Not Just Brain Food: Our Family’s Real Food Revolution {Cookbooks & Healthy Eating Books}

If you had told me a year ago that I’d be blogging about food, I simply would not have believed it. Laughter would have abounded. I’m not exactly blogging about food here, but a whole lot closer than I figured I’d ever get. Nonetheless, over the past several months my relationship with food has done a total 180. I didn’t see it coming, and there wasn’t any dramatic impetus– no diagnoses, allergic reactions, no one mistakenly asked when I was due. It was a combination of cutting cable (and subsequently getting hooked on Netflix documentaries) and reading Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, of which food is one measly but life altering chapter.

real food whole food clean eating

In short, we’re cutting out processed foods and instead eating whole foods. We’re cutting out convenience foods in exchange for real food. I’m intentionally planning for meals rather than acting surprised when I have to cook dinner again. (These tiny humans want to eat every 4 hours! Still.) The words I’ve been coming across repeatedly are whole, clean, unrefined, and unprocessed.

This quote from For the Love by Jen Hatmaker puts it well:

“The [advertising] industry believes real life is too hard for us, but they are here to help. Most notably, the food business. I mean, apparently we cannot possibly cook like every generation before us in history. Advertisers suggest a good breakfast is utterly beyond us. Crack an egg? How could we possibly? We can’t manage real food in the morning! Help us, Marketing People! Give us something fast! Help us through this difficult conundrum of breakfast with food-things you concocted in your labs!

Meanwhile, it takes three minutes to fry an egg and serve it over toast.

We should stop listening to this nonsense. Women have nurtured their families with good, real food since creation. It simply isn’t true that cooking is beyond our capacity. To feed the machine, advertisers use buzzwords like quick and easy, no-fuss, ready in minutes, heat and serve. But do we even want those qualities around our tables? When did chopping onions and peeling carrots become so abhorrent? Isn’t that how women have fed their people all along? With stuff that came from the actual earth?

I don’t like the picture marketers paint of us– overly busy moms with no time or energy to feed our families well. I don’t appreciate how cooking is portrayed as an unbearable imposition, a hassle better left to professionals.”

Just the pep talk I needed. (Jen is good at that.) Those advertising buzzwords encapsulated my cooking philosophy: the quicker the better, let’s heat & eat!  Over the past few months I have devoured books about food, food documentaries, cookbooks, and pinterest recipes. After all of this information gathering, I cringe when I think about my former laissez faire attitude in this department that led me to feed my kids from packages 80% of their meals. When you know better, you do better. There’s grace for me.

Anyhow, in this post I’ll share my favorite books & cookbooks that have been my guides on this journey to feeding my family better. In a follow up post, I’ll share the picture books my kids have been eating up as I encourage healthier food relationships.

Clean Cuisine by Ivy & Andrew Larson. This was the first book in the genre that I read, and it was a heavyweight. It was recommended by a friend who had turned her life around using the principles they set forth, and I was truly inspired by my friend’s experience. She had such vitality and truly seemed transformed from the inside out. In the first section of the book they educate readers about the basics of nutrition, from types of oils to use (and to avoid), what phytonutrients are, and how to find whole foods that are full of bioavailable nutrients. This shaped my thinking immensely. (The second half of the book presents an exercise plan, 8 week anti-inflammatory diet to jump start a lifestyle change, and recipes, which I did not follow or use). Their instruction and guidelines have helped me to “clean up” our family’s favorite recipes and give me a lens to examine new recipes by. Their food pyramid sums things up well:

clean cuisine pyramid

100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake. This is probably my favorite of the bunch. Lisa is so approachable in her writing style, making me feel like I was being cheered on by a mom/friend! The first part of her book lays out her family’s experience with, you guessed it, 100 days of eating whole foods.  Most helpful to me was her instruction on how to read labels well. I thought of myself as a pretty skilled label reader (I’ve been gluten free for over 8 years so I’m accustomed to it), but she taught me so much about what to look for, what to avoid, and helped me understand the variety of health claims & certifications on packaging (cage free/free range/grass fed/grass finished/pastured/USDA organic/whole grain/100% whole grain! Eesh!). The second half of the book has fabulous recipes, many of which have become staples in our home already. I especially love that almost all recipes include a tasty picture to entice me to get cooking!

French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. I found this book fascinating! The author relocates her family to her husband’s childhood village in France for a year. She discovers a set of unwritten rules that French parents teach their children, leading to kids who embrace a rich variety of foods and grow into adults who savor their foods, eating less but enjoying the community found around the table. Includes about 35 pages of recipes. Tip: if you don’t have time to read the book but are interested in the gist, she includes a 20 page “cliffs notes” section detailing the 10 food rules with MANY helpful and practical tips. (This book is similar to Bringing Up Bebe, which I read and loved; I found the two to have quite a bit of overlap but I read them a few years apart! Ha! Bebe spans the breadth of French parenting which includes food habits among many others, whereas Kids touches on many areas but focuses primarily on food.)

french kid food rules

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. A much headier offering than the previous few, though based on a simple premise: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He doesn’t promote any type of diet plan, and you won’t find guidelines or recipes. He provides a commentary of the Standard American Diet, analyzing political forces at work, and describes how the industrialization of our food has led to disease. It’s a wider perspective and the historical & political background he provides greatly influenced my ability to think critically about the what, why, and how of my family’s food intake. An important read.

whole foods rules pollan

Weelicious by Catherine McCord. The first 100 pages are full of great tips clearly written by a mom! I appreciated her down to earth (I get picky eaters!) yet encouraging (you can raise healthy eaters!) tone. The info she shares as background is right in line with French Kids (above). The recipes are simple, eye catching, and not just for kids. My only personal beef is the choice of oils  throughout (vegetable/canola) and heavy reliance on dairy products. But we can swap those out easily! Her blog is fabulous, too!

If you’re curious, the documentaries that were most impactful were Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (inspiring and informative), Fed Up (disheartening and rallying), The Kids’ Menu (hopeful and practical), and Health Matters (insightful and inciteful). I am working up the courage to watch Food, Inc. I got partially through and abandoned when they began investigating conditions in factory farms. I’m not ready to be vegetarian yet.

I hope you find inspiration in these books! I’m excited to share the picture books and kids’ cookbooks we’ve been enjoying in my next post. Check back soon! I’d love to hear your favorite sources of recipes and tips for eating healthfully with your kids! Connect with me on facebook.

Titles mentioned in this post should be readily available at your local library, or at the affiliate links provided. 






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