Our 10 Simple Rules of Eating
There are so many choices out there. Do we follow a specific dietary regimen? Gluten-free, vegan, pescatarian, vegetarian, dairy free, low carb, low fat, blood type, or some prescribed program such as Jenny Craig? There doesn’t seem to be an end to what’s out there in terms of ways to eat healthier. What we’ve read/learned about food can fill volumes and several shelves in our house. And until we finish our book decluttering, they still do.
We have no food allergies or dietary restrictions, which we are thankful for. Our philosophy is borne out of how we want to feel about food and eating. And even though it’s not always easy to maintain, it’s become a very simple philosophy with two parts–eat real food and stay away from added sugar. Michael Pollan first exposed us to the idea of real food in his books Omnivores Dilemma, Food Rules and perhaps others that we haven’t read. His recommendations: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Jamie Oliver, noted food chef turned us onto the dangers of sugar via a documentary. Essentially, the documentary traces how our Western diet is wreaking havoc on our health-with the main culprit being sugar consumption. The statistics shared were staggering. So, part of our philosophy is take in vastly smaller quantities of sugar and mainly from natural means.
We are imperfect, of course in terms of sticking to this simple philosophy. But as with meditation, we just start again. It’s nothing more than that. There is no shame, no guilt when we fall off the wagon. We just begin again. Here are the basic rules that keep us focused on our two part philosophy:
1.)Eat real food, not food-like substances
We have a sign on our refrigerator door. Is it food or a foodlike substance? One of our biggest requirements is that the majority of foods we eat are real. What is real? Something your grandmother would recognize as food. Fruits or veggies. Cheese. Yogurt. Milk. Oatmeal. Butter. Eggs. Coffee. Tea. Bread. Rice. Pasta. Beans. Chicken. Beef. Bacon. Sugar. Maple syrup. Honey. We are not millers, farmers, butchers, or homesteaders-we get the majority of our ingredients from the grocery. But in this crazy fast world, we are taking the time to slow down and consider what we’re buying. Simple ingredients come together to make some of the best things we’ve ever eaten. Move over canned soup and beefaroni. We can do better.
2) If you cook your own food, then you know exactly what you are eating.
I do feel like this one doesn’t really needs tons of explanation. If you control the ingredients, you know what goes into your bowl or onto your plate and then into your body. And the truth is good for you meals don’t actually require vast amounts of knowledge or fancy ingredients or superior technical skill. They require having the ingredients and taking the time to work with them. That’s it.
3) Your ingredients should be the highest quality you can afford
Equally important are the ingredients you cook with. In our perfect world if money was no object we would shop entirely grass fed, free range, wild caught, organic and local. We don’t, however, have an unlimited budget, so we compromise. The way we see it, some higher quality is better than no higher quality. As we feel about most things, it’s more sustainable for a family to slowly add in these types of ingredients. Eventually, much of our food will be in the perfect range or as close as we can get it. It’s all a journey.
4) You should know how to cook some basic things from scratch
We’ve learned that it doesn’t take significantly more time to make biscuits from scratch than it does to get those guys out of wrapper and the from scratch ones are a whole lot tastier. Pizza dough and pie crust only take 15-20 minutes and with a stand mixer and food processor, the only work that’s a little tricky is rolling the dough out. Making your own stocks and soups are markedly better than most canned versions, and can be frozen for easy use later. Some foods take longer, that’s true, so you have to weigh the costs vs the benefits. For us, the time cost is worth the better tasting, better for you food we get out of it.
5) Scratch is good, but NOT for everything
Even though we do a lot from scratch, there are ingredients that have been a bust. From scratch pizza sauce and ketchup-a bust. We can roast a chicken, but it takes more time and it costs more than just getting a chicken from Costco. We don’t know how to make bacon yet, but we’ve got a smoker so maybe someday. We have not excelled at vegetable growing, so we have to buy them either fresh or frozen. We haven’t yet learned how to make respectable granola bars that can replace the ones we currently buy. We have yet to find a good white cake recipe that we enjoy. For those we find the best quality fewest ingredient options until we have something better.
6) Slowly incorporate more plant-based foods and eat less of everything else
We don’t eat as many veggies as would be most beneficial, but we eat more than we used to. We are way more aware of the plant-based foods we do eat and we are slowly increasing our intake. More rice and beans make their way into our dinners and less animal-based proteins. We realize that we don’t need as much meat as we’ve been eating to get the benefit of the protein so we are eating less. We are unlikely to give meat up entirely though. We continue to search for the best quality and least processed versions that actually taste okay.
7) It’s better to have fewer items to choose from, rather than a huge variety
Limiting choice helps with decision fatigue as well as making the grocery list easier to fill out each week. We used to be like our own mini grocery store with multiple choices for crackers, chips, snacks, cereals etc. Its helped a great deal to have just a few things we like to eat for breakfast and lunch. Eggs, yogurt, oatmeal, and toast. Leftovers, beans, tortillas, meat, granola bars for lunch. Dinners are little more complex, but we’ve really cut down on our options there also. We’ve come to understand that with dinners there is a sweet spot between too few choices and all the choices. So now we have categories that have more choices than before but really just focus on things we are currently loving.
8) Refrain from ADDED sugars in food and drinks
So so so many things have a high sugar content– especially packaged foods and drinks. We no longer buy sugar-laden drinks as a default each week. We aren’t a no-sugar house by any stretch, but we are way more aware of just how much sugar is in EVERYTHING so we make different choices. More of the time we drink milk, tea, mineral water or fruit water infusions(like spindrift or hint) or just plain water. Or we make our own lemonade. Its sugary, but at least we know what’s in it.
Some good for you foods have naturally occurring sugars like in fruit or milk. We don’t worry about those so much. We focus on what gets added in that we don’t really need. Some of the worst offenders are those items claiming to be healthy, like fruited yogurt or salad dressings. The snacks we have in the house are lower sugar or maybe no sugar. Organic applesauce, crackers and cheese, hummus with pita chips, jerky, avocado or guacamole with tortilla chips, lara or luna bars.
If we’re having a treat, we typically make it from scratch. Things like cookies/bars, hot fudge sauce, ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate cake, muffins, baked donuts, monkey bread we can make ourselves and through this we can control and know how much sugar goes into it. We don’t always have treats around, but we have treats around pretty regularly. This is where we choose to put our sugar
9) Fat is not bad for you. Just like everything else, moderation is the key.
Fat has a bad rap. Its been known to be the cause of heart disease and other issues, but sugar does more damage. That doesn’t mean eat crazy amounts of it. I’m simply saying you don’t have to completely avoid it to be healthy. And you don’t have to find low-fat versions of items just to feel better. Full fat milk is actually less processed than skim milk. And the heavier versions are more filling and can be more satisfying so you need less.
10) Your eating habits have to be sustainable over the long haul.
Food and mealtime is an important part of a person’s life. This is why we don’t prescribe to a very specific rigid way of eating other than our two expectations of less sugar and more real food. Some people do well with programs or having cheat days. We don’t pass judgment on how others choose to eat. We only know how we choose to eat. We only have one life and we want to enjoy it! However, you eat, it’s best to not do guilt trips. Having parameters with eating helps you know where you are going, but none of us are perfect.
What food habits do you follow?