10 smart eating lessons from our great-great-grandparents

Living (and eating) more simply, like elder generations did, still makes sense today.

Rachael Walker | Unsplash

You’ve probably heard the old health idiom, “eat like your grandparents ate.” But as a nutritionist, I often think about how the phrase should really be, “eat the way your great-great-grandparents ate.”

Unfortunately, food has evolved so that it’s no longer just nourishment to us. Back in the day, farming was more prominent and factories were scarce. We used to eat food that nourished our bodies and brought grace to our temples, our bodies, our gifts from the Lord. Now we hammer in junk food by the pound and ask the Lord to perform a miracle. And it would take a miracle indeed to allow that over-processed junk to bring real nourishment to our bodies. Granted Jesus did turn water into wine, but I think we’re crossing the line to ask him to turn meat-lovers pizza into salad!

MORE TO READ: 100 life lessons from a 100-year-old woman

In so many ways our elders (specifically the oldest generation still living, born about 90 years to a century ago) was so much smarter than us. They lived more simply, and their bodies were often healthier for it. So I’m going to highlight some of the ways they ate and approached daily life that we’d do well to keep in mind in our modern daily lives:

1. Live off the land. Older generations, way back in the day, grew a lot of foods in their own backyard gardens to feed their families. They raised their own animals to use them as food. The result was ethically sourced fresh food, free of processing, additives, and chemicals.

2. Use whole foods. This is a principle I believe really works. Because, again, it comes back to the idea of eating foods with little to no processing. Much of the processing is what they did on their own farms. I even remember my Grandpa cracking his own nuts.

3. Preserve with fermentation. Our grandparents and their grandparents jarred all their summer produce for big, bad winters. Sometimes they even had to dig holes to store it in the ground. Preserving with only salt and cold storage creates fermentation, which not only preserves the food for long periods of time, but also enhances the nutrients.

MORE TO READ: 6 fermented foods for better gut health

4. Resourceful food ideologies. In the 1900s to 1920s, if a family cooked a bird, they used it all; the organs and the bones for bone broth too. They didn’t need supplements for collagen like many of us want today because all the collagen protein they needed came from those bones. It was a well-rounded way to eat, not to mention waste-reducing.

5. More types of meat. Not only did many of our great-great-grandparents farm, they also ate gamed meat. This is as free range and organic as you get. Deer, bison, rabbit, and more are all very lean meats, as the animal is very active, making a healthier meal for you than say, a regular steak, burger or hot dog.

6. Full fat cooking. They used butter and cooked with lard. And recent research has indicated that full-fat dairy may be better for preventing weight-gain than skim or non-fat dairy products.

7. What processed foods? Markets back then were more comparable to our local farmer’s markets (that many of us must hunt down and drive to on the weekends). Again, fresh foods were everywhere. I remember my father in law saying when he was a kid, there was only one kind of potato chip, not an entire aisle! And that’s just one generation older than mine. Imagine two!

8. Slow-cooked meals, 7 days a week. There weren’t fast food options yet and while they dined in once in a while, even the restaurants offered fresh, real food.

9. No dieting. Dieting didn’t even become a thing until the 1980’s, which is also when processed food began to rise up.

MORE TO READ: Let’s ditch fad diets—and the idea of “cheating” on them—for good

10. Moving all day. You know all those claims that sitting is the new smoking in terms of its bad effects on your physical health? Well, that sedentary lifestyle wasn’t a problem for our great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents because most of them woke up at the crack of dawn and were active right off the bat. They moved more and lounged much less. More of their jobs and chores required manual labor, away from T.Vs, computers and smart phones which today distract us and hold us back.

I know, this simplicity sounds so appealing doesn’t it? If I had it my way, you would find me living on a farm with free range chickens, an acre garden, tons of flowers and trees and my kids running around bare-footed, while I dry their clothes on the line and dial up my parents on the rotary dial.

MORE TO READ: Skipping the supermarket for a healthier life

But I’m sorry to say that we can’t go back in time. Farming is not an option for most of us, fast food options are everywhere waiting to tempt us, and many of us do need jobs that require a lot of sitting and screen time. But you still can incorporate some of these simpler lifestyle choices into your modern day schedule. Because even if you can’t live or eat exactly the way your great-great-grandparents ate, you can make an effort to exercise and move more often on your breaks, and you can make your own meals with fresh produce and whole foods.

Cara Busson-Clark
Cara Busson-Clark
Cara Busson-Clark is a Certified Sports and Clinical Nutritionist and runs Cara Clark Nutrition. Her "non-dieting" approach to health and wellness, attracts a wide range of clients, including Hollywood celebrities. In addition to her passion for helping others live their best lives, her world revolves around her faith and family. She is mother to four daughters, ages one to six and lives in southern California.

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