Here’s the gist of what you should now know about sugar: Americans are eating too much sugar, it is linked to many diseases, it may be addictive, so naturally you are here because you want to slash it. Kudos to you for taking your health into your own hands! But in addition to improving your health, you may be surprised to find you are able to enjoy a more simple life by slashing sugar from your diet.
I can’t be the only one who craves simplicity in this complicated life. I don’t always achieve it, but I am continually striving–a wandering work in progress. Maybe you feel the same way? Simplicity is somewhat of a choice, a part of my personal, spiritual mission, a mid-life “thing” even; I want to make sure I stop to smell the roses, find meaning in life and not get caught up in things that “aren’t worth crying about,” as I often say to my girls. But I think maybe simplicity for me is also a coping method in a world of overabundance, which is even more obvious after returning to America after living overseas twice and experiencing “reverse culture shock.”
Living on a small base overseas replicates the experience of a small town, but even further isolates you from much of mainstream American culture, if you let it. There’s only one grocery store, the commissary. Otherwise, you go off base to find other host-nation products. Of course that’s always a fun adventure to say the least, but when you don’t speak the language, your choices are still inherently limited. It’s almost like you have blinders on! So, when we returned to the US about 20 months ago, I found it very overwhelming to be faced with so much choice! So many grocery stores, so many food products. I have often said, “I am on a ‘need-to-know basis’ and I don’t need to know!”
So, to bring simplicity to this one aspect of life, I typically follow my own advice: stick to the perimeter of the grocery store. And stick to 2 to 3 grocery stores at most; it takes so much time getting to know where everything is! I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on providing healthy food for my family, even when it is my occupation.
Of course, sometimes I like to wander up and down the aisles of grocery stores. Today, I even tried a new grocery store. But cooking is also sometimes my hobby, so it’s not always a necessity and I only spend more time when I have it. Most days, I want to spend the least amount of time possible and still get healthy food on the table for my family. While I passionately believe there is much more to mealtime than healthy food–we gain something more than nutrients in the human connections we make while eating–there is also much more to life than planning and eating meals. And ironically, this “more” I strive for can only be achieved with “less”…who’s with me?
Less Shopping and Food Prep
I don’t spend hours reading labels, shopping, or cooking. As I mentioned, I tend to shop around the perimeter of the grocery store mainly, and in doing so, I limit all packaged foods, especially highly processed, refined carbohydrates that break down into sugar without providing other redeeming nutrients (white flour, pasta, crackers, etc.) And when I do choose packaged foods (some legumes, tomato sauce, condiments, etc.) I read the ingredient list first to make sure there’s no added sugar or refined grains, and then to make sure it contains as few ingredients as possible. Once I find a product/brand I like, I generally stick with it and it saves time every week.
In the process of avoiding many packaged foods, I spend less money, too. Packaged foods are expensive. You pay for convenience. Instead, when you use a few simple ingredients (for example, olive oil and vinegar versus prepared dressing; homemade seasoning mixes like taco seasoning or seasoning salt instead of store-bought packages) you control the ingredients and save some money in the long run. Check out these other Tips for Slashing Sugar.
Less Baking and No Obscure Ingredients
I rarely bake except on a couple holidays a year. When I regularly peruse the Internet for food inspiration, I come across many “healthier” baking recipes requiring the use of obscure ingredients and I wonder who really has time (and money) for that anyway? Frankly, even if the recipe is relatively easy and contains familiar whole-grain ingredients, there’s no good evidence that whole grain versions of bread products, pasta, or crackers are better for you than the refined flour versions; most studies are observational and even conflicting. I love homemade traditional baked goods, so I find it’s easier not to eat them if I don’t bake them, and it certainly simplifies things if I don’t bake them!
No Calculating, Just Real Food
I don’t count anything. I just try to stick to whole foods as much as possible. REAL. FOOD. Mainly vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and dairy. That’s not to say I don’t aim to try new things, eat “around the world” with various cuisines, or combine flavors in interesting ways. But good food doesn’t have to be fancy or time-consuming. Some days, I spend more time when I have it. But time shouldn’t be a limiting factor to eating delicious real food. As a result, you won’t find fantastic, elaborate recipes with phenomenal photography on this blog. I’m only a little bit sorry. Although I do hope you find the photos appetizing enough to try, less is more when it comes to food preparation! You can count on me to keep it real…which brings me to my kids.
Family Focused, Less “Kid Food”
In all honesty, and I’ve said this before, we could do a lot to improve my kids’ eating. (Especially the week after Easter–the chocolate!) But they are doing great compared to most kids. Kids’ needs are different since they are growing, and I also strive to instill in my kids a healthy relationship with food by not imposing extreme restrictions. In our house, we try to emphasize the importance of nourishing our bodies and how it helps them operate and feel optimally. And they are fascinated with nature, which makes it easy!
But they are normal kids. They eat bread (usually whole-wheat) when they have sandwiches (once or twice a week), and even eat a small portion of pasta once or twice a week in their packed lunches, along with fruits and vegetables.
However, for dinner, they have eaten what B and I eat from “day one” to 1), drastically simplify my life (no short order cooking!) and 2), encourage them to embrace real foods. And have they!
- Usually once a week we use zucchini noodles (zoodles) in place of pasta and cauliflower rice in place of rice, which my kids gobble up. But we don’t always have a “starch substitute.”
- Most dinners include a meat or seafood main dish, an abundance of non-starchy vegetables and a simple salad.
- We also eat a meatless meal, usually with tofu as the main protein source, once a week.
- We enjoy two or more fruits each day, and some full-fat yogurt a couple times a week.
- Occasionally (once a week), we enjoy brown rice, corn or potatoes (sweet more often than white) since they are real foods and we like them.
- They are growing kids each with a normal BMI, so I see no good reason to be restrictive to the point that they are made to feel deprived. Some days they seem to live for their planned dessert nights (“Is it a dessert night?”), but most days they seem to really understand and even enjoy eating real food to best fuel their bodies.
I sincerely hope this information helps you spend less time on shopping, cooking, and eating for health and more time enjoying life with the people you love. Please share if you have some thoughts on the subject of simplicity!