how to eat real food on a budget {Works for Me Wednesday}

10 tips for eating real food on a budget

A year ago, Michael and I were gearing up to start our 100 days of real food challenge, where we would eat nothing but real, local, organic food for the next 100 days.  I had actually spent a couple of months thinking, researching, and reading Lisa’s blog before we took the plunge.  We successfully completed that challenge (you can read about it here: week 1, week 2, week 3, and our results) and have since then stuck to the basic real-food principles.

Here we are a year later, and I can say that we have completely changed the way we eat.  Yes, we still eat non-real foods (usually just the occasional dessert or eating out), but 80-90% of what we eat is good, whole, healthy, and natural.

If you’ve considered trying to eat more natural, now is the time to do it!  The farmers markets are opening back up, you still have time to plant a garden, and you’ll have tons of variety in the summer.

One of the biggest hurdles I hear people talk about is the cost.  I’ve heard many people say that they’d like to eat more natural and organic, but that it is way too expensive.  Yes, it can be more expensive but it doesn’t have to break the bank.  Personally, I think that we put so much money into gyms and insurance and doctors, and not nearly enough on eating nourishing food.

Now don’t get me wrong, I realize there are many family who have a very small grocery budget and absolutely have no wiggle room.  I’m not trying to make those people feel bad.  But if you do have some extra money (or could cut back elsewhere) and focus more on the food you buy, I highly suggest giving it a try.

Anyway, here are some tips I’ve found for eating healthy without spending a fortune

  • Grow a garden – You’ll have the start-up cost (plants or seeds, dirt, water, wood if you decide to do raised beds, etc.), but once you’ve paid that then you get virtually free veggies with the bonus of knowing exactly where they came from.  Even if you don’t want to grow a full-on garden, you could do a small container garden like we did last year when we lived in our apartment.  Even if you just grow some herbs, you’ve saved quite a bit of money there – fresh herbs at the grocery are outrageous!  You could also choose one or two items that you know you eat a ton of, and just plant those so you don’t have to keep buying them week after week.

container herb garden

  • Shop at the farmers market…but also compare prices with the grocery – I really do prefer to buy food from the famers market.  Our farmers market only allows people who grow organically, plus I like knowing where my food comes from and supporting local farmers.  Also, you can often find great prices on items at the farmers market.  That being said, sometimes there are things at the farmers market I just can’t bring myself to pay for.  For example, at the farmers market potatoes may be $3.50 per pound and I need 2 and 1/2 pounds for my potato soup.  However, I can get a 3 pound bag of organic potatoes at Kroger for just a little over $2.00.  In that instance, I choose to buy the Kroger potatoes.  That’s just my personal preference.

farmers market

  • Ask about “seconds” at the farmers market – A friend of mine who sells at the farmers market gave me this tip when she learned I was planning to can tomatoes.  I was able to buy a huge box of tomatoes for about $10.00 (way, way less than the usual price of tomatoes per pound) because they were “seconds” – not very attractive, and some with bad spots.  But since I was using them to make sauce or to can, I didn’t care about how they looked and just cut out the bad parts.  This saved me a ton of money.  It might be worth asking about to see if anyone at your farmers market does the same thing.

canning tomatoes

  • Use coupons where you can – You will rarely get coupons for produce.  Kroger occasionally gives a $5.00 off your total order coupon or a $1.00 off $6.00 of organic produce, but other than that I can rarely use coupons on the food we buy at Kroger (and of course, not when we buy at the farmers market).  However, I can still try to use coupons and shop sales for our paper goods and toiletries, then use the money I saved from that to buy more expensive organic food.
  • Learn the “dirty dozen” – If you can’t afford to but all organic, try to figure out what foods are most likely to contain pesticides (and thus, the ones you are going to definitely want to buy organic) and which ones aren’t so bad (and you could just buy the conventional ones).  I’ve seen lists of the “dirty dozen” all over Pinterest; the 12 items you should definitely buy organic and the 12 items that aren’t so critical.

fresh fruit

  • Eat less meat – Meat is expensive.  Organic, local meat is really expensive.  Try eating a few meatless meals a week or reducing the amount of meat you use in your recipes to save a little money.  Some of our favorite meatless meals are homemade refried beans with homemade tortillas, potato soup, pancakes, and pizza.

homemade pizza

  • Stretch the meat that you do use – Gone are the days of buying boneless, skinless chicken breast and canned chicken broth.  Now we buy a whole chicken at the farmers market, which is quite expensive at about $17.00 per chicken, but we stretch it farther.  We cook the whole thing in our crock pot and then pick as much of the meat as we can off the bones.  We usually have one meal with the chicken as our main dish, and then use the rest of the meat that we de-bone either for sandwiches (Michael likes chicken sandwiches for lunch) or in another dish (like chicken and dumplings, cheesy chicken and rice, chicken quesadillas, or white chili).  After we de-bone the chicken, we throw the bones and skin back into the crockpot overnight and make chicken stock.  It is easy peasy, makes 10-12 cups, and is way better than the store-bought, watered down stuff.  I use it in soups and such, and if I’m not going to use it right away I freeze it in ice cube trays for later.

whole chicken in a crock pot

  • Preserve food while it is in season – Not only is eating in season food much better for you, it is also usually cheaper.  Freeze or can extra in the summer to eat on all winter so you can have the most nutritious produce and save some money.  We were brand new to canning last summer, but we gave it a try, canned quite a bit of food (more than we needed…it’s almost summer again and we still have a lot left!), and so far have been pleased with the results.  We also froze some stuff (not much since we had very little freezer space at the time) and intend to freeze even more this year.

canned vegetables

  • Trade with a friend or see if they have extras they want to get rid of – If you have an abundance of tomatoes and your friend has way too much squash, maybe you could trade.  Or if you’re really lucky, someone might be bursting at the seams with food and just wanting to give it away so it doesn’t spoil.  We were very fortunate that for a while I worked with a professor whose chickens laid way more eggs than she could eat and she gave me free, fresh eggs nearly every week.  My in-laws had an abundance of apples on their apple trees this year that they gave us and I turned into homemade apple butter.
  • Reduce waste – Letting food go bad and having to throw it away is just throwing money in the trash.  Try to be mindful of what is about to go bad and eat it before it does.  An Eat First box is a good way to do this.  Or try to salvage things that have started to go bad (use wilted spinach in a green smoothie, freeze too-brown bananas to use later in banana bread of banana pancakes).

green smoothie

How do you eat healthy without breaking the bank?

(Other resources you might like: eating real food while travelling and the busy girls guide to eating real food)

Linking up to Works for Me Wednesday

the best hummus ever

best hummus ever

Growing up I was a huge BabySitter’s Club fan.  I so bad wanted to be a part of their group.  I distinctly remember in one book when Dawn’s friends from California threw the BSC a party and served hummus, one of Dawn’s favorite foods.  I didn’t really know what it was (in my head I pronounced it “hew-muss”, not “huh-muss” like it’s supposed to be) but I imagined it to be some crunchy, health-nut-y, weirdo food.

Fast forward to college.  That heath-nut-y weirdo food was starting to become part of my life.  I was so fortunate that we had an AMAZING cafeteria at our school.  We had a ton of choices and lots of pretty heathy variety.  One day there was homemade hummus.  I tried it and thought it was delicious.  I still didn’t really know what it was, but I definitely liked it.

After that hummus experience in the cafeteria I searched for more hummus.  However, every batch or brand of hummus I’d ever purchased at the store was not at all like the hummus I remembered   Every single one was way too garlicky and had a super strong flavor.

Until one day while shopping at Whole Foods.  They had a sample station set up with pita chips and hummus.  I tried a bite and felt the relief of the end of a long journey…I had finally found a hummus that tasted like the stuff we had in college!   We bought some immediately and I gobbled it up.  We went back a few weeks later and bought some more.  It was so so yummy.

The only problem was that the closest Whole Foods is an hour away from us.  We only make it there once a month at the most so buying hummus there to have on a day-to-day basis just wasn’t practical.  So I checked out the ingredient list…it only had a few ingredients listed (garbanzo beans, lemon juice, tahini, extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, salt, and cumin), so I figured I could make it myself, I just didn’t know what proportions to use.  Making it myself would also be a cheaper option than the pre-made hummus.

Thanks to Pinterest, I found The Barefoot Contessa’s hummus recipe.  It had almost the exact same ingredients as the Whole Foods hummus so I used that as a jumping off point for my recipe.  I’ve now made this recipe at least five times and we love it!  I eat it every day for a snack with some raw veggies.  Hummus is a perfect alternative to ranch if you want some variety, it has less calories, and it’s much more “real” than bottled ranch.

So here it is.  The best hummus recipe ever.

hummus ingredientsWhat you need: garbanzo beans (chick peas), tahini, hot sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic cloves, and salt


Put a little bit of water in a pot and bring it to a boil.  Drop the garlic clove in and let boil for 30 seconds.  From what I’ve heard, this takes the bite out of the garlic and gives it a nice, garlic flavor without being too strong.
hummus collage

The rest of the recipe is easy…just a bunch of mixing in your food processor.  Chop the garlic (picture 1), then add the chickpeas and lemon juice (2), the hot sauce (3), the salt (4),   olive oil (5), and tahini (6).  Then process until smooth.  Easy peasy.


Yum.  So good!

Hummus Recipe (adapted from here)


  • 2 cups garbanzo beans (chick peas) – I use dried beans.  I soak them overnight, rinse them, boil them in water until soft, and rinse again.  You could also use canned beans to save a few steps
  • 1/4 cup tahini – It’s like peanut butter but made out of sesame seeds.  I found mine in the organic section at Kroger
  • 5 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5-7 tablespoons water or liquid left from cooking the beans (depending on how thin you like your hummus)
  • 4-8 dashes of hot sauce (depending on how hot you like it)


Put enough water in a pot to cover a garlic clove, bring it to a boil.  Drop the clove of garlic in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then remove.  Chop the garlic with your food processor.  Then add chick peas, tahini, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, hot sauce, and water/liquid.  Process until smooth.


This is a South Beach Phase 1 food and has 30 calories per tablespoon.

South Beach Phase 1 – Real Food Edition


If you’ve read my blog for a hot minute you know I’m pretty health conscious (although I do love the occasional sweets!).  Longtime readers may remember that I used the South Beach Diet back in college to lose 50 pounds and jump start my healthy lifestyle, and that I’ve basically followed those SB principles for the past six years.  If you’ve been around in the last six months, you know that we took our healthy lifestyle one step further and started eating a real food diet – natural, local, organic, minimally-processed food only.

Over Christmas I indulged more than I should a tiny bit and so decided to do two weeks of Phase 1 at the beginning of the year to get over the sugar cravings and get back on track.  However, this was the first time that I’d done South Beach since we started eating real food this past summer.  Although many of the principles are the same, there were some things that I ate on Phase 1 in the past that are not “real” and I didn’t want to eat this time around.  So I went about trying to combine the two into a plan that meets both South Beach and real food.

Since some of the most popular search terms that brings people to this blog are related to South Beach, I think it’s a pretty safe guess that people are searching for information about South Beach.  I like to share what I’ve learned.

Now, if you’re the type that wants to follow Phase 1 to the letter exactly as the book states, then this post is not for you.  And if you’re a real food enthusiast that scoffs at cutting out carbs or restricting fruit, this post is not for you either.  But if you’re wanting to give South Beach a try while also eating a real food type diet, then this post IS for you.

Carrying on.

I knew going in to it that one of the hardest things would be my sweet treats.  My biggest purpose for doing Phase 1 was to clean my system of sugar.  In the past, I would eat lots of sugar free treats (no sugar added fudgesicles, no sugar added mochas or hot chocolate, coffee with Splenda, etc.) but eating real food means not eating fake sugar substitutes, which rules out all those options.  And South Beach restricts all sugar in Phase 1, so that ruled out honey or pure maple syrup that I’d used to sweeten things while eating real food. Yikes…what’s a sweets-loving girl to do?

Eat peanut butter, that’s what.  Seriously, I couldn’t think of a better option so I just used peanut butter as my “dessert”.  Since I couldn’t have fruit either, and that’s my preferred method of eating peanut butter (I’ve tried it on celery but I just don’t like it!), I mostly would just eat a spoonful or two as my treat.

Something else I anticipated being a challenge was what I could dip veggies in.  In the past I’d eat tons of raw veggies with Ranch dressing on Phase 1.  But since pre-packaged ranch isn’t an option anymore, I was a little stumped.  One choice was to use homemade ranch, which I’ve made and used in the past.  It doesn’t taste quite the same, but it’s still pretty good.  I also found a hummus recipe (tutorial coming soon!) that I love, so I made a ton of that and ate it with my vegetables.

Another big difference was with my dairy products.  South Beach doesn’t advocate for low fat products except for dairy (milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt), but with our real foods switch we’ve decided to eat whole fat dairy products.  So when I did Phase 1 this time, I still drank whole milk, ate full-fat sour cream, and ate full-fat cheese.  Same thing with bacon – South Beach suggests turkey bacon, but that’s not a real food so I’ve been eating regular pork bacon.

Enough rambling.  I’ve already posted a fairly comprehensive list of ideas for Phase 1 foods here so I’m not going to re-post that all here.  Most of the items on that list (minus the sweet treats) are easily adapted to be made into real foods so check it out and change it to what works for you.  But just so you can get an idea, here are some examples of what I ate on Phase 1 while still sticking to my real food principles.

Breakfast: I’m boring with breakfast – the same thing every day.  I also don’t want a huge breakfast, just enough to hold me for a few hours.  I mostly ate a fried egg (organic, local), a piece of pork bacon (organic, local), and a cup of organic whole milk (from a local dairy).  Quiche cups would also be a good options (using regular bacon).

Lunch: Soups, soups, soups!  Most lunches were salad (organic lettuce from a local farm), homemade dressing, some cheese (local), and soup (chili, split pea soup, white chili…all adapted to be more “real” by using dried beans instead of canned, homemade chicken broth instead of canned, and local organic meat).

Snacks: roasted chick peas, hummus (recipe coming soon!) and veggies, Mexican pecans, peanut butter, plain nuts.

Supper: More soups, taco salad (organic lettuce, local organic ground beef, homemade taco seasoning, homemade salsa, crockpot refried beans, organic avocado, local cheese, and sour cream), organic chicken or fish with vegetables (kale chipsparmesan lemon basil broccoli, and green beans are some favorites), and stuffed peppers (organic beef, dried beans, organic bell peppers, homemade tomato sauce and taco seasoning)

Sweet Treats: Sorry, no good solution for this one.  Just try to eat a non-sweet snack that you really enjoy (like yummy peanut butter!)

So like I said, it’s not 100% South Beach Phase 1, but it accomplishes the overall principle (cutting out sugar to get rid of the cravings) while still eating all real food.  Also, remember that there are tons of options…many, many recipes can be made into real food recipes with a little tweaking so be creative and see what you can come up with.

If you’re just starting your South Beach and/or real foods journey…good luck and enjoy!  You won’t regret it :)

my weight loss tips roundup


I don’t profess to know everything there is to know about weight loss, and I especially don’t pretend to follow all the tips that I do know (if I did I’d be much skinnier than I am now), however, I have had some success in the weight loss department in the past.

As the new year approaches many of us (including myself) are thinking about trying to eat healthier, detox from the holidays, and/or lose weight.  Since one of the most popular search terms that brings people to my blog is “South Beach Diet”, I figure there are many people out there with questions.  So I thought I’d round up all my posts about dieting, healthy eating, etc. into one place.

Start by reading about my weight loss journey: the background, the diet, the exercise, the results, the maintenance, the struggles, and the future.

If you’re interested in going with South Beach or some other similar low-carb plan, you might want to check out my posts about my South Beach phase 1 meal plans and following South Beach while eating out.  You should also look at my recipes – they aren’t all South Beach friendly, but many of them are (and I’ve included a note at the end of the South Beach friendly recipes that tells you which phase they would go with).

If you travel a lot make sure to read my tips on how to eat healthy while travelling and how to exercise while travelling.

Some other helpful posts for your journey toward healthy eating include tips for prepping your food in advancemaking sure you know how to find the best weight for your body, and the heart rate monitor that I use and love.

South Beach has been my diet lifestyle of choice for the past 7 or 8 years, but this year Michael and I took it a step further and decided to move away from highly processed food.  We did what we called a real food challenge, where we ate only local, organic, non-processed food for 100 days.  After we completed the challenge, we decided to maintain that way of eating with exceptions for special occasions.  You can read about our journey with that here: the challenge details, week 1, week 2, week 3, the results after one month, tips on eating real food while travelling, the busy girl’s guide to eating a real food diet, and the results after 100 days.

Like I said, I don’t know everything and I don’t follow these diets strictly, but I have had success with South Beach and eating real food in the past and it helps me to have all the resources in one post so I can reference them when I’m trying to get back on the wagon (aka right now).  I hope this helps you, too!

homemade pizza sauce

homemade all natural pizza sauceWe’ve been homemade pizza makers for years, thanks to our super easy whole wheat pizza dough recipe.  However, we’ve always used jarred pizza sauce and after starting on our real food journey we decided we needed to find something a little more natural.  After searching online for recipes, I found this tomato sauce recipe that seemed pretty easy – I used that as a base and then added my own blend of spices.

I was way intimidated by the idea of making a sauce from fresh tomatoes – I’ve never done anything but open up a jar of tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, or pizza sauce, so I didn’t even know where to begin.  I had no idea how to get from fresh firm tomatoes to a nice smooth sauce.  The good new is, it was much easier than I expected and now I’m here to pass on what I’ve learned to you!  So don’t be scared!

base for tomato sauceThe tomato sauce recipe calls for 2 pounds of tomatoes – I don’t have a food scale so I just guestimated and used about 10 Roma tomatoes.  I like Romas the best because they aren’t very watery and have much more tomato “meat” to them.  You’ll also need an onion and some butter.

blanch tomatoesUse a paring knife to cut Xs in the bottom of each tomato – this is optional but it only takes a second will make it easier to peel the tomato once we blanch it.

blanch tomatoesBring a pot of water to a boil, then drop the tomatoes in the water and boil for one minute – the skins should start to crack and/or peel back.

blanch the tomatoes in ice waterRemove the tomatoes and immediately submerge them into an ice water bath until they are cool enough to handle.

FYI, boiling something for a very short time then putting it in ice water to cool it down quickly is called blanching…it’s very useful for freezing vegetables, too.

peel the blanched tomatoesThe tomato will be slimy and messy, but the skin should peel off very easily.

Now roughly chop the tomatoes (I chop mine into 8ths usually), melt the butter (hint: pour out the water you used to boil the tomatoes and use that same pot to make the sauce), and add the chopped tomatoes to the butter.

tomatoes butter and onionChop up the onion and add that as well.

If you stopped here and let just these three ingredients cook, then you would end up with a  very nice, generic tomato sauce base.  Since we’re making pizza sauce we need to add some other stuff to give it that pizza sauce flavor (but you could go other directions and turn this into a spaghetti sauce, or chili, or any other tomato based sauce, just by tweaking the ingredients a bit).

This is my typical pizza sauce lineup (starting in the bottom left and going clockwise): parsley, green bell pepper, black pepper, crushed red pepper, LOTS of basil, oregano, and garlic (in the middle of the picture).  This is very flexible – you can use dried spices if you don’t have an herb garden.  You can add or subtract whatever suits your fancy.  One time I chopped up some carrots and added them in just because they were starting to get mushy and I needed to use them up – it didn’t really alter the taste and I suppose it gave it a few extra nutrients.

The rest is pretty easy – chop up the herbs, pepper, and garlic and add it along with a few shakes of the other spices to the tomato/butter/onion mixture.

Let the sauce cook for 45 minutes to an hour. It will start to cook down and get thicker, like so.

homemade all natural pizza sauceAfter the sauce has cooked down, toss it in a blender and blend it to a nice smooth consistency.  And you did it!  You made pizza sauce!  Now whip up some homemade crust, slather on your sauce and the yummy toppings of your choice, and enjoy your fresh, natural pizza.



  • 2 pounds of tomatos (I use Romas and it takes about 10)
  • 1 onion
  • 5 TBSP butter
  • 1/2 bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • parsley, oregano, basil, black pepper, and crushed red pepper – to taste (I use a few sprigs of parsley and oregano, a big handful of basil, about a tsp of black pepper, and just a shake or two of crushed red pepper)


Cut Xs in the bottom of the tomatoes.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the tomatoes into the water.  Boil for one minute (the skin should start to crack and peel off) and then remove and immediately submerge tomatoes into a bowl of ice water.  Once the tomatoes have cooled enough to handle, peel the skin off.  Chop the tomatoes and remove the hard core.  Melt the butter in a large pot, then add the tomatoes and chopped onion.  Also chop and add the bell pepper, garlic, herbs, and spices.  Simmer for 45 minute to an hour.  Blend sauce in blender until it reaches a smooth consistency.

This makes enough for about 4 pizzas and will keep for several weeks in the fridge.  It also freezes very nicely so if you aren’t going to eat it quickly then I suggest you freeze it so it doesn’t go bad.

the busy girl’s guide to eating a real food diet

Now that we’ve completed our 100 days of real food challenge and moved on to a making this a real food lifestyle change, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks that we learned along the way that helped us stick to our real food diet.  I’ve had several people comment to me that they would love to eat less processed foods but that they don’t have the time, so I’m here to tell you that it can be done.

(BTW: not discriminating with my title…it just sounded better than saying “the busy person’s guide”…plus I’d guess 95% of my readers are female…)

When we decided to switch to a non-processed, organic, local, real, natural diet, we knew that it was going to take quite a bit of time and effort.  The timing worked out perfect so that the first month of our challenge was during the summer and I didn’t have to juggle working full time and sticking to an all real food diet.  When I did go back to work a month into the challenge, we had a routine of sorts down so I was easily able to do both.

Here are some things that might help:

1. Realize that it will take extra time and effort – Don’t jump into it thinking it will be super easy because you will get frustrated and want to quit when you see how much time it takes up.  If you know in advance that eating this way requires a time commitment, then you won’t be blindsided later down the road.  Since we make most of our stuff from scratch now, meal preparation takes quite a bit longer than it used to.  We also have to do the dishes much more frequently since we cook so much and our grocery shopping is more time consuming because we shop at the Farmer’s Market and other local businesses in addition to Kroger, rather than only at Kroger.

2. Carve out time in your schedule – We make time for the things that matter to us.  If your health and the health of your family are the driving forces behind your desire to eat a more natural diet then you can and will find the time to make it happen.  You may have to cut out a tv show each night in order to make time to cook a meal or make lunches or get up a little earlier to prepare a healthy breakfast, but it will be worth it.

3.  Do as much prep work in advance as you can – I found that after working all day, going to the gym, then not getting home until 6:30 or later most days caused me to be really unmotivated to then spend an hour or so in the kitchen cooking supper.  What works best for us (and we don’t always do this, but our week goes much more smoothly if we do) is to cook several meals on the weekend and then just heat up leftovers on weeknights.  We’ll usually cook one thing Saturday night, something else Sunday for lunch, and yet a different meal Sunday night.  Then Monday – Friday we just eat on what we already had prepared.  I know this won’t work for everyone since many people hate leftovers, or get tired of eating the same thing over and over, or have big families and one meal doesn’t last past that night…but for the two of us, this works out perfectly.  Another good options is to find some real food crockpot meals, toss the ingredients in the crock pot in the morning before you leave, and then you’ll have supper waiting for you when you get home.

homemade honey whole wheat bread

We also try to use the weekends to make bread, biscuits, or other weekly staples; and do our grocery shopping at the Farmer’s Market, local orchard, and grocery store.  Yes, that takes up a few hours of our Saturday morning but it is so worth it to me not to have to worry about getting groceries during the week.

 Along the same lines of doing prep work in advance, I always try to pack my lunch the night before so that I can just grab it and go in the morning.  It’s also a good idea to have some little snack packs already fixed in the pantry or fridge that you can quickly grab if you’re headed out the door.

4.  Don’t reinvent the wheel with your meals – Switching to a real foods diet doesn’t require you to eat completely different meals.  We did try a lot of new things, which helped us find some really great new recipes, but we also were able to tweak most of our favorite meals just a little bit and make them real foods friendly.

For example:

  • instead of my peanut butter chocolate oatmeal, I now make peanut butter honey oatmeal with organic oats, whole milk, natural peanut butter, and local honey
  • french toast is made using homemade whole wheat bread, whole milk, local eggs, real butter, and pure maples syrup…no more fake sweetener
  • since we already made our own whole wheat pizza dough we just had to alter our toppings – fresh shredded mozzarella instead of the stuff in the bags, fresh veggies, and homemade pizza sauce (recipe coming soon!)
  • chili is easily altered by soaking dried beans and adding a few extra spices rather than using canned chili beans

homemade whole wheat pizza  These are just a few of the foods that we have made fit with our real foods lifestyle – we’ve been able to successfully alter most of our favorite recipes.

5.  Have two or three fall back meals – Keep a few meals in the back of your mind that are quick to make and that you usually have the ingredients for in your pantry.  That way when things come up and you don’t have hours to spend on that night’s meal, or you forget to thaw the meat, or life just gets in the way, you’ll still have a good, healthy alternative that you can whip up rather than running to drive through.  For us, that is pancakes, pizza, chicken sandwich (Michael) or oatmeal (me).

Those five things have really helped us stick to our commitment to eating all real food while still maintaining our busy schedule.  Also, all the resources that Lisa puts on the 100 Days of Real Food website, especially the recipe index, have been super useful.

Oh and remember, you don’t have to jump in cold turkey like we did – you can gradually replace your old processed stuff as you use them up and get acclimated to that change a little at a time.  Lisa also explains how to switch to real foods over the course of several weeks.

So what did I leave out?  What tips do you use to help you stay on track while eating healthy?

Linking up to Works for Me Wednesday.

100 days of real food and no tv challenge results

Guess what?  WE DID IT!  Our 100 days of real food (and no tv) challenge was up last Monday.

Before I go into the results, here’s a reminder of what we did.  Back in the spring I got it in my head that we should try to do a real food challenge where we cut out all highly processed food and sugar and only ate things that we knew where it came from (i.e. all the ingredients were natural, we could pronounce them, etc.).  We also tried to make sure that as much of our food as possible was local and/or organic.

So I pitched my idea to Michael and surprisingly he was on board with the idea.  He said he wanted to start out with just a 30 day challenge and then re-evaluate and see decide later if we wanted to extend it to 100 days.  He also threw me for a loop and proposed that we do a 30 day no tv challenge.  That actually seemed more daunting for me because I watched quite a bit of tv.  But I knew he had a point, we were watching way too much tv and needed to take a break (plus it was summer and my shows weren’t on…but *shhh* don’t tell) so I agreed.

We decided to start after I got home from my first church camp.  Before I left we started getting rid of all our processed food and cleaned out the cabinets.  We donated, gave away, and threw away most of our non-real foods.  We were actually pretty healthy eaters since we followed a mostly-South Beach Diet lifestyle.  However, there were quite a few things that were ok on South Beach that weren’t really real foods.  We made a trip to Whole Foods and stocked up on dried beans, whole wheat pita pockets, olive oil, nuts, and more.  And when I got back, we hit the ground running.

The first 30 days were a breeze.  We felt so good and loved all the food we were eating (you can see the 30 day results, plus some of our meal ideas from week 1, week 2, and week 3).  We had built in 2 hours of tv per week in case we wanted to watch a movie for a date or something, but we ended up not using it so we went 30 days with no tv whatsoever.  We decided to extend both challenges to 100 days.

During that time I went to church camp a second time (where I stuck to real foods the whole time and actually lost weight!), started a new school year at a brand new job, and ate out multiple times.  But I stuck to my challenge and I am so so proud of myself!  I had one bite of a sweet potato fry (that I’m sure wasn’t real) during the last week of the challenge.  But other than that, I ate real foods 100% of the time for 100 straight days (or as much as I knew – I made the best choices I could while eating out but I’m sure there were a few things that were not real).

During those 100 days I lost almost 15 pounds (it’s been hovering around 13-14 pounds for the last week or so and I just can’t seem to break that 15 pound mark!).  And that was drinking whole milk, eating bacon, eating non-low fat cheese, and nuts – things that we typically think of as dieting no-nos.  I would have loved to have lost more than 15 pounds, but that is about 5 pounds a month, which I think is a very reasonable amount for someone who doesn’t have that much to lose anyway.  Michael also lost weight, although we’re not sure how much since he doesn’t weigh himself all that much.  But his pants are definitely looser than they were when we started.

(I tried to find some before and after pictures – I didn’t really have any in the same outfits so this isn’t that great of a comparison.  I tried to find similar poses, but the shape of the clothes kind doesn’t really match.  Maybe I’ll get Michael to take my picture in the same outfit that I was wearing at the beginning and I’ll update with those pictures.  But honestly, I can’t tell a difference in the pictures…I can definitely tell a difference in how my clothes fit and feel, but I don’t visually see a difference when I compare these pictures.  But here they are anyway.)

100 days of real food challenge beforeThe week we started the challenge

100 days of real food challenge afterThe end of the 100 day challenge – down almost 15 pounds since the beginning

I did not crave sugar a single time.  Not one time.  That is HUGE for me!  Usually whenever I diet I have major sweets cravings at first that I have to overcome.  This time, I didn’t have a bit of trouble.  I’m not sure if that’s because I never cut out all sugar (like South Beach does) but instead ate real things like local honey, local pure maple syrup, and fruit, or it it was just because I was feeding my body such a nutritious diet that it didn’t feel like it needed sugar anymore.  But whatever it was, I’m happy it worked.

I also didn’t have to eat nearly as much.  I’ve found that my portion sizes and the amount I need to eat to full feel has shrunk quite a bit.  I’m still guilty of stress-eating, bored-eating, and just eating for fun, so sometimes even when I’m full I still eat stuff – healthy stuff, but still stuff I don’t need.  I’m working on that, and I expect it will be a life-long struggle, but I will say I’ve gotten better (not great, but definitely some better) at listening to my internal cues and only eating what I need.

I can’t really quantify the health benefits like I could the weight loss, but I can say that feel much better and some stomach issues that I was having before we started our challenge have basically disappeared.

So now the question is, where do we go from here?  Well, we’ve both decided that we are going to stick to our real foods lifestyle the majority of the time for forever.  We will allow treats now and then, but most of the time we will continue eating as we have been.  There is no need to go back to how we used to eat – our choice to eat mostly real, natural, organic, and local foods has seemed to reap nothing but benefits.

Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s time consuming.  We now make our own sandwich bread, tortillas, biscuits, pizza sauce, tomato sauce, salsa, chicken broth, and more.  We cook whole chickens rather than boneless, skinless breasts.  We go to the farmers market every week and even canned our own vegetables.  It is a lot of work, but it is so worth it!  I highly recommend giving it a try, even if you don’t cut everything out and do a whole 100 days.  Lisa over at 100 Days of Real Foods (my inspiration for this challenge and my go-to resource during) have tons of tips on how to cut out processed foods gradually over the course of 10 weeks.

The no tv challenge has also been a success.  Michael did better with that than me – I don’t think he has watched any tv (except maybe part of a UT game) in over 100 days.  I started watching Project Runway when the new season started in July, and then when Michael had to travel I watched tv while he was gone (it helps me to have some background noise when I’m home alone), but even at that I don’t think I watched any more than 2 hours a week.  And you know, I didn’t really miss it.  It helped that my shows weren’t on since the new season hadn’t started, but I still don’t think I would have missed them that much.

Now that the fall tv season has started back up we are going to start watching some of our shows again, but not all of them.  We agree that we were watching too much tv so we need to cut back.  We haven’t picked a specific amount (hours per week or shows per week), but we did discuss which shows we used to watch that we are going to cut and which ones we really want to keep and we’ll go from there.

So there you have it.  Both endeavors were a massive success and I am thrilled with our results.  Back in June it seemed like September (and the end of the challenge) was a loooonnnggg way away, but it has flown by!

I am so super happy that we decided to go on this adventure.  I hope that our story inspires you and you decide to try your own challenge.

As always, feel free to ask any questions if I’ve left anything out!

Linking up to Works for Me Wednesday

Banana Mocha Smoothie

real food banana mocha smoothie The people have spoken…I mentioned a banana mocha smoothie in a recent High Five for Friday post and several people mentioned wanting the recipe…which I have happily provided!

Since starting our real food challenge, we’ve been eating lots and lots of smoothies.  They are a nice “dessert” without being full of sugar and junk.  One of my most recent smoothie creations is a banana mocha smoothie.

I love mochas and mocha frappes – in fact, I’ve actually posted recipes for South Beach friendly mocha and a copycat McDonald’s mocha frappe.  However, while pretty low-calorie, neither of those recipes could be considered real food since they both use lots of fake, processed ingredients.  I had to get a little creative to figure out a way to make a mocha “real”, but I think I’ve found a pretty good solution. 

ingredients for a real foods banana mocha smoothie

What you need: banana, instant coffee, cocoa, honey, yogurt, milk, flaxseed, and greens (acutally the flaxseed and greens are totally optional, but I like to include them to add a few extra nutrients)

banana mocha smoothie

I start by putting the banana and yogurt in the bottom of the blender

banana mocha smoothie

then I add my flaxseed

banana mocha smoothie

next comes the coffee and cocoa

banana mocha smoothie

a handful of greens…

banana mocha smoothie ice

follow with some honey, ice, and milk… then blend

real food banana mocha smoothie Yum yum.  So easy, and quite healthy while still tasting like a decadent, frozen coffee treat.



  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 to 1 and 1/2 TBSP instant coffee
  • 1/2 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1/2 TBSP honey
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup milk
  • 12-14 cups of ice
  • 2 cups leafy greens
  • 2 TBSP flaxseed

A note on these ingredients – all of these amounts are approximations and can be easily changed, substituted, removed, increased, or decreased to your liking.  If you like your coffee black then you may not need the honey as an extra sweetener.  If you like your coffee strong, you may want to add more that what I use.  I’m not really sure why I use both yogurt and milk – I’m sure one or the other would be fine (yogurt if you want a thicker, smoothie like consistency, milk if you want a more drinkable shake).

The greens and flaxseed are 100% optional and don’t really effect the taste at all.  I just add them in so I can get a few more nutrients.  The flaxseed can be a bit gritty, but I blend my smoothie on the liquify setting on my blender because I like mine drinkable, so the flaxseed gets pretty ground up.  If you haven’t tried putting greens in your shake, I challenge you to give it a try.  Start with just a little and work your way up to a big ‘ole handful (that’s what I did).  You really can’t taste it (at least, I can’t) and it’s like eating a bowl of salad while having a yummy smoothie snack.


Add all ingredients to the blender.  Blend until smoothie reaches desired consistency (hint: add more ice if it is too runny, more milk if it is too thick).   Enjoy!

eating real food while traveling + a halfway-there update

Today marks day 50 of our 100 day challenge – halfway there!  Wow it’s going by fast!  I know I say this every time I do an update, but I am still just so amazed at how much easier this challenge has been than I expected.  And guess what, I’ve lost 10 pounds since we started our real food challenge!

The past two weeks both Michael and I have been traveling, so I thought I’d share a little bit about how we were able to stick to (for the most part) eating only real food.

First up was my week at church camp.  Fortunately I’ve been going to church camp with these same people for years and they are totally used to my weird ways :).  I’ve brought my own food with me many times in the past so I wasn’t too concerned about them thinking it was strange that I was eating different stuff than what they cooked for the kids.  Anyway, I brought the mini-fridge and microwave from my classroom and set them up out of the way in the mess hall.  Before I left for camp I wrote out a meal plan of sorts, and then I (with a lot of help from Michael) prepared my food in advance.  On Tuesday I had to come back to Bowling Green for a professional development, which worked out really well where the food situation was concerned because I was able to bring Sunday and Monday’s food with me on Sunday.  Then Tuesday I brought back the empty containers, washed them, and filled them with food for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  I wouldn’t have been able to bring all my food for the whole week on Sunday because my fridge just wasn’t big enough.  But this worked out nicely.

Some of the things I brought were:

  • blueberry muffins and a hard-boiled eggs with milk for breakfast
  • lots of fruit
  • apples with peanut butter
  • trail mix
  • chicken quesadillas
  • chicken noodle soup
  • bean burritos

I was determined to stick to our real food challenge, and I was so proud of myself because during the whole week of camp I didn’t not eat a single thing that wasn’t considered real food.  In fact, I actually lost a little weight during that week (usually I gain a bunch and swell up like a balloon at camp so that was a pretty big accomplishment).

The week after I was at camp, Michael had to go to Chattanooga for a work trip.  He was able to get a suite with a little kitchenette for the week (fridge and stove) so he took some of his own food with him.  For lunch he had to eat what was served him at the conference, but he tried to make real food choices from what they offered.  However, he cooked his own breakfast and supper in the room.

Anyway, to make a long story longer, it is definitely possible to eat healthy while traveling.  Maybe not 100% of the time, but you can still do a pretty good job of staying on track with a little effort and prep work.  You can see more about eating healthy while traveling here (it’s not necessarily all real food, but it still gives you an idea)

Oh and a quick update on our no tv challenge – we I got a little off track.  First, Project Runway started last week.  That is my favorite show ever and so I have been watching that (although we built in two hours of tv a week that we just hadn’t chosen to use, so I don’t feel bad about watching it).  Then Michael went out of town, and as you know it is hard for me to be alone at night, so we decided that during that week we would make an exception and I could watch as much tv as I needed (it helps me to have it on in the background when I’m home alone).  That being said, I really didn’t watch as much while he was gone as I expected.  I think I watched one Project Runway episode and maybe two or three So You Think You Can Dance episodes.  And that was it for the whole week.  Finally, the Olympics started.  We aren’t huge sports fans, but we do like to watch the Olympics, so we’ve made another exception for the Olympics.

So are we still completely tv free?  No. But are we still watching significantly less tv than we were before this challenge started?  Absolutely!  So no regrets here.

I’m excited to see what the next 50 days of real food (and limited tv) bring!

30 day real food and no tv challenge – the results

Monday marked day 30 of our real food challenge and no tv challenge.  Those 30 days passed so quickly!  We originally agreed to give it a try for 30 days (rather than a full 100 day challenge) and then re-evaluate at the end.  So here we are at the end, and it’s time to re-evalute.

But first, here are a few things that we ate during week 4 that I wanted to share with you (if you want to get some other meal ideas, check out weeks 1, 2, and 3).

tomato basil pasta – a little complicated and time consuming to make, but totally yummy and worth it

whole wheat blueberry muffins – oh my, these are yum yum yum (and easy, too!)

an afternoon snack: Ak Mak crackers with cream cheese, a peach, and some blackberries

lemon poppyseed pancakes – I adapted the recipe by leaving out the sugar and using whole milk instead of buttermilk (because I didn’t have any buttermilk) and they turned out great served with a little pure maple syrup

Thanks to all the wonderful produce available this time of year, we’ve been eating lots of veggie plates recently.  This meal consisted of rosemary potato wedges, squash and zucchini, green beans, tomato, and watermelon.

Alrighty, now on to results.

First, during the past 30 days I have not once craved chocolate, or sugar of any kind for that matter.  That is huge for me!  In fact, I haven’t really longed for anything non-real at all.

We stuck to eating all real food almost 100%.  We had dinner with friends one night and they so thoughtfully fixed us a real food meal (salad, salmon, quinoa, squash, zucchini, and bread) so that we were able to stick to our challenge.  I also ate out once at Cheddars and tried to make good choices (grilled salmon, rice, green beans, and broccoli).  But like we said in our original rules, friends and family first – although we try to make healthy choices, we will not be so strict about sticking to the rules that we can’t eat with our family and friends.

I’ve noticed that I don’t have to eat as often.  Since I’m filling my body with good, natural nutrients it doesn’t feel deprived and beg for more every few hours.  I used to snack all day long, but since starting this challenge I’ve been able to go more hours without eating.  Very rarely do I need a morning snack anymore and I used to always eat one.  After school starts back in two weeks that may change since I will be getting up earlier, eating breakfast earlier, and thus having to wait a longer time until lunch.  But it may not.

Along those lines, I’ve been trying to work really hard to 1) stop eating when I’m full rather than when my plate is empty and 2) eat only when I’m hungry (not because I’m bored).  I’m getting better but still not perfect.  I find that I get full quicker now and don’t have to eat as much food as I used to.

The good news: from day 1 to day 30 I lost 7 pounds.  I don’t know how much of that was water weight (from starting right after church camp) and how much was actual fat, but some is better than none, right?

The bad news: I went to the doctor yesterday to get a physical for my new job and my blood work showed that I have high cholesterol.  Higher than the first time we realized this was a problem, in fact.  Since I didn’t have my cholesterol tested before starting the 30 day challenge, I don’t know if eating this way has elevated or lowered it, I just know that it is high.  Obviously I’m disappointed.  At this time, my doctor isn’t too concerned but he wants me to lose 25 pounds then come back and get tested again.

So that’s pretty much the low-down.

We both loved the real foods challenge.  We have decided to do the full 100 day challenge, which will end on September 17.  However, we are really making this a lifestyle and will not quit eating this way as soon as September 17 rolls around.  So we will not revert back to our old eating habits then, but we might be a bit more relaxed with our food choices.

There aren’t really any results that go along with the no tv challenge, but I can say that I really haven’t missed watching tv at all.  We’ve been so busy with VBS, house hunting, and camp that there hasn’t really been time for tv.  I’ve also read a lot more books than I would have if we were watching tv every night.

Even though we allowed two hours of tv a week, we didn’t use a single bit of it.  Other than the tv being on while I was babysitting on day (and I wasn’t really watching it), neither of us have watched any tv in the past month!  I’m floored that I was able to do that!

We decided to continue our no tv challenge for 100 days along with our real food challenge, which means no tv until September 17.  Then after that (which will be right around the time all the fall shows crank up again) we are going to start watching some of our shows again, but we’re going to cut back a lot on what we used to watch.

 So there you have it!  I wasn’t sure we’d like eating non-processed, all organic and/or local food and not watching tv, but in fact we love it!  You never know until you try :).