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One bite at a time: Creating sustainable change on your plate.


3rd post in the ‘My Family Food Journey’ series

I’ve spoken about some tips and changes we made in the topic of eating, but in this post of the series I’m going to speak about the ‘how to’ of making the sustainable changes of the actual food in my pantry. Specifically the food choices we make now as a family, which are significantly different to how we ate and shopped a few years back. I’m not going to go too much into the ‘why’s’ of these changes. I’ll save that for a more in-depth post another time. I’m sure than many of the changes will be somewhat obvious to the vast majority of people reading this. But don’t worry if not. I’ll unpack more in another post soon.


There is nothing revolutionary about what we have done for many, but for me it was a conscious choice, a line in the sand moment where I moved forward differently. The specific changes we made came from me taking a keener interest in food, nutrition & health. I started watching food documentaries, and although many were based in the US which is quite different from the UK (in terms of their farming, laws, processes etc) it was still a really helpful way to begin the process. At the same time as this I became aware of and avidly watched Jamie Olivers’ food documentaries and especially Jimmy Doherty’s weekly show of ‘Food Unwrapped’. They are so informative and interesting, explaining how some of the foods we eat are grown, made and mass produced all the way from the farm, science lab, factories to the kitchen and finally supermarket. They touch on topics like imports, GMO’s, preservatives, additives, food labels etc but mainly focus on the food and the processes. Some of the ones off the top of my head were about asparagus, cream cheese, wasabi, stevia, and cod liver oil. From the information I gathered from these shows, the documentaries, further research myself & following a few bloggers on the topic, meant that some of my food choices were changing as a result of the knowledge I was acquiring. I ate certain things less, or opted for different versions of them, tried out new foods/ ingredients or cooked them a different way.  


Being an all or nothing kind of person, when I first tried making changes I completely overwhelmed myself, opting for the overhaul method. Now there is a place for this but it was not a wise choice for me. It was extremely overwhelming because I was changing everything at the same time and yet I didn’t quite know enough to make informed decisions on the alternatives. So shopping and meal planning were very stressful. I was like a rabbit in headlights: stunned. I knew that all the information I was gathering could cause fear in me and I didn’t want to make any changes with that as the motivation. I urge anyone making change in their life for it to be because of a move to a more positive place as opposed to fear. Don’t get me wrong the reality of some things can be shocking and that can be a useful tool for motivation, but let it stay that: a revelation and allow the motivation of that to move to you better choices, as opposed to it becoming a fear or certain foods or demonising them. You are now just making informed decisions.   


After a lot of stress and frustration I chose instead to focus on only a few key things to change. One step at a time. One change at a time. When I looked back a few months later I could barely believe how far I had come and how many choices were now different, and most importantly STILL different. This method of change was sustainable. My pantry looked similar but on closer look it was significantly different.    For any one wishing to make changes to a more whole foods approach, I recommend that you do it gradually. I have broken down what I did below; where I started and then how to develop and evolve from there as per your convictions and preferences. The path I chose was determined by my school of thought on certain topics, and what suited me. You and yours  will lead you to make different choices to me I’m sure.  Before I delve into the steps it’s probably sensible to share what my goals and objectives were:


  • Reduce meat and animal products (including dairy and eggs)
  • Increase plant based foods, dishes and meals
  • Buy organic where possible, when affordable
  • Have less processed and more raw, whole foods.


White to Brown: I started making the simple change from white pasta, rice, bread and sugar to brown.  I know some people struggle with brown rice and I know what you mean, but I urge you to try a few different types as this can make a huge difference. 


Less meat: I deliberately chose to change at least one dish a week to have no meat in it.  Being raised in South Africa I grew up eating and loving meat. I still do but now it’s in moderation. I don’t think there is any need or sense in eating the quantity of meat that we were, so I changed it. Now when I do eat meat I opt for predominantly white meat and from time to time red.  

Meat free dishes can be as easy as just leaving the meat out of a recipe (easily done with dishes like chilli con carne, bolognese and curry), or substituting the meat for more veg or chickpeas/ other beans or lentils.

I personally would not use quorn (a soil mould) or soya to replace the meat as both are highly processed. Personally if I were needing such an alternative I would probably go for Tofu- just because of what appeals to my goals and objectives and which sits better with me. You will find your own groove.

Alternatively you can experiment with a brand new dish which doesn’t contain meat. 


Keep the peel: I stopped peeling veg like carrots, potatoes, aubergines, beetroot, courgettes, I don’t even peel butternut squash – a tip I picked up from Jamie Oliver. I didn’t even realise you could eat it, so when I knew that, it was really helpful. I find that when I use butternut squash in a curry in my slow cooker the skin gets cooked perfectly, nice and soft. This has not only sped up my cooking (especially on the butternut squash- those are a real pain to peel) and reduced my food waste, but increased the nutrient level of our meals. Score!


Breakfast Cereals: My ultimate goal on this one was to eliminate cereals altogether, but that just ended up not practical for us… not yet! So we do have cereals, but I choose ones which have no more than 5% sugar (6% at a push) per serving and ones which use ingredients I’m happy with. Wheatabix (or the own brand wheat biscuits) are the best but be sure to check each new brand you try as the sugar and ingredients do vary from one shop to the other. Other good options are oats (or finely milled oats to make the porridge oats) but my kids really aren’t keen on the latter two; if I were to ween them again this is something I would definitely have introduced earlier, but I missed the boat on this one, so to save a struggle, we use wheat biscuits and bran flakes (be care on this one too as a lot of sugar is used to compensate for the fibre content). I don’t see the point in corn flakes or rice crispies, but these are not bad options for the what we are looking for in our food, and we often opt for them.

I enjoy granola which has high sugar BUT I still go for this as I know that that sugar is natural sugar usually from honey and the dried fruits it contains. Even granola without dried fruits has high sugar (not as much) due to the honey, but I would rather have honey than refined sugar. 

I didn’t want the kids to change from cereal to toast as that would likely mean that they would be eating double the amount of bread on days we have sarnies for lunch etc. 


Less processing: I try to opt for foods which have undergone as few processes as possible to reduce the amount of processed foods we consume.   

A great starting point is with processed meats. Not only had I already reduced the amount of meat we ate which directly impacts this, but I reduced the number of times we had specifically processed meats. Then sometimes I swapped it out: so instead of pre-packed sandwich meat I started gradually buying proper cuts of meat for cold meat sandwich fillings. Now we very rarely have meat in our sarnies.

I believe our bodies are supposed to eat food, not food like products, so staying as close to the natural product as much as/ where possible is important to me. 


Reduce animal products: Another reason I wanted to veer away from (or at least reduce the amount of) breakfast cereal we had, was because of the need for milk. Having said that it is easy enough to go for a plant based milk instead. I am wary of the ones I opt for due to processing methods, additives and the addition of sugar and preservatives, but making a start at all is a good step forward. Learn as you go and don’t be scared to tweak your choices as you go along. 

Even just opting for a nut milk once a week starts to ween us off of our age-old habits. An idea of how to ease into alternative milks if you can’t do the occasional direct swap, is to mix half of it with dairy milk, and gradually increate the ratio to favour the nut milk.

Again, help yourself to make changes, slowly when needed. Don’t just taste it and give up straight away, try mixing it and help yourself get used to it. Somethings do need a period of adjusting.

I’ve even made my own nut milk before. It’s wonderful and so easy. You will find one that you favour I’m sure.  

I don’t think I would ever completely eliminate milk or dairy (or meat) from our diets personally but I do see benefits to reducing the amount we consume. 


Organic: I strongly value organic food and ingredients. At the time I started this, I could’t afford to do a complete swap. So I started just doing as many of the ‘dirty dozen’ as possible. I took advantage of organic veg delivery companies offering ‘1/2 price on your first two boxes’, and buying clearance organic veg, or organic options on offer. There was a long period of time where the organic options were so limited I didn’t really have the option to buy organic, and when I did it almost double the price of my non-organic veg. Now though that price gap is reducing significantly and the options are far more plentiful. In just two years the difference is tremendous. I still mix up my shop of fruit and veg with organic and not organic. If there are no organic Braeburn apples then I just buy the normal ones.  

A step on from the odd organic fruit and veg can then be organic meat and flour and spaghetti. You can just initially compare the price as your first step toward this and when it’s comparable/ on offer then picking that item up instead.

Longer term I think it’s important to also start to consider what the animals are fed for the animal products you consume. Like I said let’s eat food our bodies are designed to eat, no different with animals. Cows for example aren’t ‘supposed’ to eat corn or pellets. Cows are supposed to eat grass, herbs, clover etc. When they eat what they are supposed to then I believe the products which come from animals be it eggs, milk or their meat, are far better/ safer for us. Not that we need to eat them at all, but if we do then this is the way I would prefer to eat it.


Juicing/ Blending: If the only change you make is to introduce one green juice to your day then this is the one main change I would prioritise. The reason juicing and blending is a great idea is purely that it is a super easy way of getting a huge injection of vitamins and minerals into your body easily! Think about it. You make a juice and can sip it in the car, sip at your desk. Not quite so easy to do that with a big salad is it? It just makes getting all that goodness into your body super easy! Also if you don’t particularly like the taste of some of these things then drinking it is a much easier way of consuming it! Because all the ingredients are raw you get all the goodness not loosing any to heat in the cooking process. It’s just a great idea.  Even with this ease yourself in. The goal with this is to have juices which only have 1 fruit portion in it, max 2 (if any at all). You need to watch the amount of sugar you consume. To start off with a kale, celery and beetroot juice would probably mean you wouldn’t stick at this long term, so start off with all fruit, then the next one swap out one fruit with a veg or leaf portion, then the next few juices half and half, and work up to only one fruit portion in there. 


The proof is in the pudding, so to speak 

I have to say that as we have done more and more of these steps in ever increasing measures, that our health has improved dramatically. We very rarely get colds, flu or sick.

Because of understanding why I make the choices I do, I very rarely want to eat the things I think are best not too. The other day I fancied a coke. So I had one, and enjoyed it, but half way through I had had enough and didn’t want to drink the rest of it. My tastes and even cravings have changed. I love it, and am so grateful to see these changes taking on a life of their own in me. I never imagined I would genuinely prefer to have a couscous, rocket, lime and chicken salad instead of a pizza, but that has happened.

I had a Mc Donalds yesterday and enjoyed it very much, but I fancy it less and less, and don’t get the same satisfaction from eating it either. The ultimate evidence is in my kids too. Yesterday I did a final summer holiday activity treat with them. We went to watch the latest Jurassic Park movie. Ahead of going in we had the afore mentions Mc Donalds for lunch. In the cinema they had about 1/2 of their cup of pick n mix and I allowed them to share one of those fizzy slush puppies. When we came out of the movie it was 6:30pm and dinner time. I suggested that we just pop something in the oven (like a pizza) and both the kids chorused that they really would like something healthier. I was one proud mom! I asked them what they wanted and they both fancied a plate of cut up raw veg. So I did cucumber, carrots, peppers, grapes, and a couple of wholewheat crackers. They demolished it and were as grateful for it as they had been for the Mc Donalds earlier that day! Result… evidence. 


Written by: Nicole Allen (Coffee Cups and Cuddles)