Balancing vintage sensibilities in a modern supermarket is challenging. Avoiding all the refined carbohydrates and refined oils in the grocery store really cuts down on options.  Let’s face it:  sugar (in all of its many forms), flour, crazy corn derivatives, and vegetable oil have made it into almost all processed food.

Part of the trick to shopping vintage is TRIAGE – knowing what is important and what can be ignored (at least for now). Some modern foods need to be avoided, but others can remain.  With practice, you will get good at avoiding most of the ‘bad’ stuff, while still enjoying some of the most delicious modern inventions, especially family favorites.

For many families, vintage eating is more of a direction than a strict regimen. Many people who eat this way follow the 80/20 rule…  80% vintage, 20% modern. For some, vintage eating just means more real food and less processed food.  So which processed foods stay, and which ones go? The answer is influenced by your health and goals, as well as your personal preferences in the realms of convenience, cost, and taste. It also depends upon available substitutes.

Ask yourself these questions about any processed product before putting it into your grocery cart:

  1. Does my family love this?
  2. Do we need this? (If it is a dessert or sugar-sweetened beverage, the answer is 'no.')
  3. Will we consume only small amounts of this?
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute?

If all of your answers are 'yes,' it probably should make the cut. If there are no’s in there, you will have to weigh whether it is delicious, important, convenient and irreplaceable enough to ‘cheat.’ Deprivation vs. guilt, right?

Here is an example.  In my house, one of the processed foods I still buy is Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. (Hellmann’s, like all commercial mayonnaise, is full of refined vegetable oil, so it doesn’t qualify as vintage.) Why do I still buy it?

  1. Does my family love this?   Yes. Especially my husband, and I want to stay married ;-)
  2. Do we need this? Yes. No reason to live without mayonnaise. It is naturally low-carb and sugar free!
  3. Will we eat only small amounts of this? Yes. We are not huge mayonnaise eaters.
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute? Yes. I tried substituting with homemade olive oil mayonnaise… The taste was heavy and unacceptable, and it wasn’t quick and easy to make. (It involved getting out the food processor, which means extra cleanup.) Plus, this unpopular substitute only keeps for about a week, so it would be a regular hassle and lead to extra spoilage/waste.

In contrast, although I used to use store bought salad dressing, I now make my own. (Most prepared dressings don’t qualify as vintage – they are full of vegetable oils like soy, corn, canola, and/or cottonseed oil. Many are full of sugar, too, which is unnecessary and not where I would choose to splurge on sugar. Remember: triage!) Why did I cut out this convenience?

  1. Does my family love this? Yes. Especially Hidden Valley Ranch ;-(
  2. Do we need this? Yes. We eat salad almost every day and dressing adds fat to our meal and makes them more satisfying and delicious.
  3. Will we eat only small amounts of this? No. We go through a lot of salad dressing.
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute? No. I make dressing in a few minutes with olive oil, vinegar, salt, herbs, and mustard. It lasts for weeks and saves a few dollars. The taste is stronger than the lighter, refined oils, but it is still delicious. I also occasionally make creamy dressings with real sour cream.

In this case, the quantity we go through and the easy and delicious substitute swayed me to eliminate commercial salad dressing from our fridge most of the time.

Another example would be pizza versus pasta. We love pizza, there is nothing quite like it, and it is cheap and convenient. So we still eat it – just less often – perhaps once or twice a month. But pasta… we don’t really love or need it, and I can still make Bolognese sauce which we either eat like chili or put on just a few noodles. So for us, pizza (in moderation) makes the cut, whereas pasta doesn’t.

Knowing when to splurge on modern favorites can help keep the peace and make vintage eating more doable for your family!