We believe Real Food is nutrient-dense and delicious – using a variety of whole ingredients and cooked from scratch as often as possible.
However, over recent decades, the volume of industrially processed and ultra-processed ‘fast’ food products has increased globally. Research by Professor Carlos Monteiro of the University of São Paulo found that half (50%) of all food purchased by UK families is ‘ultra-processed’ meaning food that has been designed to look appealing and taste good yet lacks nutritional value.
Ultra-processed foods are “formulations of food substances often modified by chemical processes and then assembled into ready-to-consume hyper-palatable food and drink products using flavours, colours, emulsifiers and . . . other cosmetic additives.”
These foods include pre-prepared and frozen dishes, reconstituted meat products, savoury snacks, and soft drinks and there is a growing body of evidence associating the consumption of such foods with poor diet quality, increased cardiovascular risk factors and adverse health outcomes such as obesity and metabolic syndrome. 1
Real food kitchen equipment basics
This section will offer tips for safe and useful pots, pans, knives, boards, cooking utensils and kitchen gadget to make cooking from scratch easy on your energy and your time.
- Pots & pans
- Knives & boards
- Cooking utensils
Pots and Pans
There’s an overwhelming choice of pots and pans: aluminium, copper, stainless steel, cast iron, non-stick, ceramic and our choices are likely to be governed by several considerations:
- Health risks
- Environmental impact
Healtline.Com has researched popular types of cookware and set out the pros and cons based on available data, clinical trials and user reviews. Healthline are a US based resource, however, the principles are relevant to the UK and with little on-line research effort their review can help us make more informed decisions on which utensils to buy.
Here is the takeaway:
There are legitimate safety concerns with some non-stick coatings and types of metal cookware, but they won’t affect everyone the same way.
Red flag: Teflon
It’s really worth flagging up a warning about Teflon-coated pans. Teflon is plastic coating that makes pots and pans non-stick and easy to clean, so it makes a popular and relatively inexpensive choice. However, studies show that the risks to health and critically, to our environment, are substantial.
Chris Kresser, director of the California Centre for Functional Medicine and one of the most respect clinicians and educators in the fields of Functional Medicine and ancestral health, has this to say about Teflon – a fluorochemical:
“Much of this risk comes from the dangerous chemical known as PFOA. Although the company behind Teflon stopped manufacturing its products with PFOA several years ago, pots and pans coated with PFOA-containing Teflon remain in use in home, commercial, and restaurant kitchens.”
PFOA can leach into food. That’s scary, because in addition to the environmental damage caused by this ‘persistent pollutant’, the chemical has been linked to:
- Liver issues
- Thyroid disease
- Infertility and growth defects
- Immunotoxicity (damage to the immune system)
- Chronic renal disease
And here’s the rub: evidence suggests that the chemicals replacing PFOA aren’t any better and that its molecular complexity is such that it has the capacity of producing new molecular structures.
In 2015, hundreds of scientists signed the Madrid Statement to sound the alarm that ramping up use of PFOA alternatives will “increase the risks of adverse effects on human health and the environment.”
This article explains how ‘everyday’ fluorochemicals have been linked to a wide variety of health issues, cancers and problems during pregnancy. Although they are being phased out, these ‘persistent chemical pollutants’ don’t naturally degrade and despite the huge amounts of money and resources brought to the task of decontamination, “hundreds of millions of people in Europe, the United States, Australia and China are still exposed to levels of these compounds that exceed what regulatory agencies deem healthy
So, look at your budget, ask simple questions, and use the answers to guide you to the product that feels best for your family. If you can, buy cookware that will last a long time to reduce environmental waste and limit chemical and metal exposure in your food.
Knives and boards
A set of well-maintained sharp* kitchen knives will make cooking from scratch much easier.
Kitchen knives come in a range of different materials – stainless steel, carbon steel and ceramic. There are a number of different types of kitchen knives – a basic set of five knives to see you through every-day use, might comprise:
- Chef’s knife – a wide bladed knife for cutting or chopping tasks
- Carving knife – a long, pointed (fine edged or serrated) knife for slicing meat into thin slices
- Bread knife – a long, serrated knife which slices smoothly through crusts (also tomatoes!)
- Utility knife – similar to a chef’s knife, but smaller for more delicate cutting tasks
- Paring knife – a short bladed knife for tasks like peeling, slicing or de-seeding
*A sharp knife, used with care, is much safer than hacking around with a blunt one; but never leave a kitchen knife in a bowl of washing up water – wash and dry it straight away.
This guide gives some useful tips and techniques on knives, sharpening and chopping.
Your choice of chopping board can maintain the cutting edge or dull and damage your knives. While glass or marble worktop ‘savers’ may save your work-top they are the least knife-friendly choice.
A wooden chopping board is generally kindest and a choice such as bamboo is both durable and environmentally friendly: bamboo is a renewable resource, is extremely durable, relatively cheap, repels water repellent, resists bacteria, and is fairly light.
Plastic is the least environmentally friendly choice, but where staining or odour is an issue (e.g. fresh turmeric or garlic) a small, durable high-density polypropylene board is a reasonable choice as it lasts much longer than softer, cheaper plastics.
Cooking utensils and storage containers
Cooking utensils and food storage containers are often made of a variety of plastics and sometimes vinyl (among the most toxic types of plastic) which may contaminate your diet with toxic chemicals as well as contaminate the environment during manufacture and even after disposal.
Although the issues with BPA’s action as an endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemical are becoming more widely known, a recent study which directly measured BPA metabolites, published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, has discovered that our exposure to this harmful chemical is far higher (as much as 44 times higher) than previously assumed.
Again, Chris Kresser urges caution:
“But it’s not the only endocrine disruptor in plastics. Phthalates are ubiquitous plasticizers that also hamper the endocrine system and can otherwise negatively impact the body. And as is the case with PFOA replacements, plastic chemical alternatives may be just as damaging as BPA and phthalates themselves.
In fact, one study evaluated commonly used plastic storage containers, bags, and wraps, including those labelled BPA-free. More than 90 percent of the products leached estrogenic chemicals before any testing. After being subjected to everyday “stressors” like sunlight, the microwave, and the dishwasher, nearly all of the products showed estrogenic activity.”
Kresser’s article and also this guide sets out tips for safer non-toxic kitchen utensils, like wood, stainless-steel and medical-grade silicone.
A basic set of kitchen utensils might include:
- Potato masher
- Large spoon
- Measuring spoon
- Wooden spoons
- Selection of mixing bowls
- Measuring jug
- Flat slice
- Silicone spatula
- Slotted spoon
- Food tongs
- Can opener
- Small/mini whisk
- Selection of stainless-steel roasting dish
- Selection of stainless-steel oven/baking trays
- Large stockpot
- Heavy bottomed saucepans
- Flame-proof lidded casserole dish
- Heavy bottomed sauce/milk pan
- Lidded sauté pan
- Oven gloves
- Wire rack
- Hand-held blender
- Hand-held electric whisk
- Glass storage containers
- Kitchen scales
- Thermometer – liquids & meats
Useful gadgets & gizmos
- Slow cooker
- Food mixer
- Food processor
Real food planning
Fail to plan, and you’ll plan to fail… this section offers ideas for real food basic menus and menu planning and tips on shopping and sourcing.
- Menu & meal planning
- Shopping lists
Menu & meal planning
Meal planning isn’t rocket science – it’s a once-a-week habit. And getting into this habit will save brain-ache, time, and energy and result in more nutritious, relaxed and enjoyable kitchen and dining experience.
For anyone used to rushing out after work to ‘pick-up’ something from the local store or takeaway on the way home, The Kitchin’s The Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning: What to Know, How to Succeed, and What to Skip is a good place to start:
“Meal planning is asking the what’s for dinner question once for the whole week, instead of every night, and then shopping for and prepping the ingredients before cooking. We believe the simplest way to approach meal planning is with three steps.
- Select your dinners and their recipes, if needed.
- Shop for ingredients.
- Prepare those ingredients.
Meal planning needn’t be complicated, perfect or written in stone. Just making a start (the evening before the main shop?) and following an 80/20 rule is good enough to start with and it can involve the whole family w allocated preparation tasks
- Less energy
- Less expense
- Less work
- Flexible… nothing is written in stone
- _______________ (fill in the blank)
Making a good shopping list is a process:
- Start by making an inventory of what you already have in your larder, fridge and freezer
- Eventually, a version of this can become a handy list of ‘staple ingredients’ to be topped up regularly
- Review your chosen meals and recipes for the week, note the ingredients that are missing from your inventory and add them to your shopping list.
- Group the items on your shopping list by store, by category or by location in your usual store. Hint: try to stay away from the middle of the supermarket where all the processed foods lurk.
- As you use up staple ingredients, keep post-it notepad handy in the kitchen to add items as they run low.
- Rinse and repeat… it gets simpler and easier every time!
The final step getting organised, is to set aside regular times for preparation. Experiment to find the best times that fit into your schedule and lifestyle. If you can’t make it fit, then you might want to reconsider some aspects of your schedule and lifestyle.
Sunday evenings are a good time for batch cooking (and getting the family involved) or cooking ahead. The main part of the meal can be fully cooked and refrigerated or frozen, or prepped up to be cooked in the moment.
20 minutes’ morning prep for that evening’s meal, or evening prep for the next day’s meal gives you a head start on your meal; and if you choose cook ahead slow-cooked, one-pot dishes for week-day meals you can have your meal on the table in the time it takes to cook veg or make up a salad.
Sourcing real food
Over 80% of food retail in the UK controlled by four supermarket chains which offer convenience, open-all-hours-one-stop-shopping, bewildering choice, bargain-buys, and a parking space… what’s not to like?
However, the other side of the convenience coin is: unfair suppliers’ contracts; animal, fruit and veg produce raised and grown unsustainably, shipped for miles around the world or UK, harvested and stored to ensure maximum micro-nutrient depletion and sold under fake and misleading brand names; highly engineered, ultra-processed sugar, salt, fat and additive-laden ‘food-like’ substances that make us sick, keep us sick, but have carefully constructed mouth-feel (fat), bliss-points (sugar) and umami (salt) that keep us coming back for more; obscene food and plastic waste…. what’s to like?
With planning and thinking outside the supermarket box, we can do better for our health and for our planet.
This article Affordable Real Food How to Shop for It offers a plethora of suggestions, for example:
- The traditional high street,
- Local markets, farm shops, pick-your-own operators, farmers’ markets
- Community Supported Agriculture Schemes (CSA)
- Local food traders, mobile traders
- Online ethical and sustainable suppliers
- Food Networks
- Local Food Partnerships
- Local and co-operative food buying groups
Sourcing together makes real food even easier
Consider organising family, friends and neighbours to share the shopping:
- Buy in bulk:
- Create a dry good store
- Make use of freezers
- Car share, or detail individuals to shop locally (or order online)
- eggs, milk
- meat, poultry
- fresh, seasonal vegetables
Some useful websites & resources
Abel & Cole:
Abel and Cole are an organic UK-wide veg box delivery scheme, established for over 30 years. www.abelandcole.co.uk
Big Barn is a local food website whose mission is to help people to find good, safe, accountable food from local sources and reverse the mass production of food and control of the food market by big business and food retailers. Their online portal reconnects consumers with local farmers and producers directly, or through local retailers, to encourage local trade and give farmers a much better deal and consumers fresher, cheaper, accountable food. www.bigbarn.co.uk
Farmdrop provides local farm-to-table foods and fresh fish for consumers in the London, Bristol and Bath areas via online deliveries. www.farmdrop.com
Happerley work on behalf of the whole UK food industry and all consumers to develop and implement a means to secure provenance honesty and transparency. Their aim is to enable the consumer to track the journey of their food, while creating a level playing field for all food businesses to validate and protect the provenance value of their food production. www.happerley.co.uk
Pasturefed Livestock Association:
With over a 1000 producer-members, the PFLA promotes the unique quality of produce raised exclusively on pasture, and the wider environmental and animal welfare benefits that pastured livestock systems represent. A list of producers is available here: www.pastureforlife.org
Raw Milk Suppliers:
Simkin Solutions maintain a list of certified raw milk / unpasteurised milk suppliers in the UK and Ireland. www.rawmilk.simkin.co.uk
Free-Range Dairy Network:
Free Range Dairy Network is a Community Interest Company (CIC), representing a nation-wide group of like-minded dairy farmers who produce free range milk from traditional, pasture-based farming. The Pasture Promise logo assures milk of known provenance, freedom and fairness. https://freerangedairy.org/
Riverford Organic Farmers:
Riverford is an employee ownership trust organic farm and UK-wide organic veg box delivery company based in Devon, England, but with sister farms in three locations and delivery hubs around the country. www.riverford.co.uk
Shipton Mill produces a wide variety of speciality and organic flours, using both traditional grain and traditional methods and deliver online. www.shipton-mill.com
Smallholders are a family owned, national company with four generations of experience, providing well-balanced feeds designed for animals being raised more naturally. They make making natural feed without, artificial growth promoters or artificial yolk pigments. www.smallholderfeed.co.uk
Sustain – The Alliance for Better Food and Farming:
Sustain fulfils its aims is through running a wide variety of projects and campaigns to improve food and farming, for example: www.sustainweb.org
- The Real Bread Campaign
- Food Co-ops
- Food Waste
- Food Poverty
- Better Hospital Food
- Children’s Food Campaign
Wholefoods Online UK:
Whole Foods Online is an international health food supplier, based in North East Kent. Wholefoods deliver natural and organic wholefoods, and related healthy living products, directly to homes and businesses across Europe. www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk
Real food pantry audit
Sort the wheat from the chaff and start your Real Food journey as you mean to continue. These tips will help you stock your pantry, fridge and freezer with wholesome ingredients for nourishing, nutrient-dense meals.
- Processed & convenience foods
- What’s on the label
- Real Food shopping list
Traditional food preparation methods – Real Food is an investment in your health; following time-honoured food preparation methods can substantially improve the availability and digestibility of the nutrients in your food.
- Soaking, sprouting, fermenting
- Real bread
- Cultured dairy
Real food cooking & keeping – techniques and time-saving tips for cooking from scratch.
- Techniques: boiling, steaming, frying, grilling, baking, etc
- Slow cooking
- Getting ahead, cooking ahead & leftovers
- Batch cooking & freezing
- Food storage
- Defrosting & reheating
Detoxing the kitchen – the kitchen is the heart of our home, but it can also be a source of toxic chemicals that damage our health. A few simple swaps will allow you to get the best bang from your Real Food buck.
- Cooking utensils
- Food additives
- Tins & cans
- Water bottles