Caution: cooking required
If cooking is a deal-breaker for you, please, please, please reconsider. Start simple. Learn as you go. Expand your repertoire one food at a time. And, when in doubt, consult the internet.
For the rest of us–those who don’t mind cooking so long as you can find the time and the inspiration–we’ve gathered together some of our favorite recipe providers here, each with their own unique offerings. We can’t guarantee that every recipe is free of sugar or processed ingredients, but we can offer some guidance for selecting recipes to try.
Skip the smoothies.
Seriously, can we get past this already?
Remember that fruit juice, fruit puree, mashed fruit, and dried fruit are all sweeteners too.
Incorporate them sparingly.
When in doubt, check the sugar content.
If you’re wondering how much sugar ingredients like those above contribute to a recipe, visit a nutrient database like this, this, or this to look up their sugar content. Add up the total sugar in the recipe and divide by the number of servings the recipe yields. Look for recipes with less than 8 grams or 2 teaspoons of sugar per serving to meet the daily sugar guideline set forth by the American Heart Association.
Skip the sweetener all together…
especially in dressings, sauces and complex dishes in which it won’t be missed. Many recipes call for a teaspoon of honey, maple syrup, agave, or sugar, because nearly everyone’s palate expects sweetness. Not yours! Try leaving it out the first time. As your palate adjusts to less sweetness, you may not miss it.
Artificial sweeteners? Forget it.
If there is one thing real food is not, it’s “artificial.”
Avoid recipes that call for ingredients that are obviously processed,
like ketchup, cheese wannabes (Velveeta, Cheez Whiz, etc), condensed soup, pasta, and breadcrumbs. Try replacing them with unsweetened or less processed alternatives. We suggest unsweetened tomato paste, real cheese, home-made soup or broth, spiralized vegetable or whole-grain pasta, or ground nuts. Or, look for a similar recipe that calls for real food ingredients from the start.
Consider alternatives to all-purpose flour,
which is virtually devoid of fiber and nutrients. Consider almond flour, coconut flour, or garbanzo bean flour, which are higher in nutrients and won’t spike blood glucose nearly as much as the white wheat stuff. Many grocery stores offer these items in bulk, so you can buy the exact amount you need.
Lastly, don’t overthink it.
Some of the best food is simple food. The ideal is to get so comfortable with real food and flavor that you learn to be inspired by seasonal ingredients without even needing recipes. Recipes are a great way to learn to cook, but once you know the basics, let your intuition kick in. Real food doesn’t have to be complicated!
Suppers is our preferred recipe partner for the Real Food Challenge. Suppers is a learn-by-doing program where participants cook, taste and feel their way to vibrant health. While their meetings are primarily located in central New Jersey, their recipes are available to all of us. Suppers’ recipes are whole-food based and contain no milled grains or refined sugar. Their recipes don’t conform to any one diet, because they recognize that dietary needs are individualistic. But, they do offer a handy feature where you can view their recipes by dietary preference, if you already have one.
EatFresh.org is an online resource for CalFresh (SNAP, or food stamps) eligible individuals and families, though their website is a great resource for anyone who wants to improve their health. EatFresh aims to encourage cooking at home with fresh foods and minimally processed non-perishables and to prove that healthy change can happen even though barriers exist. Their interactive website has some really great features, including budget-friendly recipes, meal plans, shopping lists, easy filtering, the ability to save recipes, and the ability to easily scale a recipe up or down to the number of servings you need.
EatLove is a meal-planning service that helps you discover recipes tailored to your food preferences and dietary goals. EatLove saves you the time of planning your meals and creating shopping lists, which, let’s face it, is one of the biggest obstacles to cooking. The site is inspiring, interactive, and user-friendly. Our favorite feature is a dashboard for your meal plan that indicates the average price per serving, prep time, and fruit and vegetable servings.
Curious? They offer a free, one week trial AND have graciously designed a 10 Day Real Food Challenge Meal Plan just for you. The plan is available for free for 7 days after creating an account. It allows you to print both the plan and a shopping list. The plan contains only real food; has no refined grains, added sugars, or artificial sweeteners; offers an average of 6 servings of vegetables daily; and is designed to minimize food waste which will only save you money. Enjoy!