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 🙂

Birthdays, Parenting

McDonald’s Didn’t Kill Me

After my last post I’ve received a few requests to know what happened!  First, my birthday boy had a great outing and I am very happy for that! Second, I did cave and ate with the family, but I lived to write about it 😉

As we drove to the nearest McD’s, I was saying to myself “I can’t believe I’m one of the ones blocking the left lane to pull into a gosh darned McD’s!”  I was struck by the FULL parking lot and the very long drive through line.  This place was VERY popular, on a Wednesday evening no less.

If you read the last post, you’ll remember that I wasn’t planning to eat McD’s.  My husband predicted I would.  I did, but not because I couldn’t resist the smell.   I restated my desire to not eat, and was surprised that DH wanted to eat.  He explained that by not eating we might make the 7 year old feel sad or bad or uncomfortable about his choice.  DH argued that this was a family celebration and that we should at least share something.

While we were in line to order we were STARING at the menu board, saying “wasn’t there a Sinefeld episode or some other comedian who snarked that who would ever need to look at a menu in a McDonald’s!”

I had a “squishy cheesburger” (a term I had for them in college, when I mostly desired them after 2am), and agreed to split with DH the fries that came with my 3 year old’s Happy Meal (since they contain dairy!)  The good news was that the Happy Meal fries are TINY now, so I only really ate a few.  All Happy Meals automatically come with the apple slices, which is great for my 3 year old 🙂

One positive of DS choosing McD’s over, say a Japanese Steakhouse (which he loves), dinner for 5 was a whopping $15.  DH and I didn’t eat much, but somehow I was full for a long time.

Now, I am not advocating McD’s here.  I didn’t like food, nor how I felt after eating it.  I didn’t like the mean kid who was bothering my kids in the play area, either.  And mostly I was annoyed that my kids like these burgers over Elevation Burger.  Its disturbing to me that the food is manipulated so much and yet the flavorings are powerful enough to make people LIKE the taste.  Food science, people, its called food science.

Perhaps in revolt of my experience, or perhaps the culmination of our family birthday season and holiday season and general food excesses, I have recommitted our family to our healthy eating agenda this week, and I feel so much better for it!  The meal plan and entire week’s grocery shop was done on Sunday, and I’m excited that we’ll be eating a variety of healthy, homemade food this week!

I hope you have a yummy week, too.

Birthdays, Parenting

Fast Food Dilemma

I know I am not the only mom out there who loathes feeding her kids fast food.  I’ve become a bit of a hardliner on the issue.  Over the years I have learned too much — working in the organic food industry; watching powerful documentaries like “Supersize Me” and “Food, Inc.”; and becoming personally engaged in an ongoing effort to improve what my family is eating and how we approach food in our home.

But when we aren’t at home, then what?  Clearly, most restaurants aren’t preparing organic food, and I’m ok with that for the amount that we eat out.  But I can’t bring myself to be “ok” with fast food.  And the kicker is that we can’t shake relaying on these purveyors of “food” — the hubby isn’t nearly as hard core as I on the subject, and the kids, well the kids are just not yet disgusted by it all.  (When can I let them watch those documentaries, that is another topic to discuss!)  And then we have the darned food allergy in the family which in a sick way sends us to fast food for the “known” quality that those places provide when we are far from home or our stash of safe food is gone while we’re on the road.

And then there are the times when the kids get to pick, like their birthdays.  I think we’d have a revolt in the house if I excluded fast food from the allowable options.  And part of me thinks that giving fast food an “untouchable” designation might just drive the kids to it more.  Everything I’ve learned about raising healthy eaters, much from the writing of Ellyn Satter, talks about the division of responsibility.  Parents buy and prepare food; kids decide if they will eat and how much.  Its around school age that kids start to get a role in deciding what to eat (in the Satter model) and here we are, my kids are deciding, for the bday dinner, to go to McDonald’s.

Did I eat at McDonald’s as kid?  Yes!  (And when my future 17 year old asks if I ever drank while in high school, I will have to answer that one honestly too won’t I?)  I ate at McDonald’s, Taco Bell (my personal favorite fast food) and every pizza establishment possible.  But I didn’t know better, did I?

So tonight, while I was secretly trying to persuade my 7 year old that we should celebrate his birthday at Chevy’s, where I could get a margarita, or at least trying to encourage the selection of a non-fast food restaurant for the birthday celebration tonight, I started to feel bad.  I don’t want me son to carry the weight of the “badness” of fast food with him on his special night, and he really thinks that the cheeseburger he can get there is the best cheeseburger in town.

I told my hubby that I won’t eat there; will wait till we are home.  He thinks I won’t be able to overcome the powers and will succumb to eating there as well.  I have a little heartburn just thinking about it.

So, moms and dads and know-it-all outside observers, what do you do when faced with this kind of dilemma?

My newly minted 7 year old has been reading this over my shoulder, inquiring “why did you eat McDonald’s as a kid?” and “What does ‘loathes’ mean?”  He just said “we will go there!” (followed by “don’t mom, delete that!”) — so I guess my sharing my real feelings on the matter aren’t enough to influence him right now.