Baby steps count. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed when wanting to make a change in life whether the goal is to clean up the family’s diet, to institute a budget, to move toward more gentle parenting, or to become more organized. At the same time, it is easy to overlook the transformative power of baby steps with consistency. Day after day. Month after month. Until we look back and stand amazed at just how far we have come.
Let’s say that your goal is to improve the nutritional quality of the food you provide to your family.
Generally speaking, I advocate beginning by upgrading those foods or products which are used on a regular basis since this will potentially offer the greatest health reward. However, you do NOT need to mess with your husband or child’s favorite food at the outset if there is resistance. Your relationship with your teenager is far more important than whether or not he eats store-bought ranch dressing!
Following are a handful of suggestions for easy nutritional upgrades, along with some recipes to get you started:
Rev up your morning coffee and creamer– In love with your morning cup of brew? Me too. But step away from that Timmy’s or (shudder) instant coffee and, instead, invest in a delicious, organic (and hopefully fair trade) bean to grind and prepare at home. Not only will you most likely save money but you will reduce your daily exposure to pesticides, AND the taste upgrade will surely boost your happy quotient.
Upgrade further by ditching icky creamers and, instead, using full-fat, organic coconut milk in BPA-free cans or by making homemade cashew creamer. If you are currently using refined white sugar you could switch it up to coconut sugar, stevia, or just start by slowly decreasing the sugar you use. Bonus tip: add some ground Ceylon Cinnamon to your coffee grinds; cinnamon adds a natural hint of sweetness but also helps stabilize blood sugar. If you want to reduce your coffee intake, try a mug of Chaga chai, dandelion latté or a matcha latté.
Chuck your kids’ breakfast cereal-Teachers will thank you for not sending your child to them hopped up on all the sugar and food dyes present in many kids’ cereals on the market. A homemade batch of granola is incredibly easy to make and contains healthy fats and protein for better energy and concentration throughout the morning. Breakfast burritos (sprouted wraps, organic eggs/veg), Overnight Oats topped with frozen berries, or homemade breakfast cookies (grind up the seeds if necessary) with a side of fruit are other easy, upgraded breakfast ideas to consider.
Swap out your family’s sandwich bread-If your family eats a lot of sandwiches this could be a great starting place. Make your own bread with ancient grains if you are so inclined but there are also decent brands on the market to save you time. Silver Hills offers organic, sprouted bread and buns and Ezekial Bread makes organic and sprouted English Muffins, wraps, and bread; both of these brands are fairly easy to find these days and taste great. If you are gluten-free, the yummy choices are few and far between but Costco sells a half-decent little loaf that is gluten/dairy/nut/soy-free from The Essential Baking Company.
Modify your kids’ snacks– Kids really do not need to eat sugary or processed treats every day. In fact, the definition of a treat is “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.” Out of the ordinary does not mean every day or even every week! When teens are working, they may choose to spend some of their own money on unhealthy foods, but otherwise, mom and dad control what comes into the home. An automatic upgrade would be to prepare homemade swaps for lunchbox snacks, thereby eliminating preservatives, food dyes, added sodium, refined sugars, etc.
Fruit and veg, homemade smoothies in a thermos or jar, organic popcorn drizzled with coconut oil/honey/nut or seed butter, no-bake energy bites, hard boiled eggs with sea salt, or grain-free pumpkin muffins are all nutrient-dense snacks. If a meltdown ensues perhaps you offer Kind Bars or a homemade trail mix for your teen’s locker to nix an afternoon fix at the vending machine or concession, a few pieces of organic dark chocolate for yourself to replace your afternoon Snickers bar or sugar-laden drink, or Inka plantain chips for your husband in lieu of his store-bought cookie habit. You start where you can.
Increase the veggie component of supper- Most Canadians are not eating enough veggies. One of the best nutritional upgrades we could make is to simply eat more produce. Why not aim to provide a few servings of veggies with each and every supper? A big salad or tray of roasted root vegetables can help achieve this. Soups and crockpot stews are other easy meals that can include a load of veggies. Prepare big enough batches to last 2-3 days to cut down on your work. Serve veggies in the half hour before you sit down to eat if everyone is starving and looking for snacks.
A further upgrade would be to buy more organic produce; use the dirty dozen/clean fifteen list to help you prioritize when it is most important to choose organic. Consider growing even small amounts of your own produce, checking out a local farmer’s market, or joining a local CSA (where you pay a fixed amount at the start of the season and receive a box of local veggies each week during the growing season). And whip up a batch of homemade dressing for yourself like this Balsamic Vinaigrette which can last up to a month in the fridge or this Dairy-free Ranch.
If you already have these upgrades underway, next steps might include upgrading your water (affiliate link) by investing in a quality water filter that removes chlorine/fluoride/trace pharmaceuticals, making batches of bone broth to freeze and which will greatly increase the nutritional profile of future meals, sourcing good quality local animal products, or hooking up with an organic food coop for some of your staples.
Just keep in mind that the goal is progress, not perfection.