Reader Question: Is Thriving Home a “Real Food” Blog or Not?

By Rachel Tiemeyer


From time to time, we get some great honest questions from readers. I thought I’d share this one we got recently, because many of you may be wondering the same thing: Is Thriving Home technically a “real food” blog? We welcome any thoughts or feedback you may have on this topic!

Reader Question:

If you are talking about providing meals that are made with whole grains, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats, without refined sugar, trans fat and sodium, why are there recipes with processed foods and refined sugars in your recipe list (ex. deli meats, cheese slices, and store bought ravioli, as well as refined sugar in your freezer jams)?

I’m really trying to be healthier and stick to “real” foods. Found your wonderful website looking for recipes.

My Answer:

“Thanks for your honest question. It’s a good one that we don’t always do the best job of addressing in all our posts. We have the following disclaimer at the top of our Recipe Index, but your email has prompted us to want to write more on the subject on our blog:

Real food meets reality here. That’s what our simple, healthy, family-friendly recipe collection is all about. We strive to cook with as many whole food ingredients as possible, including a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and local or organic meats. But, when convenience is a necessity, we recommend products or tips for selecting the least processed foods to use.

The long and short of it is that we try to do our best, but we’re also realistic about our limitations of time, energy, and money when it comes to cooking and preparing “real food”. So, we do what we can when it comes to feeding our families well, but that sometimes means taking short cuts from the store. The goal, however, is that overall we would be cooking mostly at home and our families would be eating a varied diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and local/organic meats.

We also ascribe to the “everything in moderation” philosophy. So, some refined sugar or sodium here and there doesn’t bother us. I’ve personally found that a less extreme approach has resulted in maintaining my weight, not obsessing over everything that goes in my mouth, and helping my family have a healthy relationship with food. Obsessing over food is not how I want to live my life, you know?

A resource that has highly influenced my thinking here is an excellent, well-researched book called The Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter. Coming from someone who has struggled with an unhealthy relationship with food for many years of my younger life, this book was so freeing. That being said, Polly and I are also in process—learning alongside our readers and friends about what it means to be healthy and eat well—and taking baby steps to tweak our diets as real life allows.

I know many bloggers and health experts may disagree but that’s where we’ve landed, and it’s seemed to be the most sustainable healthy lifestyle for us at this point. We welcome any feedback or thoughts.”

Thoughts and feedback welcomed below!


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10 replies
  1. sandra says:

    This is taboo, but I’ve got to throw it out there. To those mothers who feel guilty that they’re somehow harming their families by not feeding them 100% homemade GMO-free organic food, please don’t. Remember that this issue is controversial. Don’t just blindly accept what your favorite food blogger or food activist has to say on the topic. Do your own research and read the arguments presented by the anti-organic movement, and then decide what is best for you and your family.

    If we think it’s difficult and time consuming to cook everything from scratch now, think about how it must have truly been for our great grandmothers. And let’s not forget the nutrient deficiencies that people throughout history (and many of those living today) have faced. It’s popular for “real food” types to vilify the food industry, but we should remember that a lot of good has come from food technology (there is a reason that iodine is added to salt, for instance, why nitrates are added to certain foods, and why foods are enriched with folic acid, to name but a few). Take some time to research agricultural practices and food technology and you realize how far we’ve come and how good we truly have it.

    While I am in no way saying feed your families nothing but sugar-laden cereal and fish sticks, it truly is freeing to cook homemade meals for your family because you ENJOY it, versus being scared into thinking that you’re slowly poisoning them if you don’t.

  2. Lydoa says:

    I love this post so much. In the last couple of years we have tried changing our diet to a “real foods” only and its exhausting, time consuming and expensive. I struggle (in all areas) with the give and take of life. I’m such a perfectionist and am striving to give myself Grace with our food choices, my housekeeping, my personal life and family life. I love thriving home for always being real and honest (and its nice that I get to see the real women at church).
    Thank you Rachel and Polly for allowing me to stop feeling guilty and just do the best I can with the time, resources and energy I have!

  3. Lisa says:

    The “real food meets reality” idea is perfect for me in this season of life and it’s why I love Thriving Home! I have 4 kids 5 and under and I want to feed them very healthy food, but there is a lot of reality in our house too. My kids wouldn’t eat kale and quinoa casserole if I did actually have the time to make it. But my kids love the 5-ingredient mac & cheese recipe and I am glad to serve them something better than dinner from a box. Most of your recipes seem to be the perfect balance for my family of healthy and doable and delicious. We are big fans!

  4. hickorynut says:

    Thank you Kelly, very well said. When I first read this post, I had a very similar reaction to it, but couldn’t quite figure out what word to use to describe all the other “Real Food” blogs. And then when you said GUILT, it hit the nail right on the head. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and when “all” isn’t possible, then we have to do the best we can. Thriving Home is perfect for that. It’s interesting to hear all the reasons why the real food approach doesn’t work for some. In our case, we live so far from a nice grocery store, that planning for all those raw ingredients is difficult. But my grandparents have their own maple syrup operation, so I can get that for free. So where one ingredient is easy, a lot of others are out of reach. Excuse me now while I get rid of those dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets in my freezer… 🙂 Great job Polly and Rachel, and please don’t ever let any commenter make you feel like you need to change what you are doing either!

    • Kelly says:

      @Hickoryhut- Those dino nuggets are popular with kids! My friend always has them in her freezer, and my 5 YO is happy to eat them when he has playdates there. = ) Both boys also scarf down Eggos and ice cream bars at my parents’ house. Real food meets reality, for sure.

      How fun to have access to free maple syrup, but it must be difficult to be so far from good stores! We are in CO suburbia and have far too many stores within 10 miles of us. Everyone has different struggles in eating “100% Real,” but at least we are cooking at home and trying to make healthy choices for our families!

  5. Kristal says:

    I love your blog. In many ways, I agree with Kelly too. I am trying to feed a very picky family of seven and there is no way I can afford organic everything and only use pure ingredients. I admit I often use your recipes and tweak them to fit the needs of my family.

    What I love about your recipes is most of them are super easy and fairly quick and you use ingredients that would be found in most cupboards. Some of the stuff on other blogs is really confusing and I’ve never even heard of half the ingredients.

    I will never be a “purist” but I know every meal I make myself, even if it has some processed elements, is still better than anything I could buy or eat at a restaurant. Your blog is my “go to” source for quick, easy, healthier recipes. Thank you so much for the time and thought you put into them. I am especially grateful to you for teaching me how to make chicken parmesean because that is the only non-processed way my son will eat chicken!

  6. Kelly says:

    I find Thriving Home to be a refreshing blessing in the “Real Food” world. I am sure I’m not the only mom who feels this way! Thank you, Polly and Rachel for being honest about your real life approach to “Real Food”.

    For those who do not have budget as an issue I am sure that feeding a family 100% unrefined, organic, pasture-fed, preservative free food is possible, but for our family of four living on my husband’s teacher’s salary, it is not.

    Before our second son was born and I began staying home (3 years ago), we lived on two teachers’ salaries, and I certainly spent a lot more money on organic food. But you know what? I was so busy teaching 1st grade and being a mom, that we ate out WAY more than we do now. Even though I purchased organic dairy, meats, and produce, we had about 20x more processed foods in the house than we do now. Despite meal planing, freezer cooking, and trying to be as healthy as I could, there was only so much time in the week.

    I currently have time to make my own yogurt, bread, granola bars, cereal, etc., but I do not have enough in my $300/month grocery budget to only use whole wheat flour 100% of the time or to always buy organic. etc.

    Some people have an excess of time, others have an excess of money. It is rare that people have both. Most (not all) “real food” blogs make me feel guilty for having refined sugar in the house, but our reality is that we can’t afford to use only raw honey and maple syrup as sweeteners. The all or nothing approach seems to be very common on most blogs. I am a perfectionist, and I honestly was feeling like an utter failure when, after 3 months of attempting to do Real Food 100%, I realized that I just could not make it work (without going into debt). Despite making about 90% of our food from scratch, there is no way to stretch our money enough to purchase only “real food” ingredients. Reading other blogs, I felt ashamed of having to buy brown sugar (to use as half the sweetener in whole wheat honey raisin bread) and non-organic cheese.

    I stumbled upon Thriving Home ,and it was a God-send that opened my eyes and heart to the reality that no one is perfect or living a perfect life. We can only do our best in the situation God has placed us at the moment. “Real food meets reality” is a whole lot better than giving up, stocking the freezer with dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and corn dogs, and saying, “Well, I guess I just can do real food.”

    When I go back to teaching in a few years, I hope to continue making as much as possible from scratch and I look forward to being able to afford to only use whole wheat flour instead of supplementing with refined. However, there is a give and take in life, and I am certain that our family will be eating more Panera and pizza when I am at school from 6:30am-4:30pm daily (and every-other Saturday….) than the once a month that we do now.

    Thank you, Rachel! Thank you Polly! I love your recipes and inspiration. Sorry this has turned into a novel, but I felt compelled to spill my heart today. = )

    PS . I feel like my comment will invite others to cite the 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget challenge where a family of 4 ate on a “food stamp” budget…. Please know that there are many families like mine who make too much for food stamps but cannot afford the USDA food guidelines for grocery spending. We live extremely frugally, with paid off cars, a small mortgage, no home phone or cable (not even Netflix, people!!), minimal spending in ALL areas, but still cannot pay more than $300/month for groceries, unless we want do do without health insurance. I tutor in the summer for all “fun money” which goes towards Christmas, birthdays, and the occasional trip to the zoo or children’s museum. The USDA “Thrifty” plan for our family of 4 is $563.70, and I believe those figures are what they use for food stamps (but don’t know for certain since we don’t qualify ; )). I only know the budget used for that Real Food challenge was WAY higher than my budget.

    • Rachel says:

      Wow, Kelly, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m so very thankful to hear that you’ve felt grace (not guilt) from our blog. You’re right…healthy eating can be expensive at times and time-consuming. As moms, we have so many good priorities (time with our family, living within our means, leading a healthy lifestyle, etc), but it’s finding a balance between them all that’s hard! I say we all need to give ourselves a big dose of grace most of the time. Thanks again for sharing your story and feedback! Blessings to you and your family.