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When it comes to making the real food switch, we often receive a lot of questions about meat and chicken.

We get it, going to the grocery store and trying to buy meat and chicken can be so confusing. For a long time, we felt pretty intimidated because we didn't know exactly what to look for. With words like grass-fed, cage-free, hormone-free, vegetarian-fed and organic, interpreting labels felt almost impossible.

While some choose to stick to a meatless diet for their own reasons, we prefer to eat from across all food groups. That's the beauty of a real food diet, there's no restrictions—you get to choose! So, this article isn't about whether or not to eat meat (that's for you to decide), it's intended to simplify what to look for and help you find better alternatives.

Before we dive in, it you haven't already, we highly recommend you watch the Netflix documentary Food, Inc. This documentary opened our eyes to where our meat and eggs come from, how the animals are raised and how it impacts our own health. It COMPLETELY changed the way we looked at food (meat and poultry in particular) and we're sure it will for you too.

Local meat

There's nothing better than being able to walk into a local butcher or farmer's market and talk to the sales staff or owner about how their meat was raised and what it was fed. The problem is, not everyone has access to a local butcher.

This is something that I, Kalie, ran into after moving outside of my hometown in rural Pennsylvania. To my dismay, I couldn't find the same quality meat I had eaten growing up, and so my search began to find an outlet for quality meat products. I asked questions and searched until I got the right answers. Once I found the meat I was looking for, I continued using that source. If asking questions makes you nervous (initially it did for me), go to the butcher or deli during a low-traffic time when there aren't as many people around.

A few things to ask next time you buy meat

  • Where does the meat come from?
  • How were the animals raised?
  • What kind of diet did the animals eat?

Some things to look for when checking meat and poultry labels and ingredients:

  • All natural
  • 100% grass-fed beef (if it doesn't state 100% there's no way to know how much of their diet is actually grass)
    • Organic meat doesn’t necessarily mean the animal was 100% grass-fed or pasture-raised.
  • Pasture-raised chicken
    • Choose pasture-raised over free-range chicken. Free-range means the chicken may only have access to 2 whopping feet of outdoor space. Better, but not awesome!
    • Be wary of cage-free chicken. Cage-free chickens have no outdoor access.
  • No antibiotics ever administered or no added antibiotics
  • No added growth hormones or stimulants
  • No artificial colors, added flavors or preservatives
  • Meat in casing should only have simple ingredients such as the meat, water, salt, spice and the casing (sausage).

So, where can you get grass-fed, quality meat?

Whenever possible, opt for locally raised and butchered meat or poultry from a reputable resource. When you can’t buy local, consider purchasing meat and poultry that is organic or from a reputable small-scale company. If you're unsure where to find local meat, look for local butchers online or ask around at your local farmer's market or food co-op.

Here are a few places to find quality meats:

  • Food co-op's
  • Farmers' markets
  • Local farms
  • Farm-to-door delivery services

Pro tip: Consider purchasing meat in bulk, such as buying half a cow or pig. It’s much cheaper in the long run. You can split the meat up with others if necessary. Annually, we now purchase half a cow that's butchered from a local farm. It’s much cheaper than buying individual cuts.

Grain-fed versus grass-fed

Cows evolved to eat grass, not corn. This in itself makes grass-fed a pretty straight-forward choice. Because cattle are not designed to digest grain, they can become sick when they're overfed it (which is why they're often given antibiotics and medications to stay alive until they're slaughtered). It's entirely up to you and your family, but the drastic rise in infertility and hormone-fed cancers is reason enough for us to stick to grass-fed meat.

Lunch meat and why we now limit it

After watching Food, Inc. and doing a little research, our family made a decision to focus on eating locally raised lunch meats. Why? Because most grocery store deli meats are HIGHLY PROCESSED. I'm talking high in sodium and made with artificial ingredients, flavor additives, added coloring, added preservatives, sodium nitrites or sodium nitrates and who knows what else!

Needless to say, it's been challenging to find a butcher or farmer's market (here in Florida) that offers lunch meat from a LOCAL resource. We've asked the butcher or deli attendant at the grocery store about the quality of the meats, but got an array of answers, which is why we feel better about limiting them.

A solution to this problem is that rather than using lunch meat in your wraps and sandwiches, consider grilling and using chicken breast, ham, turkey or roast beef. We often make double batches whenever cooking meat so we can slice it down and freeze or refrigerate the leftovers.

If store-bought lunch meat is something you just can't live without, don't be nervous to ask the butcher or deli attendant about what it's made of and where it came from. This is your HEALTH!

Here's a few things to ask about and look for:

  • Look for all natural lunch meats; basically, the meat, salt and spices.
  • Try to get lunch meat from a whole hock or bone rather than pressed lunch meat.
  • Look for low sodium lunch meats without artificial ingredients, flavor additives, added preservatives, sodium nitrites or sodium nitrates.
  • Avoid lunch meat with added coloring.
  • Look for lunch meat from a butcher or deli sliced fresh rather than prepackaged.

Vegetarian "meat" products, such as veggie burgers

Just like pre-made chicken nuggets and meat patties, vegetarian "meat" products (you know those seemingly "healthy" kale burgers in the freezer aisle) are often filled with a host of questionable ingredients. Like anything else, when it comes to eating FfL-friendly real foods, always check the ingredientsAnything consisting of whole foods such as millet, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and veggies gets the green light, while any products with artificial ingredients, flavor additives, added coloring, vegetable oils and processed soy protein should be avoided.

Some of our favorite FULLfood meat and poultry for you to try

  • Beef: Leaner cuts include eye of round, top round, top loin, sirloin, tenderloin and London broil. When eating ground beef, choose a leaner ground beef.
  • Pork: Leaner cuts include top loin, sirloin, tenderloin, loin chop and rib chop
  • Lamb: Leaner cuts include leg of lamb, arm and loin
  • Skinless chicken: Chicken breast and white meat are leaner meats.
  • Turkey: Turkey breast and white meat are leaner meats. When eating ground turkey, choose ground turkey breast because it is leaner.
  • Goat
  • Game meat: venison, duck or rabbit
  • Elk and bison

If you're looking for a good read and want to learn more about the food industry, meat in particular, check out Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Some of our favorite real food recipes using meat and chicken

Have you tried grass-fed meat yet? What do you think?