I have always loved to cook and eat since I was a little girl. Growing up in Hawaii, my mom made everything from scratch and taught us how to cook. At our soccer games, she brought orange wedges. At the park, she brought sliced boiled potatoes sprinkled with a little salt. We rarely drank soda or juice or ate chips. I always wanted a Lunchable for lunch, but never got one. Instead, my mom would give us a piece of fruit and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. On rare occasions we got a cookie if she had made some over the weekend. The cookies were never store bought. I was blessed growing up with these food options. At the time, I didn’t always appreciate it; I wanted those packaged Doritos and Oreos my friends had. I wanted the Hi-C juice packs and not the canister containing water only. However, looking back on my youth, my mom really set me up for some great food values and taught me the importance and benefits of eating real food. So here’s why I eat real food (90% of the time).

Real food is considered food made from whole food products that can be found in a market such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, cheeses, legumes, etc. When you look for real food products, you can read the ingredient list and the foods listed can be found in nature rather than a product of industry. For example, we know where salt, honey, yeast, spices, herbs, etc come from. Products of industry may include a name you cannot pronounce (sodium aluminosilicate?) or may come from a source you don’t know about (butylated hydroxyanisole comes from where?).

Real food-based products have many benefits such as providing us with a variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients naturally found in the food sources. For example, blueberries contain carbohydrates, vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, and more to optimize our nutritional value. Another benefit of using real food-based products can be digestive for some people have an easier time tolerating real foods with their gut. A third benefit is less sodium, sugar, and fat. Many premade, convenient foods contain high amounts of sodium, sugar, and/or fat in order to increase shelf life or taste. When we make food from scratch, we can control how much sugar, fat, and salt we put into the dish.

Eating real food 100% of the time can be a challenge. A con to using real foods can be preparation and planning. If you do not plan and prep correctly, you may not have the option of consuming the foods you want and will have to settle for premade, convenient food. Ever been starving and have time to make a meal from scratch? Sometimes those convenient foods come in handy.

I enjoy eating real food and I don’t mind prepping and planning it. Yes – it takes a lot more effort to make the lasagna from scratch than just buy a frozen, premade lasagna and pop it in the oven. However, the benefits one get from real food many times outweigh the efforts expended consuming premade food.

Chopping Veggies
As I said in the beginning, I only eat real food 90% of the time. The other 10%, you’ll see me eating/drinking processed foods like Coke, which I enjoy mixing in my rum, or movie theater popcorn when watching a film. Yet, I don’t eat these foods on a daily basis. I also eat out about twice a week and I don’t always know where the food comes from when I go to the restaurants. Not everyone serves organic, local food, even in San Francisco.

I’m not here to shame people for eating processed foods or demonize food companies for trying to make a tasty, convenient food product that customers are asking for. I’m here to provide you with education so you can make a decision on how often you choose to eat real food. I definitely encourage people to do their best when it comes to making food from scratch. Try and make a batch of homemade cookies before buying a bag next time. See what it’s like to make chips from natural potatoes in your own oven. Cooking can be fun and a fantastic way to get people together in the kitchen. So I advocate cooking as often as possible and appreciating the experience of planning, prepping, and making the delicious meals you eat.

Enjoy your health and the many nutritional benefits of eating real foods.

Comment below and tell me how you and your family eat real food. I love to hear your tips!

For more articles on real foods and how to find them, check out past posts:

Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN