5 Baby Steps to Cooking Healthy Food

The weirdest gift I ever received was one of the most influential in my life. 

A vacuum sealer. 

 Wilson and I did not have kids yet, but he was still in the military and deployed.  Thus, I lived alone.  And my sister bought me a vacuum sealer. 

 “What am I supposed to do with it?” I asked.

 “You are supposed to start cooking,” she said.

 “It doesn’t cook things, it seals them.”  I retorted.

 “Duh, Toad.  <don’t ask–it’s what she calls me>… You are supposed to start cooking real food.  Healthy food.  Enough for more than one person.  You eat some, you freeze some.  Over time, you can kiss the frozen section of the grocery store goodbye—but not literally.  The produce guy gets mad when he has to clean your lipstick off the glass. Ask me how I know.”

 Slowly, over time, I started really eating.  And slowly, over time, I started to get better.  I had been sick, very sick.  That was a big part of my Frozen Section Excuse actually, too sick to do much of anything.  Too sick to care.

Frozen Section

 Step 1

I started by cooking one real meal a week.  Not spaghetti night, not a hotdog, a real and delicious balanced meal.  I worked full time and so I made this my Saturday evening routine.  Although I grew up in a home with delicious, homecooked meals, I also grew up  left to my own junk food devices too, so I had a lot to learn.  I did cook for hubby, but living alone?

Cooking for one is a lonely thing; many-a-meal I ate standing over the kitchen sink, refusing to sit at a table by myself.  Lest you think that a nourished lifestyle comes easy to this girl, let me tell you about rock-bottom.  I distinctly remember eating cold peas out of the can.  Over the Sink.  For Dinner.

 If you currently live on things that come in packages or cans or are from the frozen section; if you just open it and heat, then try this: Set aside one night a week to cook a real, balanced, healthy meal.  Use a cloth napkin, a real plate, and even sit down to eat it. 

 Grandmother's Spoon

You will feel more human.

  Do not cut the recipe in half to serve one; double it!  Use vacuum sealing bags to make your own “t.v. dinners” for other days.  Label the package with its contents and date, and you can drop the whole thing into a saucepan of boiling water, or (if this is where you are in life) even microwave it.  If you do live alone, you should put 3 of each meal away into the freezer.  Give this a month (a variety of 4 real meals) and you now have some choices when you open that freezer.    You now have food to take for lunch at work, too, so that you can cut back on eating out.

 Step 2

Soups & Stews.  This will kickstart Step 1.  The reason I suggest starting with soups and stews is because they really are forgiving.  If you are not a great cook and tend to spill the cayenne, don’t worry—just add more broth and make a bigger pot of soup.  If it is bland or the flavor is off, experiment until you like it.  Do not worry about fancy. There is something wholly comforting about the unassuming nature of soup.  This is also the best way to experiment with foods that might be new to your system.  When I realized I needed to cut white flours out of my diet I started experimenting with grains that were completely new to me—quinoa, barley, teff, and spelt.  A handful of anything will fill a soup nicely, and your tummy.  If you are really just that bad at cooking, I mean, so bad your dog paws at his nose when offered, consider investing in some great spice mixes (like Chili Seasoning, Mexican Seasoning, or Italian Seasoning).

Soup Night: Your Food Storage pops with flavor in this recipe
Soup Night: Your Food Storage pops with flavor in this recipe

 (Don’t even like soup? You haven’t tried any of these recipes, then….seriously):

   To freeze your extra soup: put a serving size into a bowl and place it into the freezer, uncovered.  In a few hours, pull it out of the freezer.  Turn the bowl upside down under the faucet.  With your hand on it to catch your soup-cube, run warm water over the bowl.  It will pop out and is ready for the vacuum sealer!  Then, to warm it up, you can either warm it in a saucepan or the bag itself.  You are now combining the convenience of the frozen section of the grocery store with proper nutrition and homecooked meals!

 Step 3

Find something you enjoy in the kitchen.  Or find a happy distraction.  Let me say this another way.  I hated cooking meals because it felt like a lonely task with too much cleanup.  But I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Prairie Home Companion every Saturday night; I would get lost in the tales of Lake Woebegone, and you know what—this woman was getting stronger just by getting into the kitchen and making real food.  Cleanup was enjoyable when I was laughing at the stories and singing along to the goofy songs.  So although meal prep and cleanup are still—to this day—not my fave, I have found a way to redeem that time with something educational, distracting, or just plain fun.  


Kitchen Radio

 This was also the period in life when I discovered that I love baking!  Getting into the kitchen to bake, for me, is completely different than a meal.  During those lonely single days, I started baking breads and treats using real food ingredients.  This helped my health tremendously because I cut out all white flours from the store.  I saw my blood sugar stabilize and my energy come back. 

 Seeing results serves as its own motivator, too.  No matter how much I hate washing dishes, I love being healthy.

Step 4

Always carry something to eat.  The pressure to “grab a bite” was strong in my life.  The blood sugar problem was a legitimate excuse often, too. And yes, I was that crazy lady that oscillated between hitting the side of the vending machine and whispering sweet nothings to it in great desperation.   But once I started baking, I had things like oatmeal bars and homemade cookies that I could seal in snack portions.  I would drop a snack into my bag before leaving the house, always glad that I did. 


Homemade Fruit LeatherAn easy, take-along snack!

 Step 5

Replenish ingredients with healthy alternatives.  Some people quit white sugar cold turkey.  I did not.  But I did begin to replace the empty bags with ingredients I could feel better about.  For instance, the sucanat replaced the brown sugar.  The wheat and grain mill replaced store bought flours.  The cacao nibs replaced the palm oil & preservative-laden stuff I had been eating. 

 One at a time.

  It took time for me.  Then I noticed a peculiar thing.  Even though I saw many of these items as costing more than their junk food counterparts, I found they lasted a bit longer.  It was because a real brownie made with real ingredients really satisfies.  I no longer crept into the kitchen at 11pm to finish them off!  I also found that buying in bulk meant I was saving a considerable amount of money than the typical last-minute run to the grocery store.

 Bulk Organic Sucanat

A Head Start

You read this blog.  You have a plan.  Give yourself some grace.  Do not compare yourself to some food blogger (who probably still dips into the occasional jar of Nutella in front of her computer screen when no one will find out <cough>).  Just take a step.  A single step.  And then tomorrow, take another.  You will look back on this moment as the start of something good, the start of a healthier and more nourished you. 


One step at a time,






Photo Credits:


Frozen Section: Fire At Will [Photography] via photopin cc

Grandmother’s Spoon: Tassike.ee – Marju Randmer via photopin cc

kitchen radio: Justin Snow via photopin cc


Nothing in this blog constitutes medical or legal advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.

Here is the skinny on fats

Here is the skinny on fats

What are fats and why do I care?


Fats, they have become bad words in modern society eating modern diets.  The trouble is that they have kept us alive and healthy for millennia.  Breast milk is the super food that it is because it contains both high cholesterol for brain development and 4% fat by weight to keep baby full longer between feedings (just ask any mother who has breast fed about that inherent benefit at 3 AM). 

 However, along about the 1950’s food production was already highly mechanized and becoming more processed when a researcher by the name of Ansel Keys developed the Lipid Hypothosis.  In case you are not conversant in dietary theory, here is a great graphic from New Trends Publishing that Sally Fallon Morell uses in her Oiling of America DVD to explain it:


Lipid Hypothesis

Original slide can be found at: http://newtrendspublishing.com/ppts/OilingofAmerica.ppt

 The problem with the Lipid Hypothesis is that it was constructed on flimsy–or to be charitable–incomplete science.  Nevertheless, it was a counterpart to some great marketing forces and the low-fat trend was born. The only thing worse than fats to a lipophobe (a term that I believe was coined by Michael Pollan) is saturated fats from animals.  So before the low-carb trend came along, we had low-fat (neither of these are healthy by the way) and somehow what supported vitality in people all the way down to the cellular level was discarded.  Keep an eye out for this when you watch tv or read magazines.  The temptation is to equivocate real bread with the shelf-stable imposter you see in the grocery store.  In the same way using broad strokes like that, you get that treatment in something like this (although I agree with the discussion on fats):


Here is a better question, what are fats?  From a food chemistry stand point, most of the fats we eat are called triacylglycerols (root word there being “acyl;” although triglycerides are the same thing, the former is the better descriptor) (Joachim & Schloss, p. 220).  Fats are substances that are not water soluble, but make food interesting and give it a pleasing texture to your mouth, are a concentrated energy source, are the building blocks for cell membranes, are the carriers for the überimportant Vitamins A, D, E & K, are needed for mineral absorption, for the conversion of carotene into Vitamin A and most notably fats are the mother of all hormones (Fallon & Enig, p. 4).  Take this other slide from Sally Fallon Morell’s DVD, The Oiling of America:


Cholesterol the Mother of all Hormones Original slide can be found at: http://newtrendspublishing.com/ppts/OilingofAmerica.ppt

It is my hope that I can establish the necessity of fats in a healthy diet and that a low-fat diet is not healthy not only because it does not contain fats, but because it also contains lots of chemicals that are very unhealthy—more on that for another blog. Put more succinctly by Sally Fallon Morell in her presentation, The Oiling of America, Blaming fats and high cholesterol is like blaming fires on firemen.  Every time we see a fire, we see a fireman so the premature unscientific conclusion is to blame firemen for fires (Morell, 2008)

If we delete if [fat] from our diets, we subject ourselves to nutritional deficiencies as we would lose our ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and valuable phytonuturients (lutein, lycopene, beta-caotene, and vitamins A, D, and E).  Fats are a integral part of cell membranes and the production of hormones, and they are essential for brain development and activity and the workings of the nervous system and liver.  The problem in industrialized culture is that we tend to take in too much of the wrong kinds of fat, which can have negative consequences on our health (Joachim & Schloss, p. 118). 

“I have heard that saturated fats are bad for you, what are unsaturated fats—are they better for you?”  The answer is, it depends . . . let us make sure we are talking about the same thing first.

Saturated fats can be short, medium or long chain fatty acid compounds.  Or put another way, all short and medium chain fatty acids will be saturated and some long chain fatty acids can be saturated—it is more like a continuum than anything else.  What makes it short or long chain is the number of carbon atoms in the molecule.  As an analogy, the difference between butane and diesel fuel (generally speaking) is the number of carbon atoms in the particular hydrocarbon molecule with methane having the fewest and tar having the most.  On that continuum in ascending number of carbon atoms in the chain are: gasoline, diesel fuel, gear oil, paraffin candle wax, etc. all with different numbers of carbon atoms in the chain affecting their molecular weight and physical properties as a compound. 

Engine Oil

The big difference between fats and oils are how we observe them at room temperature, and saturated fats are a solid at room temperature.  Another interesting fact about saturated fats is that they are very stable and perform the best in cooking as well—more on that in this blog.  Back to the comparison, your body can make saturated fats if need be as a function of the liver by digesting complex carbohydrates (hence the hydrocarbon analogy). 

Unsaturated fats are what we observe as a liquid at room temperature.  Not all unsaturated fats are equal and of these my personal favorite is olive oil!  The unsaturated fats do not stand up to heat as well as saturated fats, and they can go rancid quickly in warm humid environments because they are comparatively unstable.  By unstable I mean that they will look to fill up those blank hydrogen places in a process called known as oxidization.  The category “unsaturated fats” is actually subdivided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.   
Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated is the preferred group for us here at Pantry Paratus because they are the closest to what you can find in nature and (unsurprisingly) you body knows what to do with them.  Polyunsaturated fats have two subcategories as well, essential and conditionally essential (although not opposed).  Some of these oils your body cannot make are called “essential oils” and are found in nature in fish, fresh herbs and some kinds of seeds—but not all polyunsaturated oils are the same.  “The two must-haves for essential fatty acids are omega-6 linoleic [sic] acid and omega-3 alpha-linolenic–and there are several other conditionally essential fatty acids (Fallon & Enig, p. 306).

“I heard my doctor tell me to stay away from trans fats, what are they?”  These are the imposters . . .

When you need a pastry to have the flakiest crust nothing performs better than lard or tallow—these are made from rendered pig fat and cow or sheep fat, respectively.  These are the gold standard of fats since they do not oxidize–they are stable, keep for a really long time and are very pure.  However, keeping pigs can be a hassle, and would it not be just so much easier if we could just pump hydrocarbons out of the ground or genetically modify some oil seed plant instead?  Amazingly this is where a lot of trans fats come from and knowing this helps us have a more informed answer to the question, “What are fats?”  The answer will depend on the kind of fat you are talking about. 


What are fats


Where saturated fats are short chain fatty acid compounds, they exhibit the characteristic of having all of their carbon atoms filled with hydrogen atoms making them “flat and easy to stack” together which we observe as a solid at room temperature.  Monounsaturated fatty acid compounds lack two hydrogen atoms making them have a slight kink in the molecular shape so we observe them as a liquid at room temperature.  The danger with trans fats is that they (heavily) process the fat to accept a hydrogen atom where it was not meant to be (we rarely observe this in nature).  This gives the new hydrogenated oil a physical performance like lard and a high smoking point like lard but is essentially a huge health risk on the cellular level once it is in your body.  These hydrogenated oils are free radicals, and they will oxidize or steal electrons from your body’s tissue to “complete” themselves.  Compounded over time, this is a huge problem in your body because your cells depend on cholesterol to repair themselves.  When all your cells have to work with is imposter fats, the results can be devastating because they are accumulative over time. 

The “trans” in trans fats is from the molecule straightening back up from its normal “kinked” shape (or “cis” formation) as a polyunsaturated fat.  The process renders this polyunsaturated fat that was once a liquid as a solid at room temperature.  Since polyunsaturated oils will go rancid at high temperatures, they must be “deodorized” in a process using heat—seems like a catch 22 but it is the method that they use.  During this deodorizing step, one hydrogen atom is forced across (or trans) the molecule causing it to straighten out again making the molecular misfit transformation complete.

“What is the difference between hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated?” 

The best answer for this that I have read is in the amazingly funny and informative book Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger.  In there he goes to an industrial plant where from the looks of it they may have been making paint or perfume, but actually it was full-hydrogenated oil (or “full hydro”).  Like lard, it is a solid at room temp, and will not flow unless it is heated up.  So as it is dispensed into train cars for transport it is in a warm liquid state.  When the train car arrives at the food processing plant as an ingredient for the now defunct Twinkie® it has to sit there hooked up to a steam pump to heat up the steam jacketed rail car so that the hydrogenated oil can flow again.  This is probably why it was originally sold as a candle wax alternative



Cholesterol in your body is actually necessary and a good thing designed to be there.  When saturated or monounsaturated fats are incorporated into a healthy diet, the body is able to carry out cellular functions, keep nervous system activity running optimally, deal with stress as well as provide hormones and the reproductive system the high octane fuel that they need.  Trans fats are imposters because although Crisco looks like lard at room temperature, it is a marauder inside of your body in the form of being a free radical. 


Pro Deo et Patria


Photo credits:

  • Lipid Theory by Sally Fallon Morell, New Trends Publishing.  Can be found here
  • Cholesterol, the Mother of all Hormones by Sally Fallon Morell, New Trends Publishing.  Can be found here
  • Engine Oil: photo credit: brionv via photopin cc
  • Monounsaturated Fat: photo credit: USDAgov via photopin cc
  • What are Fats by Pantry Paratus compiled from images from the public domain, the WAPF and information from Nourishing Traditions (cited above)
  • Crisco: photo credit: tellumo via photopin cc


Works Cited:

Fallon, S., & Enig, M. (2005). Nourishing traditions. (Deluxe Edition ed., p. 4). Washington DC: NewTrends Publishing.

 Morell, S. (Presenter) (2008). The oiling of America [DVD].

Joachim, D., & Schloss, A. (2008). The science of good food. (p. 220). Toronto: Robert Rose.

Further reading:



 Nothing in this blog constitutes medical advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.

Demystifying Processed Food

“The last three decades have seen tremendous growth in sales of processed food—sales now total $3.2 trillion, or about three-fourths of the total world food sales” (Regmi & Gehlhar, 2005).

Assuming that anyone reading this blog has heard the admonition to eat healthier at least once in their lifetime, it can probably be assumed as well that you should cut out “processed foods.”  How can you tell if something is a processed food or not?  Being able to know that difference is significant when you consider that three of the four bites of food sold is “processed” according to the above USDA quote.

Furthermore, the studies are in to show that the industrialized societies who choose to industrialize their food supply as well, have industrial sized health problems to go along with the data trends.

[As] people in developing countries become better off, they acquire more stable resources and change the way the eat.  They inevitably replace the grains and beans in their diets with the foods obtained from animal sources.  They buy more meat, more sweet foods and more processed foods; they eat more meals prepared by others.  Soon they eat more food in general.  They start gaining weight, become overweight, and then develop heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases so common in industrialized societies.  Here we have the great irony of modern nutrition: at a time when hundreds of millions of people do not have enough to eat, hundreds of millions more are eating too much and are overweight or obese.  Today, except in the very poorest countries, more people are overweight than underweight.  (Nestle, 2005)




Some working definitions for processed foods cover anything done to the food that would change its state as found in nature.  Hmmmmm, so a trout that was swimming in the stream that is currently in my hand (i.e. no longer swimming) might be called “processed?”  Answer: no, not really.    “Most every food eaten by humans is processed, altered from its form found in nature. Processing includes chopping, slicing, salting, seasoning, mashing, grinding, shelling, separating, mixing, peeling, bleaching, drying, Pasteurizing, fermenting, filleting, gutting, butchering, baking, cooking… you get the idea.” (Colon, 2010).   Public service announcement: conspicuous by its absence from the above list—irradiation.

USDA Chart for SupermarketsThe best way that I have found to triangulate on what constitutes “processed food” is asking the question, “Where did you get it?”  If the answer is, “from the tree/plant/bush that produced it,” or “I hunted/raised-then-butchered it,” or “from a farm stand,” then chances are it is not processed, and you can pronounce everything on the ingredients label.  If you answered, “from the grocery store” then the answer becomes more nuanced.


The last decade has witnessed an unprecedented growth in supermarkets among developing countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America where rising income levels have increased consumer demand for many higher valued processed food products. The trend has led to increasing centralization of distribution networks and also closer geographical integration (Regmi & Gehlhar, 2005).


We follow Summer Tomato on twitter, and I think that she has the right take on proper sustenance.  Furthermore, I like on her posts because she is an actual food scientist.  Whether it is the low-carb diet plans, Paleo diet plans or real food practices will all generally advise you to shop for your food  on the perimeter of the grocery store, because it is different than the items that you find on the inside.  If it comes in a box, can or bag it is going to be processed unless we are talking about something like brown rice (which may still be subject to irradiation).  The fresh produce section would be “unprocessed” foods, but may still contain waxes or “bud nip” (Chlorpropham).




Fresh cuts of meat, also unprocessed, have a high chance of being CAFO products or fortified with pink slime.  Dairy in the form of milk is most-definitely processed assuming that it is pasteurized, ditto for cheese.  The exception to the perimeter rule would be the bakery section—not all bread is baked equal.  We will cover this in part two in the next blog.




It becomes hard to eat healthy and to un-tether from processed foods.  Luckily, the USDA came up with a further distinction to bring clarity here for us; the term is called, “land-based.”  If that is new to you, this link may (or may not) be helpful.


Living things depend on formerly living things to survive, just as forests are built on decaying forests.  Food is raw energy that every living thing needs to ingest and metabolize in order to live.  As it turns out the best way to train your consumer eye to spot processed foods is to study the genuine article.  The man who is arguably the most famous for attempting to classify the reasons why some people are healthy and some are not based on demographics and geography (branch of medicine called epidemiology) was a dentist from Cleveland, Ohio named Dr. Weston A. Price.  Dr. Price took sabbatical to travel to the remote corners of the world looking for correlating factors (some say that epidemiology cannot prove causation) for healthy people.  All results pointed back to the fuel that the people took into their bodies via their “traditional diets.”  Here are eleven succinct correlations between healthy people (and teeth—he was a dentist after all) and the unprocessed foods that they ate:


Characteristics of Traditional Diets

1. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; artificial vitamins; or toxic additives and colorings.

2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed­–muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred.

3. The diets of healthy, nonindustrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K2–Price’s “Activator X”) as the average American diet.

4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw.

5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lacto-fermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments.

6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid.

7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids.

9. All traditional diets contain some salt.

10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths.

11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

(Cowan, 2000)



It seems that some of the points above defy outmoded diet trends: low fat diets, eggs/red meat/salt will kill you, etc.  Moreover, bacteria (point #5 above) is necessary to healthy bodies.  It is a shame that you lose that to irradiation.


S. Truett Cathy Quote




Pro Deo & Patria


Photo Credits:

Meat by n7gRnws

Chocolate Éclairs by mVLBLTc

Trout by mjYxRA6

USDA Supermarket Chart broken down by country taken from http://www.ers.usda.gov

Chlorpropham from EPA

Bread by mgid8Bm

Sushi by mhgn9jS



Regmi, A., & Gehlhar, M. (2005, February). Processed food trade pressured by evolving global supply chains. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/February05/Features

Essay by Nestle, M. Titled: Dinner for Six Billion, which appears as the forward to the book on page 8 of: Menzel, P., & D’Aluisio, F. (2005). Hungry planet, what the world eats. (p. 8). Napa: Material World.

Colon, T. (2010). Unnatural empty junk food words. Retrieved from http://www.terrycolon.com/1features/food.html

Cowan, T. (2000, January 01). The weston a price foundation. Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/basics/principles-of-healthy-diets