Would Your Pantry Make Great-Grandma Proud?
It’s springtime and we all know what that means… Cleaning! Aren’t we all excited to get started? Well, in case this isn’t your favorite time of the year, we’ve got an inspiring challenge for you – making your Great-Grandma proud. You just might find yourself motivated to clean the whole house when you’re finished with this!
As we clean out the old things collecting dust on our pantry shelves to make room for the new, fresh items, let’s consider this idea of best-selling food author Michael Pollan: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. Keeping that in mind, we can get all of the over-processed junk, artificial ingredients and “frankenfoods” out of our kitchens to make room for real food! So let’s be flexible and have fun.
Here are 9 simple action steps to take. Remember, Great-Grandma would want you to take your time!
1. Toss that white sugar and go natural!
Still using white sugar? Or worse – artificial sweetener? With white sugar, we’re getting all of the calories without any of the nutrients. And with artificial sweeteners, we’d be consuming chemical concoctions that many other countries don’t even allow on their land – even Splenda is unnatural, in spite of its claims. But there’s a healthy way to sweeten things up. All naturally occurring foods come with built-in nutrients! It’s only when we process foods in labs that the nutrition disappears. With that in mind, let’s stock our pantry shelves with natural sweeteners like honey, molasses (try Wholesome Sweeteners Organic & Fair-Trade), maple syrup, date sugar, brown rice syrup, palm sugar and sorghum syrup. That way, when we go to make something sweet, we’ll be getting lots of minerals and some vitamins, too. For sugar-free sweeteners, xylitol has been tested significantly more than others and proven to be safer.
Extra tip: Try mixing strong-tasting sweeteners like molasses with milder ones like palm sugar for a more balanced flavor.
2. Ban MSG from your household!
Want to make just one quick & easy move to a healthier kitchen? Check everything in your pantry & fridge for this ingredient, also known as Monosodium Glutamate. This will eliminate one of the most toxic food additives from your life! The good news: that same savory flavor which MSG artificially lends to foods and seasonings can be found naturally in foods like miso (try Eden Foods for organic miso), aged cheeses, meat & fish broths, and ripe tomatoes. Try using those foods creatively in your recipes for natural flavor and added nutrition.
Extra tip: The unique flavor that these seasoning ingredients lend to dishes is called “umami” – a savoriness found in protein-heavy foods, by our tongues detecting glutamic acid. That’s why MSG is so popular – it mimics this acid, tricking our brains into thinking we’re eating something savory and full of protein.
3. Don’t eat white flour!
We all know white flour is inferior to whole grains, right? So why are we still keeping that bag of refined white flour in the pantry? There are so many different, healthy grains from different parts of the world. Experiment in your kitchen – see what happens when you use almond, chickpea, rice, millet, teff, barley or corn (a.k.a. maize) flour (just make sure to find organic corn flour, because conventional corn is typically GMO – a problem Great-Grandma didn’t have to worry about). You could also try sprouted whole grain flour. It’s an easy way to get heartier whole grains into your diet naturally, with more readily accessible nutrients. Plus, those who are sensitive to gluten might find that baked goods made with sprouted wheat flour are gentler on the stomach. Whole grains are higher in naturally-occurring fiber, and when sprouted, the final product tends to taste better and is easier to digest. Ever wonder why Great-Grandma always sifted her flour? Chances are that she (and her Great-Grandma before her) sprouted her whole grains before she ground them up.
Extra tip: Arrowhead Mills has a line of “Ancient Grains” with a quick description of each grain’s history. See if you can match some grains up to your Great-Grandma’s home country!
4. Wake up from that salad dressing nightmare!
Instead of checking the number of calories, take a look at the actual ingredients on that label of your salad dressing bottle. Scared yet? You should be enjoying your salad, knowing that what you’re eating is simply and purely good for you! But most salad dressings ruin that experience. So get rid of ‘em! Instead, do what Great-Grandma did – drizzle your fresh salads with extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed flaxseed oil (we’d recommend Barlean’s for their standards of purity), extra virgin coconut oil, and wholesome vinegars such as raw apple cider, brown rice, umeboshi plum, red wine and balsamic. Zest up your homemade salad dressings even more by including fresh citrus juices like lemon, lime and orange.
Extra tip: Robyn Openshaw aka Green Smoothie Girl (www.greensmoothiegirl.com) whose 12-Steps To Whole Foods e-book inspired this section, says to fresh squeeze & “freeze 2 Tbsp. portions in ice cube trays and save the cubes in a plastic freezer bag for easy use over a few months… have a bag each of frozen orange, lemon, and lime juice (cubes) always on hand.”
5. Get out of the Crisco rut to try something new!
Did you know that Crisco was “invented” less than 100 years ago? It became popular as an inexpensive substitute for traditional, animal-based shortening – before the days of factory farms, when people spent a higher percentage of their income on food and a lower percentage on healthcare. So let’s ask ourselves if things made in labs can really be called food. Do you think that Crisco may be one of those things? If so, what can you use instead? Try non-hydrogenated organic palm shortening (like Spectrum’s – it’s trans-fat free) for a healthier choice that works for any diet.
Extra tip: If you want to do it like Great-Grandma did, try using lard or tallow. Wondering why she’d do that? Check out “How To Cook Like Your Grandmother” by Drew Kime to find out more about the way that older generations understood food.
6. Quit hanging around those bad eggs!
A carton of egg whites is not a whole food, but real eggs are. Great-Grandma knew this. She also knew where to get the best eggs. These days, many eggs are from hens kept in tiny cages, with clipped beaks and no room to stretch or scratch. Because this is a stressful, unnatural life for chickens, their eggs are not as healthy. Eggs laid by unhealthy chickens are higher in bad fats and lower in good fats. Eggs are an inexpensive source of wholesome, natural protein, so it’s worth investing a little extra in the quality of life for chickens – and the quality of their eggs for your family’s health. If egg labels have you confused, check out the Humane Society’s Egg Label Guide.
Extra tip: The colder the eggs, the easier they are to break in half – no more little pieces of shell in your omelette! Great-Grandma knew – and now you do, too.
7. Think outside of the pasta box!
Time for something fresh and new! Add some healthy variety to your pantry’s pasta supply. Where was your Great-Grandma’s home country? Consider that as you search for new, exciting pasta choices. Try noodles made of yam, buckwheat/soba, millet, brown rice, quinoa, cassava or tapioca, barley egg noodles and many more. Remember, you can get as creative in your cooking as you want! Isn’t branching out always a good thing?
Extra tip: Shopping online for gluten-free or sprouted-flour pastas makes it easier to find unique varieties.
8. Shake yourself out of the salt substitute routine!
Ever used a salt substitute? They can contain unhealthy additives such as hydrolized protein and certain nucleotides – but we’ll save you the science lesson! It’s important to think for yourself before you start consuming popular substitutes for real food – isn’t that something that Great-Grandma would say? Many of her recipes probably didn’t list salt, because it was always assumed to add salt to every recipe, to taste. Real sea salt naturally comes from the sea, and humans have been consuming for millenia. Using real salt means you won’t need to use as much. Sea salt’s benefits are primarily in its trace minerals, essential for our health. Sodium is necessary for our bodies’ nervous systems and it is crucial for other systems in our bodies as well. Have you ever noticed that you cry salty tears, or if you bite your lip, the blood is slightly salty? That’s because our bodily fluids require a saline solution of salt and water for healthy, natural balance.
Extra tip: Sea salt that has been refined has lost most of its health benefits. Look for “French” or “Celtic” sea salt which has not been refined.
9. Put yourself in Great-Grandma’s vintage shoes.
This is the most important action step to take. Maybe your Great-Grandma moved to the U.S. from her home country. Take the time to learn about that country’s traditional foods. Because you and your family have inherited your great-grandparents’ genes, it’s important to consider what kinds of foods and preparations they thrived upon and learn more about how those foods can positively affect your healthy lifestyle. Go back even further, to your great-great-great-grandparents! Passing on these food traditions is about more than memories – it’s really about health.
Extra tip: To learn more about what our ancestors ate, check out this easy-to-read “Food Timeline”.