A Family's Switch to a Nutritarian Diet

Written by Guest Contributor Jennifer L. Sanders of kidoing! 

Thank you, Renee, for inviting me to talk about the dietary changes our family has made on our path to a nutritarian diet, a term coined by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, family physician and author.

A nutritarian diet is one where a person strives for more micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients) per calorie. So, what does that mean in layman’s terms? We eat delicious and satisfying food for nutritional value, not just to satiate our hunger.

I get really enthusiastic when I read about, or talk to, families making an effort to improve eating habits.

Over the past five years we have made many adjustments to our diet – some common sense (we threw out pantry foods containing partially hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup) and some quite startling (we are now a white sugar-free house; very little meat and fish; no dairy). After reading a lot, the path that has been long and winding is now clear to us.

These changes have made a huge difference in many areas of our lives. However, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight. It took years of slow transitions and deliberate changes.

Our story

After our first child was born over five years ago, I returned to work two days a week. My daughter went into daycare. Coincidentally or not, after she stopped nursing at 14 months, she was sick all the time. It was one fever, runny nose, and stomach bug after another (it wasn’t just her, we ALL got sick EVERY time). It wore on us, and without other options that we could identify at the time, we lived through a dreary period for over two years.

We were like many families busy juggling everything and thought – this was just life as parents.

When my second child was born, we made different, calculated choices that allowed me to stay home (a welcomed change). I understand not everyone can do this or wants to, but we figured out how to make it work.

While at home, in between changing diapers and reading stories, I would steal away minutes reading about why our bodies get sick. I found inspiring books and blogs that discussed different approaches to feeding families.

I read about the immune system and benefits of a diet high in nutrient rich foods and low in sugar. The more I read, the more I was driven away from a diet I had grown up on and known for 30+ years – full of processed snack foods and frozen meals, dairy (cheese, milk, and ice cream), sugar-sweetened baked goods, and meat raised on unknown farms in ways I would never want to explain to my children.

Our changes

Slowly, we transitioned to a whole foods diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seedsa nutritarian diet – and virtually eliminated refined white sugar. We have noticed the more nutrient dense foods we eat, the less sweets and processed foods appeal to us.

  1. Juicing - We juice every day. At first we juiced fruit, carrots and some mild-tasting greens. Gradually, we transitioned to “green juice” full of kale, cucumbers, parsley, celery and one apple or pear. My daughter loves “red juice” which is one beet, a half cucumber, quarter fennel bulb, and two apples. There is something about drinking juice full of nutrients that is very satisfying, both to the tastebuds and psychologically.
  2. Smoothies - We became smoothie addicts and drink them often. Our favorites are kale/pineapple/coconut milk and orange/banana/spinach. If you are having trouble feeding your children leafy greens, smoothies are the perfect way to slip them in. (Kale is the number one nutrient dense food, according to Dr. Fuhrman.)
  3. Sugar - We dramatically cut back on refined white sugar. There are numerous experts who report that the immune system is suppressed after eating refined sugar. There are many alternatives to refined white sugar – dates, maple syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup to name a few. As a result, we are now more sensitive to sweets and need less to satisfy a sweet craving.

Reorganization of Food and Buying Habits

In addition to changing the foods we ate, I reorganized and added food storage to make this style of eating more accessible.

Step One: I reorganized our food pantry (a large kitchen cabinet) so I could clearly see our food.

Before the “reorg” we couldn’t find anything – bags were on top of and in front of one another. We wasted a lot and got frustrated as things toppled onto our heads. We invested in the Oxo Pop Top airtight containers and never looked back.

Now, all our dry goods are labeled and we clearly see what we need to replace. A note on the Oxo BPA-free containers. We typically do not use plastic in our home, but chose these containers because they are airtight - our house is very humid six months out of the year - and because our pantry is so high that glass jars may fall and smash.

The other, probably more important revelation, is that while I was reorganizing, I changed the way I bought food. I came up with a list of what we liked to eat plus what we should be eating. This was the start of identifying all the grains, dried fruit, legumes, etc, that would now be in our diets.

Step Two: I added basement shelving for extra food, an upright freezer, and started buying in bulk.

Fine tuning our diets

Right now, my family eats very little meat (I eat none) and some sustainable fish. The meat they eat comes from family farms in Lancaster County, PA. We know the farmers and that’s important to us. Our transition to dairy free has been remarkable.

Personally, I would need a really compelling reason to return to how we used to eat. We are not purists, by any means, however I find little reason to stray. Our new way of eating is more indulgent than how we used to eat.

As a result of these changes, we have noticed that we are much healthier (very few, mild colds this winter) and my husband and I lost all the extra weight we were carrying.

I hope our story has inspired you to take a closer look at the nutritarian diet.


{Renee here again. Your story has inspired me Jennifer. I am so thankful you shared it here at FIMBY. I know for our family, looking at the nutritional value of the food we eat, not just how full we feel after a meal, changed our mostly vegan diet for the better. 

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Read Jennifer's bio here.} 

14 March 11


Jennifer, thank you so much

Jennifer, thank you so much for this post.  I love your practical reorganization tips.

I like that you remind us that change takes time and that we can choose health and well being for our families.

Hi Jennifer - thanks for

Hi Jennifer - thanks for posting your journey thus far. Over the past few years I have been making similar transitions in my life and definitely feel much better for it and it's encouraging hearing where others have come from! Thanks again!

A big thank you, to both

A big thank you, to both Renee and Jennifer for sharing such valuable information. It seems to come at just the right time, as I am journeying more and more down a similar path. I agree with you that it does take a lot of time, even years, to reach these types of goals. Small changes and decisions along the way lead have led to a lifestyle. I wish I knew what I know now 20 years ago when our first child was born. Now, with my last two (12 and 6) I see that they're naturally inclined to eat healthier. I've taken my responsibility as the mother of these children seriously, in providing and insuring the best possible nutrition for them. We have our up and down days, but overall, I'm liking where this is all taking them; especially me. Seeing my example, the positive results, and the delight in eating this way may be the best way to reach them when it all boils down to it.

Emily, you are quite welcome!

Emily, you are quite welcome! We are always learning and changing. I could say the same thing about wishing that I knew what I know now when my daughter was born nearly six years ago. I applaud you for taking nutrition seriously because it is so important. Not only are we nourishing little growing bodies, but we are also teaching them life skills - eating well to keep healthy and knowing how to cook whole foods. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

Thanks for such and

Thanks for such and informative and inspiring post! We are slowly moving in this direction for our family as well. Really enjoyed reading this, and love your food storage!

Hi Wendy - thanks for your

Hi Wendy - thanks for your comment and I'm glad you enjoyed reading. I think organized storage was really key for me. I needed to make it really easy...if my kids want a snack, I can see all the dried fruit we have. Also, when I am putting together my grocery list, I can look at my labeled containers to see which ones are low and add those items to the list. Once the system is set up, less thought goes into each individual task! Have a great evening!

Thanks for the info., in the

Thanks for the info., in the last 3 years our family has made many changes as well. I am still working so we have our challenges but we eat a lot better than we did a few years ago! I love the storage option, we just bought a few of the same kind to see if I liked them, and I love how you set yours up! I am excited to read more and check out your site! As an Alaskan Native and living in Alaska, fresh fish and meat is a big part of our culture and I am okay eating them- wild and organic! But I understand why you choose to cut back, thanks again for sharing!

Thanks, Sea! Congratulations

Thanks, Sea! Congratulations on your changes. It sounds like you are really happy. It does take time to research, time to decide where you stand as a family, and time to transition. No doubt about it! In the end, you arrive at a place that is very comfortable - very right for you - and it's a wonderful feeling. I hope to see you over at kidoing! Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

Wonderful post Jennifer!

Wonderful post Jennifer! Thank you for sharing. Unfortunately, I have to admit my husband and I have strayed from a vegan diet. We were vegan for a few years and enjoyed eating that way, but I had problems getting the nutrients I needed while I was pregnant. I know, that was because I wasn't eating enough nuts, seeds, and leafy greens, but my pregnancy allowance of meat and even cheese ended up bringing some unhealthy foods back into the house. My kids haven't been big meat-eaters, probably because of our history with being vegan, but I have had a hard time getting them to eat veggies too. This summer, we are planning to go back to a more nutrient-based diet, and look forward to fixing our juicer so we can add more veggies to our diet. It is true you can't make a quick jump into a healthier diet though! I find it's easier to make longer lasting changes if you start little bit by little bit. I'll be visiting your website!

Thank you so much, Naomi!

Thank you so much, Naomi! Pregnancy changes a lot of things, doesn't it?! For us, it can be a slippery slope which is why we are so careful about what we have in the house and why I try to find the tastiest recipes that my family will really like and want to eat. Summer is a great time to eat fresh fruits and veggies. Do you have a local farmers market? My kids go with me every Wed and they love to choose and eat as we walk from stall to stall. Juicing is excellent, too, so I hope you can fix your juicer. When my daughter says that the kale/cucumber/celery/apple juice is a thumbs up - score! Good luck transitioning back to where you want to be. Looking forward to seeing you over at kidoing!, too.

Great post. Informative

Great post. Informative without being preachy. I made the transition to a vegetarian diet a couple of years ago, trying to insert vegan food when I can. Since turning 40 earlier this year, I have noticed that certain foods don't sit quite as well as they used to. I'm thinking specifically of dairy here and have been considering at least cutting back on my cheese intake, something I never would have dreamed of doing 2 years ago. This post has also encouraged me to decrease the amount of refined sugar we consume. I know of the alternatives but sometimes it is just so easy to go the route of white sugar. I feel it's time for a change.

Hi Tara, isn't it funny how

Hi Tara, isn't it funny how our bodies talk to us when we are ready to listen?

All my life I ate large amounts of cheese. I used to take a block out while I was preparing dinner and mindlessly eat half of it - nearly every night. Now that I took dairy out of my diet and understand the huge difference it makes, the idea of eating cheese again is a turn off.

There are so many great alternative options to refined sugar, so for us there have been only positives to virtually eliminating it. I say virtually because there are small amounts of sugar in dark chocolate (even the 70% cacao) and soy/coconut yogurt (I haven't perfected my non-dairy yogurt yet where I will not use refined sugar!), which we still eat.

Good luck to you! And thanks for taking the time to comment.

Thank you so much for sharing

Thank you so much for sharing this, Jennifer....and Renee for giving the space to share it. It was so encouraging for me as we have been transitioning to a healthier diet for the last two years, and now we are removing all dairy and soy. This part has been the most difficult and some days I think, "Ugh, this is too much." It is so helpful to see and hear about other families that succeed! Thank you again!

Charity, I echo your

Charity, I echo your appreciation to Renee. Thank you Renee!

And thank YOU for writing! Yes, it can be overwhelming because dairy and soy are in SO many things. We still eat a little bit of soy - in tofu, tempeh and soy yogurt (the latter two infrequently).

I'm constantly keeping myself and my goals in check...eating whole foods - fruits, veggies, seeds/nuts, grains.

Good for you for taking these steps!


[...] are made only with fruit (no sweetener!), which aligns nicely with our nutritarian eating style.  (Read my post on FIMBY for more information about our eating [...]

Great site! I want to switch

Great site! I want to switch to a nutritarian diet but it seems a tad overwhelming. Your site offers good suggestions and tips. I realized that I am trying to change too much at once. It seems greater success will come with small and consistent changes. Thanks for bringing this to light! I will continue to follow your blog.

Thanks for sharing your

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I'm slowly getting educated on healthier food choices for our family. I just have a regards to the smoothies. My kids and I love smoothies made with spinach, and I thought this was a good thing, but then I've read several places that raw spinach is very bad for you because it blocks iron absorption; that you should only eat cooked spinach. So now I'm feeling a bit frustrated and confused. Any insight on this?

My personal opinion (and I'm

My personal opinion (and I'm not a nutritionist or doctor) is to eat a lot of both cooked and raw vegetables, including spinach. I've eaten raw spinach for years and don't personally suffer iron deficiency. 

Great post. My wife and I

Great post. My wife and I have been nutritarians for several months now. I can't believe we didn't do this years ago. It is not that difficult. We live on the Big Island of Hawaii- fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round. They grow easliy too. I guess we didn't really look at the world around us.

What an inspiring post.

What an inspiring post. Thank you! Is it too much to ask what exactly you have there in your cabinet? I would like to replicate that for my own cabinet. We are "newbies" to this way of eating. I'm trying to make the transition as easy as possible for my family. After much research and reading everything I could possibly get my hands on we've decided that this our answer. If my cabinet looked like yours I just know we could do it! Thank you!

Hi Tara, Do you have a

Hi Tara,
Do you have a grocery store nearby with a bulk food section? That is how I do most of my shopping, so what you see in my cabinet is that. Lentils, dried beans, farro, barley, popping corn, arrowroot, couscous, shredded coconut, date sugar, sea salt, brown rice pasta, noodles, etc. I will admit that having the organized cabinet is a must when cooking this way. With everything stocked and at your fingertips, there are few recipes I can't make on a whim. In the refrigerator, I always have miso, fresh lemons and limes, celery, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, olives, capers, wide variety of nuts/seeds, spinach/greens, get the idea. Our nutritarian food today is so much better tasting than anything I used to make so I think you will love it. Good luck and, yes, you can do it!


[...] our dietary guidelines. My thoughts are echoed in this recent guest post by Jennifer L. Sanders on nutritarian eating. For more nutritional resources check out my recommended books at FIMBY's Amazon affiliate [...]

I've recently watched a food

I've recently watched a food documentary and read through Dr. Furhman's website. I am really inspired and would like to make changes in the way we eat. My husband & I and our five children, ranging in age from 3 years to 16 years, eat some fruits & veggies but mostly have been accustomed to eating meat, chicken, and quick processed food. What baby steps would you recommend and how long should the whole process take to completing change our diets, without causing strong resistence (especially with older kids)? If it was just my husband and I, we could make the switch much quicker. I'd like to "win them over" (the teens) so they can make healthy choices and retrain their taste buds. Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.

There is a concept called

There is a concept called "Crowding Out" where you prepare the delicious foods you want your family to eat and before you know it there is no room for the old habits of ice cream and potato chips. You "crowd out" all the old foods with the new foods that taste better and make you feel better. I hear the older kids can be a harder sell for many reasons (my kids are young and still very impressionable so it wasn't tough for us), but honestly the food I make now is so much tastier than the stuff we used to eat (we never ate that poorly, but did eat a lot of dairy and sugary sweets).

As far as length of time, it has taken us a couple years to get where we are now, but of course everyone is different. That could be because my time was limited with small kids and I didn't have a clear path in front of me, but I did have many inspirations along the way that prompted me to read, read, and read some more. If you think your older ones are going to give you a hard time, you may want to start slowly (and if possible involve them in food prep). I know that if I saw no reason to change my diet and someone was making me, I would definitely push back. Also, can you provide some books for them to read? Movies? Food Inc, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, Forks Over Knives to name a few.

As far as where to start, hmmm...maybe pick a few types of dishes everyone seems to like - chinese, pasta, indian - and try a different recipe. For chinese, you could do a vegetable stir fry over brown rice instead of white; for pasta, you could make a red sauce with lentils and use quinoa pasta; for indian, you could try a chickpea, potato and eggplant curry with cashews? When I was in the midst of my changes, I took a good look at all the ingredients I used and tossed out the most processed and kept the least. I think you need to come up with a game plan and guide for ideal foods that suits you. Dr. Fuhrman is great; I love Engine 2 Diet, and Brazier's Thrive Diet books are full of great recipes. One favorite family recipe book is Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair. Even if you're not vegetarian or vegan, check out all those cookbooks because those authors know a ton about making veggies taste great. Raw cookbooks are also another amazing source of recipes (lots of raw, nutrient dense desserts!).

I am sure Renee will have a lot of feedback for you, too. Good luck and feel free to email me with further questions at jennifer at kidoing dot com.

Unfortunately, I don't have a

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of feedback right now. This is a huge topic. I think I'd have to write a book to adequately respond (smile).
As for getting educated and feeling supported I recommend joining one of Heather's courses. She will be starting one in the new year, which I will be contributing to. I also recommend Jennifer's stuff at Kidoing.
It's taken us years to change our diet and we are still doing so. Tweaking all the time. Change takes time so be patient with yourself.
As far as getting kids on board I wrote a post at Simple Mom about helping children embrace lifestyle change. The principles in there apply to changing your diet as well. 
Honesty is one of my trademarks so here it is - changing your family's diet is a long haul project and hard work. But... it is very worth it. I would do it all again, in a heartbeat and sooner! All things that are "worth it" take a lot of effort, don't expect dietary change to be any different. Equip yourself with knowledge, share that knowledge with your family, find support (on-line communities are great for this) and then cook really tasty food!

Thanks so much for the

Thanks so much for the helpful response. I've started the "crowding out" concept. I just don't buy the unhealthy food anymore; if it's not in the house it isn't available to eat. I'm definitely having the older ones watch the movies. You're right, a game plan is a must because life is so busy--if I don't know what I'm cooking it's too easy to fall back on the old meals & snacks. Thanks for the great book suggestions.

I'm curious to know how much

I'm curious to know how much you spend feeding a family of 5 this way? We will need to make some dietary adjustments. Will have to "repurpose" the money we are spending on crackers, chips, ice cream, popcicles, candy, cheese, etc. Not that we buy a lot of any of those, but they do add up.

This post was written by a

This post was written by a guest contributor and I can't speak for what her family spends. I don't share specific dollar values from our family since I feel that's personal and also food prices are quite regional, but I do give a peek at our grocery spending in this post. Read through the comments for more specifics in terms of household income percentages we and others spend on food.

I just wanted to suggest

I just wanted to suggest another good storage product: Better Homes and Gardens Flip-Tite dry food storage containers are air tight and look very similar to the OXO containers. They also are clear and stackable. And the bonus for our family on a tight budget is that they are about half the price. You can find them at Walmart (in store or online) and at Amazon.

Thanks so much for posting

Thanks so much for posting this!!!  I'm getting ready to start Dr. Fuhrman's program, and was feeling rather overwhelmed with all the prep work involved!  I especially like your pantry reorganization.

Do you have any recipes? I

Do you have any recipes? I have been watching and learning about having a more micronutrient diet and am looking for recipes to slowly transition our family's diet from unhealthy to healthy.



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