Six Beginner Steps to Eat Real Food

This post is dedicated to the person or two a week that ask me where should they start with all this real food business. They want to get off the Standard American Diet, but don’t know where to begin. One baby step at a time, you can make major changes pretty quickly. Here are six steps to get you started.

Let’s just clear something up. My favorite foods include donuts, ice cream and Hawaiian Shaved Ice. I am not a zen guru with a kale-focused-lovingkindness-meditation or a type A hyper-hippie with so much energy that I wake up at 6:00am on Sundays to prep my sprouted grains. I’m quirky, overwhelmed, curious and most importantly, getting real comfortable trying new things. Sometimes failing. Sometimes winning. :) Real food is for real people.

One mini step at a time, I have transformed what my family eats. I went to culinary school, I aced a nutrition class, I plowed through health/fitness and food books, magazines, blogs, and even research papers that I barely understood. All just brought up more questions.

It was only through questioning the classes, the magazine articles, the restaurant ingredients that I came up with new answers. Answers that felt right for me. Every day I get closer to what feels right, which comes with the realization that nutrition is not a one size fits all, and each of us must do the work to figure out what’s best.

I’m talking about eating to thrive, eating to live longer, stronger and more productive lives. I’m sure we all will be confronted by illness & injuries, disorders & disease, that is just part of being a human. But we can meet those challenges with a strong base of health and fitness, with sound minds ready to fight, with an appreciation for what full health feels like so we can do what it takes to regain it.

For me, my seeking keeps coming back to eating – simply – real unprocessed food. And it wouldn’t be so hard, except that our American food system has made these real foods the underdogs in the grocery stores and most restaurants, out-marketed by jazzy packaging, amazing shelf life, tantalizing flavor profiles that purposely play to our deepest desires, and lots of time cheats. These new-fangled laboratory “foods” look cheaper, easier, faster and family-approved. But it’s an Oz-like curtain, and if you pull it back you realize that the corporations producing that “food” make every decision based on profit, and not one decision based on you at your best, thriving. It’s a trick, and the only way to change it is to vote at every meal with your decisions and dollars.

The Lean.Green.Kitchen community is a safe place for people just beginning to look consciously at their food choices AND for people deeply entrenched in their conscious food philosophies, as well as for all those seekers somewhere in the middle still eating the occasional donut and shaved iced. This is my mini list for those interested in beginning to eat real food. See if any of it could be some of your first steps. It could be summarized as Stop Buying Processed Food And Make Your Own. But let’s break that down a little.

Six Beginner Steps you could take today to Eat Real Food:

Step One

1. Ditch the refined table salt and choose a salt that has beautiful trace minerals with it. This is as much about taste as nutrition, as unrefined salt just tastes better in food. It’s also a statement that you are off the refined Morton’s and making high quality changes in your eating. My favorite is Pink Himalayan Sea Salt. Celtic Grey Salt is also unrefined and minimally processed. Unrefined salt has trace minerals in there with the salt. That is nutrient-rich real food. Check out the processed food in your kitchen. Review just how much refined salt is in those products. It’s a lot and it’s junk.

2. Fill up the veggie bins with fresh, seasonal produce. Prep it all in a foodie flourish so you will be compelled to use it all week. Nutrients are hanging out in all that produce. When you can, go organic and relieve your body of the energy necessary to detoxify the pesticides on conventional produce. Dipping your toe in the organic pool? Start with going organic for the Dirty Dozen and sweat less about the Clean 15. And if you can’t go organic, then don’t. Eat lots of veggies anyway. See if you can find a local source for seasonal produce. Farmers Markets, Natural Food Stores, Farm Box Subscriptions (Community Supported Agriculture or CSA) – figure out where they are and visit them.

3. Switch to fats that will fuel your body. Fat is not an enemy. Healthy fats are essential to living long and prospering. Fat is critical for proper body functions and especially important for your brain. I, for one, would like my brain (and my kids’ brains) fully functioning. I already can barely remember which kid I named what and there are only two of them. Let’s keep these brain cells happy. Say no to industrialized vegetable oils (corn, canola, soy, etc) and margarine (which are in pretty much every processed food because they are cheap, cheap, cheap) – these fats are not in the business of building thriving bodies. Say yes to real foods like avocados, coconut oil, nuts and olive oil and real fat from animals not pumped with nasty chemicals (think organic butter, full fat dairy, ghee, lard, tallow) – all are thriving body work-horses.

4. Take a look at sugar. That processed food lurking in your kitchen is filled with hidden sugars, to make sure you buy that box of “food” again. The corporations want your money, and are not interested in supporting your awesomeness with body building nutrients. This step is to make the transition away from processed sugars into the world of real food - honey and maple syrup being my favorite sweet places to land. Dates and ripe fruit work nicely too for sweetness. A little cane sugar is pretty easily processed by a healthy body. Problem is, when your diet consists of processed foods, it is never just a little – it’s a constant.

5. Meat, dairy and eggs are real food. But what happens when we create horrendous conditions for the animals, pump them full of toxic chemicals and inhumanely kill them? In my opinion, they no longer meet my personal requirements as real food (as well as my moral standards for treatment of animals). So the step here is to begin researching where your meat, dairy and eggs come from and start looking for better sources. For my household this meant reducing the amount of meat we ate, so we could afford high quality sourced meat. It also means that I make our yogurt and kefir, in order to afford the quality and quantity we consume.

6. Get a crock-pot and a cookbook. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. This process starts with getting the right food in your home. But it only works if you actually eat it. Like me, you might not be a master chef right off the bat if you’ve been relying on boxed, bagged and pre-cooked meals for your adult life. It’s a process that involves… trying. That’s all. Starting with a cookbook that fits your tastes and a crock pot that can have food ready for you when you are hungry is a really wonderful place to start.

When asked what I eat, I like to share the motto of this blog, I “eat (real) good food.” When you stop buying processed food and start making your own, I promise you will feed yourself better than the food corporations. And the effort will be well worth it.

When you look at what you are thinking about eating, ask yourself, “does this build up my health or make my body work harder to process out toxins?” If “we are what we eat,” then it makes a lot of sense to choose nutrient-rich, whole foods.

There is always a next step on the real food journey. And I just keep taking the next one that catches my attention. What steps would you recommend for those just starting on THEIR real food journey? What is your next step on YOUR food journey?

Need support and recipe ideas? Join our Facebook community or check out our Pinterest boards. Together this process is much more fun!


Here are some bonus tips and resources:




Leah’s Love of Loose Leaf Tea


Leah with Loose Leaf Tea

In honor of my daughter’s seventh birthday this week, I thought I’d share this fun foodie adventure we took last week. Leah is my toughest critic around here, and the least food-adventurous of our bunch, so her love of our recent Chinese Tea Tasting at Vital Tea Leaf in Chinatown, San Francisco just makes me smile.

Loose Leaf Tea

Uncle Gee, the face of the Vital Tea Leaf company in San Francisco (and Seattle, I think) made quite an impression as he and Ming, his delightful assistant, made my family of four round after round of Chinese teas prepared traditionally while teaching us all about the joys of loose leaf tea. We went home with three of those we sampled and the following two conversations have taken place since:

  • It’s early morning and I’m asleep. Leah comes in quietly and says, “Mom, can you turn on the stove for me? I’d like to make myself a cup of Lychee Black.”
  • I’ve made my son a cup of tea before school. He has doctored it with a few drops of stevia. Leah says, “DEAN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? You know you ruin the tea by adding sweeteners!”

So Leah has become our resident loose leaf chinese tea expert (and she makes a crazy good cup of Lychee Black). Are you a fan of the loose leaf tea? We are hooked!

Check out this great video if you’d like to see more Vital Tea Leaf propaganda and meet Uncle Gee. It’s so fun!

Happy Birthday Leapy-Lou!


Share LOVE not sugar.

share love not sugar

Be a part of the movement this Valentine’s Day (and beyond): Share LOVE not sugar.

Every six and seven-year-old first grader does not have to come home on Friday with 30 pieces of processed junky valentine candy! Let’s change this up.

Really, that little six or seven-year-old would be thrilled with… hugs, kind words, little notes, new pencils, silly jokes, temp tattoos, pet rocks, homemade play-dough, play date invitations, new songs and dances…

Every wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, mom, or dad does not need a huge box of chocolates that you grabbed to fulfill your Valentine’s duty…

If they truly love chocolate, find a beautiful piece of chocolate that is gorgeous beyond all things imaginable (they are out there, I assure you) from a little chocolatier and make it really special. Or make your own sweet healthy Valentine’s treat. Add a love note, some special time, a foot massage, a homemade meal, a special place or song, add some YOU! (And if they don’t love chocolate, skip it and think about what they would really enjoy.)

Every co-worker, friend, teacher, coach does not need heart-shaped candies, grab-a-mini-candy-bar bowl, decorated sugar cookies, dessert buffets, “just a little treat”…

They need your smile, your patience, your time, your understanding, and maybe a little extra Valentine’s gratitude in the form of a call, a text, an email, a note, a hug.

Be creative. Be thoughtful. Be inventive. Be loving. Share LOVE not sugar.

I challenge you to find a special way to show you care without stepping into the candy aisle of Target. And I’m not talking about spending loads of money or time either. You can keep it simple, cheap and fun, I just know you can!

Let’s fill up the comments with many, many ideas for showing our love this Valentine’s Day. Ready. Go. Share LOVE not sugar.

Here are some places to fire up that creativity:

Here are a few other posts where I’ve dished on sugar:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

healthy valentines healthy valentines healthy valentines healthy valentines healthy valentines healthy valentines

Healthy Valentine Treats

Healthy Valentine Treat

What if this year, instead of gorging on chalky little heart candies and overly processed chocolates in little packages, you truly shared your love with others and made nutrient-rich healthy valentine treats?

They are easy. They taste better. They feel special. They look fancy.

You’ll have a smile on your face while making them, and your recipients will have a smile on their face enjoying them. Win win. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Healthy Valentine Treats

Recipe: Black Cherry Chip Non Dairy Ice Cream


  • 10oz frozen bananas
  • 16oz frozen black cherries (divided)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2t vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips


  1. In quality blender, blend all ingredients EXCEPT for 4oz of frozen black cherries and chocolate chips. Blend until smooth like soft serve ice cream.
  2. Remove “ice cream” from blender into a tupperware container.
  3. Put remaining 4oz of frozen black cherries into blender and blend on low for just a few seconds until black cherries get chopped up a bit.
  4. Add chunky cherries and the chocolate chips to the “ice cream” and stir in with a spatula.
  5. Serve immediately for soft serve (delicious!!) or freeze until hard for scooping (also delicious!!). Can be garnished with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, magic shell or a few more chocolate chips. Goes especially well with brownies and port.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Number of servings: 6ish (I mean let’s be honest, two of us may have taken a whole batch down at one point. But I also made a batch and served six people reasonable servings with some to spare for later.)

Healthy Valentine Treat

Big love to the Smitten Kitchen – her delicious recipe for brownie cookies made a MARVELOUS accompaniment to this treat. We made little “ice cream” sandwiches that were delectable!


Healthy Valentine Treat

Raspberry Secrets

Simply buy beautiful dark chocolate chips and a box of raspberries. Stick a chip into each raspberry and serve! Shhhh… it’s a secret that something this good is this easy.

Healthy Valentine Treats

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

These are so easy and decadent! Place a saucepan with an inch or so of water in the bottom on the stove top and turn on heat to medium-low. Place a metal or glass mixing bowl on top (to make a double boiler) and pour in 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips and a tablespoon of coconut oil. Use spatula to stir around until the chocolate and oil are melted and incorporated together.  Turn off heat. Dip clean, dry strawberries into the chocolate to cover and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Once you are finished dipping your strawberries, place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so (until chocolate is cool and hardened).  Go crazy and sprinkle shredded coconut or mini chocolate chips over them to beautify them for the big day, prior to placing them in the refrigerator.

Want more ideas? I’ve been pinning like crazy over on Pinterest as I see Valentine’s food that fits my real food lifestyle. Check out my Valentine Food board.

Also, Almond (True Joy) Bark would be a pretty beautiful treat.

Healthy Treat

And there are a few more ideas on this old blog post all about Cleaned Up Treats.

Healthy Treat

And don’t forget Kids Clean Up Magic Shell

Healthy Treat

And Kids Clean Up Chocolate Sauce!

Chocolate Syrup


Hope you and yours have a super lovey heart day!!