When I was growing up, my family had a pretty standard healthy diet, at least according to the common wisdom of the times. We grew our own produce—or at least as much as we could raise—in our vegetable garden, we tended to avoid junk food, and we ate whole grains.
Before the Internet, our sources for information were gleaned from the library, from resourceful friends, and of course from common sense. Of paramount significance to my mom’s healthy lifestyle was the importance of whole grains, so we ate freshly-baked whole wheat bread, whole wheat muffins, and whole wheat cookies. The general willingness to try almost anything, coupled with a focus on whole grains, formed the basis for my healthy living philosophy as I entered marriage and established the parameters for my own home.
While I strove to maintain nutrition and palatability, the deciding factor in the early years of our marriage was—by necessity—frugality. I shopped the sales, cooked from scratch with basic ingredients such as whole grains and dried beans, purchased ripe produce at a discount whenever I could, and relied on frozen and canned fruits and vegetables for the rest. Overall, it was a good diet and served our young family’s needs well.
In the meantime, I continued to read and learn as much as I could about health and wellness. Now there are so many resources out there for achieving natural, wholesome living for one’s family, both online and in active, local communities, that pursuing such a goal can become overwhelming. Although I knew that there was room for improvement in our diet, I struggled with knowing where to begin.
Many resources, fortunately, emphasize the importance of making changes slowly, so that the budget and the family’s expectations can adapt. Trying to do too much at once can be intimidating and ultimately unsustainable. Also, not every aspect of so-called healthy living is going to work for every family, and setbacks can be discouraging. Taking things one step at a time allows for evaluation, adjustment, and eventual adaptation.
It’s difficult to trace the “baby steps” we took, because I was already accustomed to doing all my baking and cooking from scratch. I do remember being very excited when I started making my own homemade yogurt, since I’d wanted to add more good probiotics to our diet (and quality yogurt costs so much from the store). In my case, I was given a yogurt maker as a birthday present, which was a tremendous help to me in learning how to work with live active cultures. Nowadays, I usually make yogurt in quart glass jars and incubate them in the oven, because the yogurt maker simply does not have the capacity to keep up with my family’s appetite. However, for someone who is just starting out, kitchen tools such as a yogurt maker can be a great help in walking one through the learning process.
From yogurt we branched out to kefir, which is even easier to make and more rich in probiotics than yogurt. (It’s also quite a bit more tart than plain yogurt; I can’t stand it straight, so we blend it up with fruit every day for smoothies.)
These kinds of ventures were easy to adopt, because they actually saved money over buying the counterpart from the store. What I found more of a challenge was weighing the importance of upgrading our diet to include farm-fresh animal products, honey or maple syrup instead of sugar, and organic produce.
Some of these transitions we made gradually. While it was a sacrifice to pay more for quality food, I finally came to the decision that I simply couldn’t put off making some changes any longer. I couldn’t predict when we would be at a place financially where I would feel “rich” enough to afford effortlessly the kind of food budget I longed for. I decided that, even if we didn’t end up on track with our ideal savings goals, there would always be the opportunity to make more money. But there would never be another chance to form my children’s health. Their growing bones and permanent teeth relied on the building blocks I fed them. I made peace with an expanding grocery budget, and I felt that we had reached a happy equilibrium.
Check out Part 2.
Photo Credit: First phot taken by Sonja Langford, graphic design by Charity Klicka; second photo taken by Rose Focht, edited by Charity Klicka.