How Giving Up “Real Food” Made Our Family Healthier

On Giving Up Real Food

I have a confession.

At the beginning of this year, I decided I was done with “real food.” Just done.

Done reading labels. Done feeling like I needed to make everything from scratch. Done worrying over every little thing that passed through our kitchen or ended up in our stomachs.

I was tired of the pressure, stress and guilt.

So I decided to give up real food.

Not the actual food itself, but the goal of a perfectly real food diet.

I honestly think I had my mom and more than one friend worried when I declared my intentions, but a funny thing happened: Without the pressure of a perfect diet (or even tying to maintain a magical 80/20 ratio), we’ve actually been eating better, but without the guilt.

There are a few decidedly non-real food staples in my kitchen these days — among them lunch meat, crescent roll dough, and frozen French fries. But knowing I have these shortcuts available makes it easier for me to come up with a meal without worrying about making every little part from scratch.

Knowing there are French fries means I can focus on a main dish without trying to make time to prepare a side dish as well (my hubby isn’t a fan of fresh veggies, which we also have with almost every meal).

I can add taco meat or healthy sloppy joe filling to crescent rolls to make a quick, filling meal.

And lunch meat gives us a quick on-the-go meal option so we’re not resorting to fast food.

Is our diet perfect? No, not by a long stretch.

But it’s turns out that we’re actually eating much better than we were when I was trying to do it “perfectly”.

And that’s a win!

Are unrealistic standards actually hurting your family’s eating habits?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • Stefani Clark Mons

    Oh, I can’t do that. We moved to Paleo/Primal last summer and it was a rough going the first 6 months trying to get new recipes, meal plans, and new routines. But keeping French Fries around or crescent rolls would be a disaster for my skin (psoriasis) and my middle son’s behavior. My “cheat” (better-than-eating-fast-food) is a pack of Hebrew National Hot Dogs. Not the best, but quick and easy–my kids love eating them off of a chopstick like a corndog. We keep well stocked on dried fruit and nuts, so those are quick to grab. Plus, now that I’ve gotten into the groove, there’s always kefir or homemade breakfast sausage or meatballs or bone broth in the fridge/freezer. And I think I’d be lost without my slow cooker! I use that on average 3-4 times a week. BUT you had a baby not too long ago, plus an injured husband, so do not feel bad if ditching “real foods” made things easier and better than take-out for every meal. :)

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Oh, to be clear, this isn’t a “new baby” or “injured hubby” thing; it’s a busy homeschooling/working mom thing and probably a pretty permanent approach for our family! We’re all healthy and happy, so it’s working for us. :)

  • Shaina Olmanson

    I think too often “real food” becomes a competition between people to see who’s doing it better or best or the bestest most perfect diet that should receive the gold star from the imaginary professor of life. Everyone wants to feel justified in their reasons for the choices they make. As someone who thinks that we could all stand to care a bit more about what we eat and what we feed our children, it’s hard to communicate the point of view that it’s better to do well 80% of the time than to not care at all. For me, this isn’t about the “perfect” diet of carefully curated ingredients. This is about teaching my children how to feed themselves so that they are healthy, and sometimes healthy means buying tubs of ice cream or enjoying a cookie or french fries without the guilt that you didn’t source each ingredient or personally chop the potato. Knowing that we eat right more often than not and that the big picture of health and wellness is solid is more important than fighting over the details.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I love this coming from you for so many reasons, not the least of which is you have the healthiest approach to food of anyone I know, including your family’s love for fair food. :) I think that trying to achieve perfection, for me, actually prevents us from achieving that healthy balance, while allowing the exceptions makes it easier for me to improve the big picture overall!

  • Claire

    Love it! All things in moderation.

  • Cathie Bullock-Reynolds

    I can’t do it either. My son’s food allergies let me to research which has seriously altered the way my whole family thinks about food. Our “cheat” is organic turkey franks, and that’s about it. Every so often I’ll buy a box of Trader Joe’s organic mac & cheese, but frankly, it’s just not that tasty anyhow. I am just so convicted that we need to fuel our bodies with real food, and if that means working all weekend to make sure we have food for the work/school week, well that’s what I have to do. I wish there were healthy affordable convenience foods, but in my experience it’s always one or the other.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I think the conversation as people share their experiences in the comments is really important, and I really am glad that it’s working for you to eat all real food!

      But I also hope the people who it’s not working for — the ones that are actually making worse decisions because they’re so paralyzed by it all — feel freedom to make exceptions and look for ways to make the burden lighter because I think it’s pretty unhealthy to stress over food choices as well!

      • Cathie Bullock-Reynolds

        I have read all the comments so far, and I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being judgmental, because I am so not. But I wanted to respond to a few of the other comments as well. First, I understand the despair in the supermarket. I understand the stress. Food has become a HUGE issue in my household (hopefully second to our eternal salvation.) I wish it wasn’t this way, but the fact is that the FDA is not looking out for our health in regards to the nation’s food supply, and so I feel like we have to be more diligent in doing so. If our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, I sure don’t want them polluted with quasi-food of questionable nutritional merit. Also, I feel like it’s probably easier to naturally eat a real food based diet in other countries, especially less industrialized ones. I am enjoying this post and the comments.

        • Jenn

          Yes and no for us (we will be in sub-Saharan Africa). We really don’t eat anything processed here, but our biggest change was eating legumes and grains again. We can’t get away from those there! We will have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but to our dismay, most things are strongly marketed by Monsanto and heavily sprayed. Because we will live at an orphanage, we can’t possibly grow all the food needed and sometimes just filling bellies with enough calories will cause us to rely on more grains (and not soaked, organic ones at that) than I might think would be “best”. I think my definition of “real” probably strays way past what most people call “real” :)!

          • Cathie Bullock-Reynolds

            That sounds like quite an adventure, and commitment! Wishing you all the best. Can we send you anything to make it a little easier? I’m serious. I will certainly add your family to our prayer list.

  • Jenn

    We’ve had to do this since we ate a pretty primal vegan diet (yes…lots of nuts) previously. But now that we are moving overseas, we’ve had to give up our all-or-nothing mindset in order to even be able to live where we are going to serve the orphans and widows. My family, my God, and others STILL have to come before food. We don’t, however, deal with any allergies or food-related issues (none of my 4 children has even taken an antibiotic or actually seen a doctor other than well-child checks and one set of stitches).

    • Jenn

      …and can I just add that the Lord really convicted me that I was spending a ton of time worrying about what “goes into the body” and not enough worrying about eternal issues!

      • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

        Yes, Jenn!! Just yes. It’s really easy to get caught up in focusing on things like body and health because they’re here and no while ignoring the eternal. I don’t want our food choices to define us!

  • Mason

    I did the same, because I was becoming paralyzed. I couldn’t make it through the grocery store without despair, I couldn’t continue to disapprove all of my kids food choices – cookies over fruit, oh no! Now we eat – we try to eat all homemade, but the key word is “try”. An occasional corn dog makes it way into dinner, but hey, life is supposed to be fun!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Yes! Like I said below, I really think that stressing over food to that point is actually just as unhealthy as eating an occasional corn dog or frozen french fry!

  • Kristen

    My mother-in-law was just saying yesterday how hard it is to parent children today (yes, I have the best MIL in the world!). By the time I brush my kids teeth with fluoride/non-fluoride/fluoride (my ped has changed her recommendation 3X in the 8 years I’ve had kids), load them up with natural sunblock and insect repellant, give them their vitamin D drops (needed for deficiency caused by the sunblock), strap them into their $400 car seats until first grade, fill their BPA-free water bottles that they are attached to like security blankets, drive them to their various afterschool activities (because it is not safe to play outside unattended, besides how will they ever get a soccer scholarship if they do not play soccer when they are 4yrs old), fight with my Kindergartener over the 30min of homework her teacher assigns (must meet standards!!!), bathe my children with natural soap and shampoo, perform a tick check so as to ward off Lyme, and get my kids into bed at a decent hour, I am exhausted. And I still haven’t worried about what I put into their bellies. I think we all need to give each other a break. When I’m really careful about food, I tend to slide on pushing the academics with my kids. When my house is perfectly clean, you can bet I didn’t spend two hours in the kitchen cooking from scratch. The truth is we can not be perfect in every way…and our kids don’t need us to be.

    • Claire

      Amen! Well said, Kristen.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Perfect, Kristen!

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    I’m sorry if it came across that way; I really just wanted to be sure that other people reading the comments knew that I wasn’t approaching it this way because of the baby or my husband but because it is really my new approach to food!

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  • Beth Cranford

    I had to back away from the real food blogs when I realized how stressed and honestly how depressed I was getting over it. I can’t carry around the guilt that I might not be feeding my kids that diet that will make them live forever with no sickness. All I can do is my best within the context of the rest of life. We certainly still try to choose the best foods we can get but I’m done making it my biggest concern.
    Thanks for this post!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I agree, Beth! I’m not even sure that living without sickness is a worthwhile goal anyway, but in all honesty, we’ve had our fair share of injuries but only ONE cold (and it lasted less than 24 hours for each of us) in the last year, so the exceptions don’t seem to be hurting our body’s germ fighting abilities at all!

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    Yep, I think we’re on the exact same page! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    Exactly! I was stressed, burdened, anxious, etc. as well. I really think that hurts more than it helps, and it’s not an attitude I want to pass down to my kids either!

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    Yes to all of this! That’s exactly why I wrote this post. I felt the exact way you do, and letting go of the need for perfection gave me so much freedom to just enjoy good food!

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    I’m glad you’ve found a healthy balance too, Anna — it really does make all the difference!

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    Thanks for chiming in, Heather — you’re so right about adding unnecessary burdens on ourselves. I don’t want my kids to think that eating healthy is about following rules or being stressed out!

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    I love that, Cherie — exactly! :)

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    This is a big one for me, Missy. I do think caring for our bodies is important, but the Bible doesn’t lay out what that looks like, and I think it’s dangerous to look at any one “diet” or philosophy of food as though it’s tied to our salvation! Thanks for chiming in!