Make most of my grocery budget go to fresh fruits and vegetables
  10. Replace our store bought meats/poultry with organic, farm raised, animal products.

A few years ago I stared buying things in bulk from a Mennonite bulk food store.  Here is what we buy in 25 or 50 pound bags and then store them in 5 gallon buckets with lids in the basement and gallon glass jar containers in my pantry upstairs.

  • white whole wheat flour
  • raw sugar
  • oats
  • brown rice
  • popcorn seeds


We used to do our baking with white flour.  We then switched to whole wheat flour.  That was a hard one for my husband to enjoy because he did not like the heaviness of the bread or the bad taste of cookies.  I had a few recipes that I made that were okay but definitely not LOVED by my family.  I was so thankful when I was introduced to white whole wheat flour.  Basically it tastes very similar to the white flour but has all the whole wheat properties.  I would recommend buying this kind as it is just as good as whole wheat but not as heavy as a bread.


Raw sugar was an easy one to switch over to from white sugar as the taste is exactly the same.  The only difference that I noticed is that when I made Italian dressing, I would have to let the sugar crystals sit for a few minutes and dissolve as they are bigger and take longer than white, not a problem just something to be aware of.

I definitely do not use as much sugar as I used to, we try and use honey to sweeten things as we know it is better than the sugar.  I tried Sucanat sugar which is a cane sugar an even better choice than the raw sugar, but I was just not into the taste.  It was dryer, maybe in time if I learned some new recipes but for now I don’t buy it.


Eating oatmeal was an adjustment for my family.  For a long time I just used it in energy bites, granola bars, and even no bake cookies!!  But my family and myself has learned to enjoy a bowl of oatmeal with some homemade strawberry jam or apple butter on top.


Brown rice was another easy one to switch over to. We have an easy way of making it.  We put in 4 cups of brown rice into a large pot  then pour in 8 cups of water.  I put the lid on it and turn the burner on high and let it come to a boil.  Once it is boiling hard, I turn it down to simmer a #1 on my range.  I then let it sit and absorb all of the water, when I can look into the pot and see it absorbed I shut it off.  Usually there is a little bit of water still in the bottom of the pot, I then just leave the lid on and let it continue to absorb the water.  I NEVER stir the rice except for when I first put it in with the water.  I have heard that it makes the rice sticky to stir it during cooking times.  This makes it perfect every time.


We will make air popped popcorn and spray it with butter and then add some sea salt or ranch powder mix. .  It is the best food!  You can eat a whole bowl and it is barely any fat or calories.


Another area was switching from Iodized table salt to sea salt. This is one of those “health” areas that are controversial as to if it is “really” better for you.  From what I have read, sea salt comes from the ocean.  When it evaporates it leaves behind the salt.  This salt contains naturally occurring minerals and involves a minimal amount of processing before it hits the shelf.

Iodized table salt is found in underground mines.  It goes through a refining process that is designed to remove virtually all trace minerals.  An additive is then placed in the salt to prevent clumping.  Iodized salt gets it name from common practice of adding iodine to the salt.

Health experts will argue if one is better than the other and who knows I am not a chemist but if you look at the practices and how they get to your table…sea salt to me sounds like the most minimal amount of processing before eating.  So that is what we use.

Oils and butters

I used to buy the margarine sticks and “tub butters” when we were first married.  I didn’t like the real butter sticks because it was so hard.  I preferred the spreadable form of butter on my bread. I would also buy canola oil –because it was the “better” vegetable oil.   Then I started reading about the processes that are done to make the oils and realized I need to stop.

Unlike butter or coconut oil, margarine and vegetable oils can’t be extracted just by pressing or separating naturally.  They must be chemically removed, deodorized, and altered.  Oils are some of the MOST chemically altered foods in our diets, yet packaging promotes them as “healthy.”  There is a whole long list and process that goes along with making margarine and vegetable oils and  if you really want to learn how they do it you can google it.  It would be a whole post by itself.  I am doing the short version—-margarine and vegetable oils—-bad for you!!!

I admit the last few months, I still bought margarine sticks for our cookie baking, but no more!  I am just using up what I have in my freezer and then I am done.  I buy salted butter to spread on our bread—as it is easier and then unsalted works well for baking.   I despised paying for the butter as it is significantly higher in price than margarine, but I realize that with our whole lifestyle change  I don’t make cookies as often as we did before so the cost works out to be the same.

I buy our coconut oil in a 5 gallon  buket.  In the summer it is easier to work with as it melts, due to the heat, but in the winter it is usually pretty solid.  If I am going to use it for baking, I just have to heat it up in a saucepan on the stove.  Something to get used to.  Was always easier to just pour my bottle of canola in, but I would rather take the few extra minutes to melt it, knowing I am doing better for my family.

We also keep olive oil on hand in gallon containers.  This is great for making salad dressings or if I want to saute something.

1.  Eliminate white flour, sugar, bread and pasta

We have already replaced our white flours and sugars.  I do buy white buns for hamburgers and hot dogs.  I will be making my own buns for hamburgers the next time we have them.  Hot dogs are a food we used to eat much of, but I limit it to once per month this year.  I don’t feel too bad about feeding my children white hot dog buns for the once a month treat.

We buy whole wheat pasta for our meals instead of white.  It costs just a few cents more and is healthier.

2.  Replace sugary drinks and sodas with water

My husband really likes to drink soda.  It was a staple in our household each week.  I don’t drink it, so it doesn’t concern me, but I know if there was some open in the house, my children would drink it.  We have since stopped buying it and save it for special occasions.    We don’t drink flavored sugary drinks except for special occasions.  I buy apple juice for the little ones and water it down 1 part juice to 2 parts water.  They only get a cup in the morning for breakfast and then we drink water the rest of the day.

I myself like to put a peppermint teabag in my water bottle and let it flavor my water.  I change it out every day.

We also drink kombucha.  You can click here to read about it.

3.  Avoid packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients  with lots of ingredients.

There are some things that we just can not make.  Well, we could make them but we don’t want to traumatize our family with our version of homemade mustard.  I originally thought no more than 5 ingredients but I started looking at some of the stuff that we still buy like mustard, ketchup,  and mild pepper rings.  Some have like 6 ingredients, so I didn’t want to be lying when I said I cut those out, we are just looking to simplify and get rid of the bad ones, if I can make it, I will do that.

4.  Replace fake margarine’s and vegetable oils with real butter and olive/coconut oils.

This wasn’t too hard, as we have been doing this for a long time.

5.  Replace table salt with sea salt

We already do this.  I buy the iodized salt and use it for cleaning purposes only.

6.  Replace snack foods with fresh fruits and veges

This has been a harder one for my children.  We do baking once per week, usually and I USED to always make a big batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, energy bites,or Monster cookies.  I would then freeze them and each day at snack time, pull them out to eat them.  But we have NOT been making this for the last few months.  I decided to have plenty of veges and fruit cut up to eat.

I also made a homemade trail mix and kids snack mix to help with the snacky needs.  This stuff they haven’t taken a liking to as easily.  I offer a few pieces each day and they will learn to like it eventually.

We used to have snack time each morning but have since dropped it.  When you feed your children good, quality meals, there is no need to snack.  They can last till lunch time.  Sometimes in the afternoon, I know they are hungry and will allow whatever we have on hand.  Sometimes it is bread and jam, frozen grapes, celery and peanut butter, hard boiled eggs, or hummus and veges.  All of those  choices are from a homemade source, nothing processed.

Each evening, popcorn is a good, healthy snack to air pop for everyone.

This doesn’t mean that we will NEVER make pumpkin chocolate chip muffins again, we will just make them more of a treat instead of a regular monthly thing.

7.  Stop eating out and start making meals.

This one, we got figured out over the last few years.  Taking a large family out to dinner is expensive.  We did many weekends at our local pizza buffet during the winter months, when they were little, just to get me out of the house, but those “needed” days are gone.  Seems we reserve this for about once per month.  Not a problem in our family.

We did buy the $5 pizzas A LOT when we would be out and about driving and needed to feed the children as it was cheap and easy.  But I am getting better at grabbing foods to fill our bellies while we do a day outing.  My husband says “let’s go!” and my girls and I can have a cooler packed and ready to go in about 5 minutes.  We usually make peanut butter and honey sandwiches or wraps with lunchmeat.  I grab whatever fruit or vegetables we have on hand, cut up.  If we have a treat like cookies in the freezer or even a box of graham crackers leftover in the pantry,  we grab those as well.   That makes the temptation for grabbing treats less by just bringing my own. We ALWAYS grab our water bottles as well.  Making sure everyone has a drink.

8.  Work on replacing foods each month that I buy as a “convenience food”. 

This has been a fun one to do.  I am always up for the challenge of making new foods.  If I can cut down our grocery bill by doing it and the benefits of knowing it is GOOD for my family not full of chemicals—then all the better.

How I did this was I started taking note of things that we buy A LOT of. Things that were in little packages.  Those little things that added up on my grocery bill. Some of the first things that I noticed we bought much of and I KNEW it wasn’t very good for my family were:

2014 04 17 00154 300x225 150x150 large family food ideas

Chicken bouillon—this was my “go-to” spice.  Whenever I needed to spice up my macaroni and cheese, I would add chicken bouillon.  If I needed to flavor my soups more, I would add chicken bouillon.  Mashed potatoes, pasta, just about everything tasted better with chicken bouillon. I had to find an alternative.  Which I did.

This recipe is made with nutritional flakes.  I was concerned that maybe I would spend more for the “homemade” version verses the store bought kind, but the cost is similar.  And guess what??  I have STOPPED flavoring everything with chicken bouillon.  That Parmesan cheese container full will last me a few months.  Where if it was filled with sodium-rich, preservative filled chicken bouillon, I would have used it up within 2 weeks!!

Click here for my version of homemade chicken bouillon.

Taco seasoning—-this was another item that we would buy much of each month.  We could easily purchase 6-8 packets per month.  If you look at the ingredients listed on the package–it  is an easy fix to make it yourself MINUS all the preservatives and “extras.”

This version is “hot.” That benefits me because we usually make taco’s for dinner.  In our family we could easily go through 4-5lbs of hamburger if everyone is having one.  To cut down, I decided to pull out my homemade refried beans and offer burritos for some of the children as well.  The taco seasoning is “hotter” tasting so my little ones prefer the refried beans.

You can scale back on the cayenne pepper if too spicy.  If you mess up and it is too spicy, just add some more of the ingredients to your mix and it will make it not so spicy.  Click here for our version of taco seasoning. 

Ranch mix—this was one of those items that we would buy each month and I did not like spending the extra $5 just to flavor those few extra dishes.  We use ranch mix in spinach dip, to mix with sour cream to make a veggie dip, or added to mashed potatoes to perk up the flavor.  That is about all we use it for.  I make a large 4 cup container and it has lasted us 2-3 months.  Click here for our version.

Okay, now that I was on a roll making these items, I kept going.  I started looking at my pantry shelves and seeing what it was I could make instead of buy.


Here was my “full pantry.”  This was after shopping for the month and having some items stored up.  I liked the satisfaction of having my shelves full of food.  Made me feel good.  Then I realized this was all canned, preservative filled, and some–convenience food. What was I thinking?

I started with my cream soups.  I like to buy a half of a box of soups per month to help mix into my recipes like Salisbury steak,  burrito casserole, and tater tot casserole.  This was something I definitely wanted to replace because whatever was in that can, cannot be as good as homemade.  I started searching, most recipes that I found were ones that you have to mix it up right then.  I still wanted the convenience of a can but with the knowledge that it was “homemade and perservative free.”

Our version is a dry powder mix and I store it in my freezer in a plastic container.  Whenever I need my cream soups, I mix up a little.  Click here for cream soup recipe.

I only make cream of mushroom soup and cream of chicken soup.  For the chicken I would add 1 Tablespoon of chicken bouillon.  For the mushroom one, I have frozen diced mushrooms that I use.  I used an ice cube tray, froze them, and popped them into a plastic baggie.  Whenever I need to make cream of mushroom soup, I pull out the cube from my plastic bag in the freezer and add it to my liquid.

Bacon bits– This was another downfall that my children, and I love.  We really like to sprinkle it on eggs for a quick perk.  We also love making pizza’s on pita bread for lunches and this with some tomatoes and Parmesan cheese is really good.  But bagged bacon, how can that be good?

For 1, we don’t usually buy pork products as I know they are not good for you.  For 2, the price is ridiculous just for the convenience.  So, why did we buy it?    I don’t know, but I had to stop.  Buying 5-8 bags per month, is wasteful.    I decided to make my own.  I don’t usually make bacon, because it takes awhile to make, plus the mess involved.

What I did, was I bought my turkey bacon and made ALL of it, in one day.  I cooked my strips and put them in plastic bags to freeze for BLT sandwiches another day.  The rest of the bacon, I put in the food processor and then put in containers.  Now, I have homemade bacon bits.    These work great in the freezer, because of the grease, they easily break apart.  You can pull out what you need and put the rest back in for later.

Baking powder– I stopped buying deodorant that had aluminum in it, but I was still using baking powder for ALL of my baking and guess what?  It has aluminum in it.  You can easily make your own version without it.  Click here for recipe.

If I look at my pantry and look for those “packaged staple items,”  we don’t have much more.  The only other items that we buy packaged would be:

  • jello
  • pudding
  • cake mix
  • frosting
  • ice cream cones
  • graham crackers

These items would only be bought for special occasions and parties.  Not a staple item, more of an easy treat.

Dry beans

I like my convenience of opening a can of beans and just pouring it in the recipe. I don’t like that the cost can add up quickly for our large family if I am not careful.  I then realized how much cheaper it was to make dry beans and then freeze them.

Here are the beans  I buy and what we make with them:

black beans–for Haitian rice and beans and taco chili

garbanzo beans–for hummus—I have been making my own homemade hummus for years and have always used canned beans.  In my food processor it just does not get super smooth like the store bought version.  Well, my beans when frozen and then thawed and used in this recipe come up very smoothly.  I will definitely be using frozen ones from here on out.

pinto beans–for taco soup and chili

kidney beans–for red beans and rice

northern beans—for baked beans

red beans–made into chili beans–for lots of recipes

How I make my dry beans

I use my big roaster oven and crockpot when I am replenishing my bean stash.   Depending upon how much I am making, the rule of thumb is for every pound of beans add 6 cups of water.  You want to make sure that your beans are completely covered during cooking time. Remember that they will expand during cooking time and you don’t want to have to scoop any out before they are done.

I usually fill my crockpot and roaster about half full of beans and then fill the rest with water.  I turn them both on high and close the lids.  I let it come to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer.  The crockpot I turn down to low.  In usually about 2 hours I check and  most of the time, I have soft beans.  Drain out the liquid and scoop the beans into containers to freeze.  These will last for months in your freezer.

Tomato products

It seems we buy ALOT of tomato products.  We can buy pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato juice, salsa, tomato sauce and tomato paste.  We can devote much of our food budget just in buying these items.  I was thinking one day, wasn’t it silly to keep buying all these different tomato products when they were all made from the same base—-tomatoes???  It was more expensive to buy a large industrial size can of pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce,then to buy a industrial sized can of tomato paste.  Did you know that tomato paste is just highly concentrated tomato sauce, tomato juice and pizza sauce minus the spices??

We get a large can of this and then we freeze in 1/2 pint containers.  Whenever I need to make tomato juice, tomato sauce, or pizza sauce, I just add more water according to what product I need.  This saves much waste in packaging and cost.

I also either freeze pureed tomatoes for use in recipes throughout the year.  If you can get to a farmers market look to pick up a bushel of canning tomatoes.  It is usually pretty cheap and you can easily puree them and freeze them for use in spaghetti sauce. 

Making homemade salsa was a HUGE thing for us.  We really like buying it in the jars and I always thought that to purchase the tomatoes fresh along with the other ingredients it would cost more than just picking up a jar, then I realized you can make this with canned tomatoes and it tastes delicious.  I do buy diced tomatoes in a CAN for this purpose.  I haven’t tried making it with frozen tomato puree–I don’t think it would be that good.  This is super cheap when you use diced tomatoes and some spices.  We found a large bag of jalapenos last year on clearance for $.50.  I brought them home, pureed them and put them in ice cube trays to freeze.  I popped them into double ziploc bags and then keep them in the freezer.  My bag will last me ALL year for making homemade salsa.  The cost of a jalapeno is usually $1, but I have nearly eliminated my cost by picking them up in bulk.  Rinse your ice cube trays afterward with vinegar.

Looking at my pantry, we do still have canned foods to use up like canned vegetables, but for the most part we won’t have any need to purchase anymore.

Here are some I might still consider:

canned green chilies—-we use it in our taco soup.  I could probably get some this summer and freeze them like I did the jalapenos to cut down on $12 a year.

Alfredo sauce—we use this when making homemade macaroni and cheese pizza.

canned mushrooms—I use these for making cream of mushroom soup, I probably could get them fresh and then puree them to freeze.  Might try that.

canned pumpkin–I really like using canned pumpkin when making muffins, pies,  and cookies.  I have tried using fresh pumpkin and did not care for it.  I will try again this fall and tweak the recipe a bit.——update, this past fall we got butternut squash cooked it and smashed it.  We put it in quart ziploc bags and use it for our pumpkin.


We do buy these from the store.  Maybe homemade would be better–I have to come across some good recipes before we do that.



soy sauce

sweet chili sauce

sesame oil

cooking spray—I have made a homemade version of this but it never worked quite right.


We do buy store bought whole wheat tortillas and corn chips for salsa dipping.  I haven’t yet braved making my own yet.

Sliced bread, I buy for quick lunches.  I try and get the “naturalist” kind from our bread store and store in the freezer.

Refrigerator foods

yogurt is a very simple and easy thing to make for our family.  We make 8 quarts jars almost every 3-4 weeks.

Salad dressings.  We have replaced our need to buy Italian dressing, french, and ranch with our homemade versions.  Takes seconds in the blender.

Bulgur burger, this is how we stretch our hamburger meat in most recipes.

9.  Make most of our grocery budget go to fresh fruits and vegetables.

This has been fairly easy right now.  We have a local farmers market come to the area each week and I have been able to go and pick up in bulk items we can eat for the week.  I was able to get 1/2 bushels of cucumbers and early apples and that is great snacking food for our family.  It cost me $14 for a half bushel of apples but it has lasted us almost a week and a half for snacking on.  If I bought 3 bags of Doritoes at the store it would cost me roughly the same and we would have devoured it in a sitting.  I know in the weeks to come, apples will get even cheaper and we will be able to purchase bushels for fairly low price and have and endless supply of snacking.

10.  Replace our store bought meats/poultry with organic, farm raised, animal products.

We currently have chickens and ducks that we let graze on the land in our yard.  This supplies us with an endless supply of eggs.

We don’t currently buy organic farm raised chicken or beef.  We would like to look further into doing that in the near future.  We don’t eat tons of meat and most of the meat that I do make, I add plant products to help stretch it such as bulgur burger.

In time, Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will my food habits be changed all at once.  It gives us something to look forward to doing.

You can see how by taking little steps you can eliminate some processed foods from your diet.

**download the reference sheet to keep on hand for easy substituting