Real Food

A couple of years ago I started following a great blog, 100daysofrealfood.com, looking for inspiration on healthy meals for the family.  I have wanted to “go real food” for a long time, knowing too much to be comfortable with packaged foods and synthetic ingredients.  We’ve been buying mostly all organic food, as we could find it, having committed to organic dairy and meat many years ago.  But as you know, organic does not mean healthy, and we certainly were buying our fair share of organic junk food.

  • Chips/Pretzels
  • Mac N Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Shredded Cheese
  • Bread (yes, organic junk food bread, more on that in a little bit)
  • Cereal bars/Clif bars
  • Yogurt (full of sugar)
  • Packaged cookies

And more. But then we made a decision, starting September 1st we’d give the real food thing a serious try.  And we are loving it!

The woman behind the 100daysofrealfood.com blog set out a number or “rules” that guide her family; and I agree with her assessment.  No refined sugars, 100% whole grains only, no prepared foods with more than a few ingredients.  We haven’t converted 100% yet, but we are on our way.

Whole Foods Brand White Whole Wheat Bread

First Step: Swap Our Bread
The most major change for us is in the bread department.  Before September, I would mostly buy organic, Whole Foods brand, whole wheat bread.  Sounds good right?  Until I started on this journey, I felt pretty good about this choice.  But, I knew that with homemade the ingredient list would be shorter.  So, we bought ourselves a low-end breadmaker (thank you Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupon) and got to work.  Now I make about 2 loaves per week, and it is delicious.   And it really only take 5 minutes tops to get all the ingredients (whole wheat flour, olive oil, sea salt, yeast, honey) in the breadmaker!  We’ve already improved our slicing skills, so we don’t have thick pieces anymore.  I use this recipe.

I also have made homemade pizza crust (also whole wheat), dinner rolls (that we also sub for hamburger buns) and bagels.  We plan to make homemade pasta soon.

The other changes are more subtle.  In packing the kids’ lunches, instead of sides of chips, they get fruit, or homemade whole wheat muffins.  We also are converting away from canola oil and only using coconut and olive oils.  And instead of refined sugar, we use maple syrup or honey. My recipes are still fabulous, and using these alternative oils and sweeteners have had no impact on taste!

I still buy packaged pasta (whole wheat) and found a spaghetti sauce that has no sugar added and made with olive oil, but I plan to try my hand at a homemade batch soon.  The key is to make large quantities so I can freeze for future meals!  We did switch away from a real staple in our home, frozen meatballs from Trader Joes.  My kids loved them. But they are terribly high in sodium and full of weird ingredients.  My first batch of homemade meatballs were a little heavy on garlic, but otherwise really good.  I’ll make up another 2 pounds soon (they are great for lunches!)

Planning is Key!
You may think I am in the kitchen all the time, but I’m not.  However, this new lifestyle does demand more planning!  And we can’t run out of fruit or else my kids would go hungry at snack time!  My husband and I do a very detailed meal plan on Saturday or Sunday, even thinking through lunches.  Then we do a huge shop (or 2, if we can hit the farmers market) to stock up.  The interesting thing is that we are coming home with fewer groceries, since it is all raw materials.  No more bulky boxes.  Then I do a fair amount of cooking over the weekend — but really I’m making our regular meals at the same time, so its only an incremental increase in kitchen time.  And knowing that we are set for the week makes it so worthwhile!

This hasn’t gone down without a few hiccups.  First, Kid #1 (10 1/2) is a super picky eater.  Super. Picky. Eater.  His diet includes 1. Mac N Cheese 2. Pizza 3. Cheeseburger 4. Tacos and 5. Nachos with cheese.  He’ll eat an apple.  And maybe some carrots.  Don’t ever suggest he dip an apple in cheese, he thinks its gross.  But, the same kid has been overheard in recent days to say “this real food thing isn’t so bad.”  See, he likes my homemade mac n cheese.  He also has surprisingly accepted zucchini muffins (knowing that they contained zucchini!)  But, he has also been grumpy and has skipped a few meals out of protest.  He does get to buy lunch once a week at school, and it is undoubtedly a cheese slathered affair.  But I’m ok with it for now.

We also would love to do all real food, but struggle with our allergy son.  To be “real” would mean forgoing some staples that he eats as alternatives to dairy.  So for now, we aren’t turning away from our beloved Daiya cheese alternative or Earth Balance margarine, or the soy products.  But, we have stopped plying the boy with packaged junk!

Middle child (8 1/2) has welcomed this lifestyle with excitement.  He’s our good eater.  Loves to try new foods.  Craves veggies and fruit.  Begs for chicken and ethnic food.  His attitude has certainly made the transition easier!

So, at the end of our first month of real food, I have to say that it has been easier than I thought, more rewarding, and the food has been all the better.  I look forward to furthering our transition, learning more recipes and buying less packaged foods.

Have you made any healthy food changes?  Please share!

Here’s to healthy eating 🙂


Accidental Activism — Fighting the Arlington Public School Bus System

I am  “week before vacation” crazy busy;  and yet, I’ve found myself thrust into the center of a community battle.  I went to a neighborhood “call to action” meeting on Saturday, and darn it, I never can walk away without taking on assignments.

I live in Arlington, VA, and pay a ton in property taxes in large part so I can send my kids to truly fabulous schools.  I also bought a house on a bus route; in a neighborhood separated from the local school by some pretty significant commuter roads.  About a week ago a bomb was dropped on the entire neighborhood that after having busing for decades, we now lived inside the “official walk zone.”  Um, what?!

Following the APS advice to check their “official walk map” on the website, I find my map shows me OUT of the zone.  It took them a week to realize their mistake.  But instead of saying “we screwed up”, they try to argue that those maps were never the official walk zones.  Seriously?  They say “walk zone” right on the darn thing.

Getting Activist
I started the Facebook page called “Arlington Parents for Safe School Transportation”.   From a dozen of us down the street to over 260 people from all over Arlington, this little page is driving media coverage, organizing a public information assault on the school system and giving a lot of people a place to complain in good company.

Our group also started a petition calling for a moratorium on implementation of the new plan, and its getting a lot of traction, with over 400 signatures in 3 days.

Dr. Murphy, are you listening?
Numerous inquiries, letters, appeals have been sent in with no reply.  Dr. Murphy, our Superintendent wants us to follow their cockamamie 3-week appeals process; um, school starts in less than 2 weeks.  I want to know:  Dr. Murphy, why did your staff say nary a word, for more than a year, about a plan that tosses kids off of buses?  Oh, but I have more:

  • How can you NOT know how many people have been kicked off the bus?
  • Why do you insist on justifying this scheme by claiming that loads of kids were jumping the bus against the rules, when you know that was a tiny issue that could have been addressed otherwise?
  • Dr. Murphy, have YOU read the actual report that was commissioned on “modernizing” our bus system?  Did you see that the consultants write that the problem was not a lack of seats, but a poor utilization of the buses already in use?
  • Are you the type of leader that accepts shutting the public out of major policy changes?

But then there the actual bus changes are so wacky that even more questions come to mind:

  • So you say that routes are more efficient, and yet we have kids who are now getting on the bus MUCH earlier than before?
  • You keep claiming that only 5 schools have been impacted, and this is so not the case.  More than 15 schools have been impacted, just check out our Facebook page and you can see who is claiming they’ve been booted.
  • And this expensive software program that you are using to “route” our kids, did you realize that many kids have been routed through major intersections?
  • And more about that software; how come some people who never had busing before because they already lived so close to schools are now getting bus vouchers?

Might I add that when your “test” implementation goes terribly poorly, typically, whatever is tested is not put into service until all the bugs have been fixed.  Ask any technology person and they’ll tell you never deploy a system full of bugs.  And yet, that is exactly what is happening.

Wake Up!
APS is in ignore and defy mode.  But ignoring the public isn’t good.  Dr. Murphy, esteemed members of the school board, in case you haven’t noticed, people are pissed off.  People feel betrayed and lied to.  People all over Arlington think you let us down, and we don’t think you are trying to take any responsibility for the poor manner in which all of this bus stuff has been handled.

So, despite being busy, I happily and without reservation continue to work with my fellow Arlingtonians to stop you from forging ahead on this stupid transportation scheme.  I will see you at the next school board meeting, and you can count on hearing from me after that.  You may have your hands over your ears and eyes, but discontent is GROWING, Dr. Murphy; people are not accepting this change, and people will not stop demanding answers.

I look forward to a day when you realize that it is in your interest, in our district’s interest, in our entire community’s interest to hold public forums to discuss this issue.  I promise I will come, I promise many many parents from one end of this county to the other will be there to discuss.

Read the press



Lend your voice
Email the APS School Board:  school.board@apsva.us
Email Dr. Murphy: superintendent@apsva.us


Magic Camp (or It-better-be-good-or-else Camp)

Here we are in the final throws of summer, and my big boys have only one week of camp remaining. This is THE camp they both really really wanted back in Feb, March and April when all the registrations opened. The irony is, this isn’t even one of the hard-to-get-into camps. For those, I was online at 8am the day registration opened and got 1 out of the 6 I was going for. But Magic Camp, this is going to be the highlight of their summer. It better be.

My Big Boy (7 1/2) has now done 4 weeks of various camps. Each has received RAVE reviews, thankfully, but our Monday mornings usually went something like this: BB, in an unenthusiastic tone of voice: “What camp am I going to this week?” Me “Summerfest/Baseball/Tennis/KOC” (upbeat and positive sounding!) BB “Why? Did I ask for that camp?” Me “Yes! Remember how hard it was for me to get this camp?! Remember you begging for it?” BB “No. Ok, I guess I’ll try.” (in a resigned to the fact he has no choice kind of way.) Me “Damn right you will. ” With a mental addition of “Don’t you know we dropped $200 on that camp?!”

The fact is he really has loved all these camps. But he had NO expectation that he would. So this is why this week is different. Magic Camp. He expects it will rock his world, or at least be a sweet week (using his words.) I just hope that we don’t end the camp season on a downer. After this week, we have 3 1/2 long weeks of no planned camps, so he’ll have plenty of time to get good and bored (a strategy we are employing in hopes that going to 2nd grade will be looked on as a good thing!)

For my Middle Boy (5 1/2), this is also the prized camp of the summer. But he’s a bit more even keeled on the idea, so I worry less about his expectations.

One thing is for certain, Friday will culminate in a magic show that requires me to leave work early, feign surprise/shock/awe at their magic abilities, and then start the non-camp phase of the summer. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the week ends on an up note. Or else I’ll be a week ahead of schedule wishing for the start of the school year.


Blue Bag or Spring Green?

As soon as I said it, I knew it would someday become the title of a book. Between 2 Purses. I really am, and it is also the metaphor for my life. Always in transition. Kind of disorganized. Usually missing something I need at the moment. Carrying too much stuff that I don’t. And when I go away for the weekend, inevitably, I have to bring 2 purses with me.

I could be like my mom and carry a small one that fits inside a larger one. I think she is far more practical that way. I carry two that are roughly the same size.

Both are from Target. I’m trying to diversify my wardrobe so that not everything is from Target. But for now, both the purses are.

One is a beautiful blue fake leather bag that is too big and one large pouch. Can’t ever get to my phone before the call goes to voice mail. The other is a three pocket, more civilized square bag that promises order and efficiency, in a refreshing spring green with circles motif. I’m leaning towards the green one. I hope to get to it this weekend.