Cooking Real Food: 15 Tips For Beginners

. 7 min read
Real Food Wednesdays

I started eating a nutrient-dense diet about a year and a half ago. When I first started cooking traditional foods, I jumped right in and tried to do everything.

Not everything worked out so well. And there was a lot of trial and error.

Here are some things I have learned along the way. I hope these tips will help you in your efforts to feed yourself and your family more healthfully.

1. Do the best you can and don’t try to be perfect.
This is the number one tip I am offering because so many of us obsess about our food. If you are striving to feed your family better, you are trying to buy organic, buying grass-fed meats and dairy, and are doing your best to avoid processed foods, you’re already doing way more than you used to do eating “SAD” (Standard American Diet). So pat yourself on the back and let yourself order a pizza or eat a cookie now and then. Remember, Dr. Weston Price reversed cavities in those kids in the orphanage by just feeding them ONE nutritious meal per day.

2. Invest in some coconut flour.
When we first start cooking traditional foods, learning how to properly process grains can be a little overwhelming. We are used to going to the store and picking up a loaf of bread. Now we have to soak and sprout and grind our own grains, then bake the bread?!

Coconut flour does not have to be soaked — so at the last minute, you can use it to quickly whip up some pancakes, muffins, waffles, or bread. I highly recommend Bruce Fife’s cookbook, “Cooking with Coconut Flour”. Not all of the recipes I have tried worked out (the meatloaf was a disaster — I actually had to throw it away). But most of the recipes are phenomenally good.

3. Do what works for you and scrap the ideas that don’t pan out.
When I first started eating this way, I wanted to try to avoid all chemicals and additives and plastics. I heard a lot of people taking about going “no poo” and I LOVED the idea of not having to use chemical-laden shampoo in plastic bottles. The idea of just using super-cheap baking soda and vinegar on my hair was so appealing!

However, no poo was not for me. I tried for 3 solid months — and my hair was a greasy mess. I know it works for lots of people, but I read that in LA we have extremely hard water (some of the hardest water in the country). No poo does not work so well with hard water. So I gave up on that one.

4. If you can’t afford raw butter and raw milk cheese, buy the next best thing: grass-fed/pasteurized.
I do buy some raw butter and raw cheese but I also buy KerryGold. The butter is about half the price of raw, and I can find huge blocks of KerryGold cheese at Costco.

That said, I do not believe in drinking pasteurized milk. Do it if you really have to, but the health benefits of raw milk are so enormous, I think it’s worth the cost and trouble to find real raw milk. If you can’t find raw milk, I recommend eating aged raw grass-fed cheese.

5. Find a local source for real pastured eggs.
Eggs are nature’s perfect food. They are extremely inexpensive for the amount of nutrients packed inside. And eggs are so versatile — you can make omelettes, quiche, deviled eggs, egg salad, etc. And coconut flour recipes use a lot of eggs — which makes breads and baked goods made with coconut flour much more nutritious.

Keep in mind, though — “free range” eggs are not the same as truly pastured eggs. Talk to your farmer. You want eggs from chickens who run around on grass, soak up the sun (vitamin D), and eat bugs. You do not want eggs from chickens who eat a “vegetarian diet”. Try to find eggs from chickens that are not fed soy.

6. Buy a lot of mason jars.
They’re cheap and you’re going to need them. I’ve always got at least three or four different ferments going in my kitchen. I found some great 2-gallon jars, which I use for kombucha, beet kvass, and cooling stock, here.

7. Find an unobtrusive place to store your ferments.
When I first started fermenting, my kitchen looked like it had been taken over by mason jars. I’ve since been storing all my ferments in a cupboard — keeps the kitchen tidy and makes the husband less suspicious. I’ve actually unplugged my microwave and I use that as an extra space for fermenting, soaking and sprouting.

8. Trader Joe’s has pretty good prices.
After I’ve purchased the majority of my food directly from farmers at the farmer’s market, I can find most things I need at Trader Joe’s. I rarely go to Whole Foods anymore — because the prices are too high. I’ve done the math and you can actually get groceries at Trader Joe’s for almost as cheap as co-ops like Azure Standard. I’d rather save at Trader Joe’s and have extra money for things like raw butter and caviar. And Trader Joe’s has stuff like organic free-trade coffee, stevia, real maple syrup, KerryGold butter, and rice pasta. I do not,  however, recommend their olive oil.

9. Buy real olive oil from a farm you trust.
I used to buy Trader Joe’s olive oil. No longer. There was an article in the New Yorker a couple of years ago about how most olive oil is adulterated with cheap and/or rancid oils like soybean oil and vegetable oil.

I posted about this about a year ago: Take the Olive Oil Challenge!

It is not good enough to buy olive oil that says “organic”. Most olive oil is adulterated. So unless you’re buying it from a farmer who grows the olives, there is a very good chance that it is adulterated. If you can’t find real olive oil locally, you can order it online from Chaffin Family Orchards or Bariani.

I really love Chaffin Family Orchards olive oil. It is truly one of the mildest, best tasting olive oils I have ever used — works wonderfully for homemade mayonnaise!

10. Cook your beans and rice in bone broth.
This is one of my very favorite ways to make meals more nutritious. Instead of using water to make rice or beans, cook them in homemade chicken or beef stock. It’s very inexpensive and super nutritious. Plus it makes the food easier to digest and absorb.

11. Invest in a freezer.
My wonderful mother-in-law insisted on buying us a freezer for the garage when Baby Kate was born. This is the number one thing that has made my cooking easier. I can cook larger batches of food and freeze them. I can presoak beans and freeze them. I can freeze any leftovers we are sick of — and pull ’em out a month or two later. We don’t waste ANY food anymore. If we don’t eat it or there isn’t room in the fridge, it goes in the freezer.

I can buy food in bulk and store it — and save loads of money. I buy all my milk, cheese, cream and butter in bulk and freeze it. And next month I’ll be buying 1/4 or 1/2 of a cow and 1/2 of a pig (actually I’m going to be buying a second freezer).  You can save a ton of money buying meat in bulk from the farmer.

If you don’t have room for an extra freezer, try to find room. Put it in a closet or an office if you have to. You can find them cheap on Craig’s List — or buy it on credit at Sears or Home Depot. The money you will save will more than make up for the initial investment. You will not regret this.

12. You don’t have to buy everything organic.
I try to buy everything organic but if you are on a budget, there are some foods that are more important to buy organic than others. Meat and dairy should always be organic and, even more importantly, grass-fed. Peanut butter and coffee, too (these crops are heavily sprayed). Some fruits and vegetables are also important to buy organic — like berries and stone fruits. Certain crops are likely to be genetically modified: corn, canola, soy, and cottonseed. You will want to avoid all cottonseed, soy and canola as a general rule. Always buy your corn organic.

13. Take your cod liver oil.
This is one of the best and easiest things you can do every day to improve your health. And it takes five seconds to do it. Not just any cod liver oil will do. Many of the brands have the wrong ratio of vitamin A & D.  Carlson’s is not a good choice — not recommended.

The best brand of cod liver oil, in my opinion, is Green Pasture. The best price I have found (thanks to Kelly the Kitchen Kop) for fermented cod liver oil (if you’re buying fewer than 12 bottles) is from The Natural Health Advocates.

14. Roast a chicken or duck once a week or twice a month.
This is so easy to do and it makes a delicious meal. And you get all the bones for your stock. Much more economical than buying chicken breasts! And, if you roast a duck or goose, you will get a ton of good goose or duck fat to use for cooking (chickens provide some fat, but not as much).

15. Shellfish, particularly mollusks, are just as nutritious as liver and organ meats.
Most people gag at the thought of eating liver. But offer them a plate of shrimp or some clam chowder and they’ll happily scarf it down. I know this is true of my husband.

If your family is not into liver, try feeding them shellfish once a week instead. Clams have three times the amount of iron as liver and oysters are loaded with zinc and B-12.

That’s all for now! I hope some of those ideas help you. I’m going to go check out Kelly the Kitchen Kop now and see what other ideas people have shared. Don’t forget to post some tips!