Written by Jackie of Auburn Meadow Farm
Right now, while you’re still a-flush with the rosy glow of New Year’s resolve, it’s the perfect time to map out exactly how you’re going to turn your real food resolution into a concrete plan of action.
1. Begin by defining very specifically what “eating better” means to you.
To me, eating better means eliminating processed foods from my diet and buying directly from small local farms. Keeping my priorities clear makes it easy for me to make decisions.
2. Be willing to be frustrated, make mistakes, and venture into unexplored territory.
Like a traveler in a foreign land you will have failures, misfires, and food projects may take more time at first. But trust me on this, when you hit your stride you will be well rewarded for your effort in terms of flavor, value, and nutrition.
And, this next bit isn’t mentioned nearly enough – the personal satisfaction you’ll get is addictive beyond measure.
You’ll be surprised and relieved to find that once you get more comfortable with projects like fermenting, making simple cheese, bread, and stocks that the time invested isn’t all active, full-attention sort of time. Rather, usually it’s just tucked into a corner or back burner requiring just a peek or a stir now and then.
3. Keep it simple.
My first year canning, I was a sucker for complex, expensive, and hard to source gourmet recipes. It turns out that although jam made from rose petals is a lovely idea, when it comes to everyday eating, my family prefers jam that tastes like sun ripened fruit, not perfume.
The home made ketchup’s a hit! I spend my time on food projects that I will use in a year or less.
Food projects that make my everyday life easier are the basics.
The more basic the recipe, the more flexible and useful it is as a kitchen staple. When produce, grains, meat, and dairy are excellent and at their pinnacle of freshness and flavor, I’m happy to set my want-to-be chef ego aside and allow the quality of the ingredient to shine.
That way my project has fewer steps & ingredients, gets done quicker, and flavors can be adapted later to suit the specific recipe. Pantry basics are limited when the seasonings are potent and highly specific.
4. Be willing to trial-and-error your way through these main components of your learning curve
- Be clear on your new criteria for defining economic value – the lowest price is not always the best value
- Explore new sources, methods and schedules for purchasing local, farm fresh ingredients
- Develop food storage/preservation strategies and timing
- Adapt meal preparation and cooking habits
- Create a system for managing leftovers effectively
- Prepare a ready solution for on-the-fly meal emergencies
- Open your mind and give new ideas a chance
5. Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to change everything all at once.
If you have no real routine other than processed ready-made foods, consider investing in a real food planning subscription to help you establish some solid practices and systems. Simply follow your plan precisely and soon enough, those excellent ideas and habits are yours. Look for the real food menu plan coming soon from Diana right here at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa.
If you do cook and already have a familiar meal rotation, start by adapting what you’re already used to. You don’t want to set yourself up for resistance by shocking your family with a sudden 180° about-face. Your soda drinking, meat and potatoes loving family is not going to be on board with a sudden switch to kefir, kale, and a daily dose of homemade sauerkraut.
6. Start by, first, making a short list of the commercial staples you rely on most
- Tomato products, and sauces
- Processed dairy products like yogurt, margarine, and cheese
- Chicken, beef, and veggie stock
- Commercial white flour
- Pastas, and quick rice mixes
- Items like dry soup mix, Bisquick, and packaged cake mixes
- Canned soups, and stews
- Store bought breads, cookies, and crackers
- Chips, pretzels, and salty snacks
- Frozen convenience foods, and ice creams
- Sauces, mayo, and salad dressings
- Boxed cereals, toaster pastries, and protein drinks
- Factory farmed meats, and eggs
- Processed lunch meats, hot dogs, and bacon
- Vegetarian/vegan meat replacement products
- Frozen meals
- Processed juices, beverages, and sodas
- Don’t forget to consider your pet food purchases…
7. Once you’ve identified the category containing the most commercial food purchases you’d like to change, you know exactly where to begin.
This post-Easter project turned out to be amazingly useful and has become a real staple in my kitchen – Mexican style pickled eggs. A perfect way to preserve that glut of freshly laid eggs to enjoy later.
Take advantage of the slow winter months by paying close attention to your food consumption. What staples are you buying, and in what quantities? This knowledge will help you decide what projects to devote your attentions to when harvest time comes around and what quantities you’ll need.
Select just one or two areas to master before taking on more. Be careful to avoid taking on too many overlapping projects at first. You’ll feel less overwhelmed and the defeating feeling of watching produce rot on your porch because you took on more than you could handle is a disheartening one we’ve all shared.
8. Know you can accomplish a surprising amount with no exotic ingredients or specialized equipment. Don’t be daunted by all the expensive and fancy products available for food preservation.
If your budget is tight, you don’t need new, expensive, and/or fancy gear to get started. Honestly, you won’t appreciate it at first anyway. Visit yard sales, flea markets, and second hand stores now while your weekends aren’t so action packed.
Don’t forget overstock stores like TJ Maxx, Burlington, and Tuesday Morning. Sometimes you’ll find great kitchenware bargains there including items such as
- a thick bottomed stock pot
- a good colander
- mesh strainer
- a good knife & cutting board
- stainless steel spoons
- good wooden spoons
- mason jars in pint and quart sizes
- fresh lids and bands
- a basic canning kit with tongs & funnel
- some straining cloth (old tight-weave pillow cases or dress shirts work just fine)
- some non-terry tea towels
- some large non-reactive bowls
All these items would be a good start for food preserving – if you have a slow-cooker, all the better.
These soft cheese balls made from home made quark and preserved in olive oil are a perfect and simple way to stretch the shorter life of fresh-from-the-dairy milk. Easy, take no special equipment and are useful and delicious.
9. Invest in the most basic, inexpensive and comprehensive of books
The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. Add a copy of the ever useful all-purpose Stocking Up, and bookmark the National Center for Home Preservation on your computer and you’ve got all you need for a solid start.
Of course I say need – in case you haven’t noticed there is a canning/preserving/real foods renaissance going on with lots of beautiful and inspiring blogs, books, and products. Don’t forget to use your local library if your book budget is limited.
Start small – persevere through your initial mistakes and frustrations and set yourself up for success by not over committing yourself. Keeping a journal or notebook with the details of your experiments is extremely useful.
10. Most of all, be patient with yourself. This is a life shift, not a fad.
Buying meat by the quarter or half means learning to use cuts I’m not so familiar with. Ended up being an enjoyable adventure… home made braesola ready to gobble up with a little oil and lemon.
You are in it for the long haul, aren’t you?
What real food wishes are you planning to make a reality in 2013?