The Process of Eating Less Processed

Weaning My Family Off of Processed Foods – While Sneaking in Some Hidden Fruits and Veggies


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Can We Trust Food Labels?


You’re at the grocery store, surrounded by options for what to buy for your family. To help make the best choice, you look at the packaging, more specifically, at the labels and the words on those labels to decide what is or isn’t healthy. Makes sense right? Except that these labels can be incredibly misleading.

I’ve written before about the seemingly contradictory “100% juice – with added ingredients“. There’s also the ubiquitous use of “natural” and “healthy”, that are used almost entirely for marketing purposes and are pretty much meaningless when it comes to making an informed decision.

Food LabelsFood labeling has recently been in the news as Kraft Foods was allowed to put The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ “Kids Eat Right” label on their American cheese singles. You know… the little pieces of “cheese” wrapped with two pieces of cellophane… You’ve got to give credit to the marketing folks at Kraft for this one. For many people, seeing that logo on the cheese is like getting an endorsement that it’s healthy for your kids. The problem though, is that the Academy wasn’t actually endorsing the product, they were allowing Kraft to use the label after Kraft agreed to pay for scholarships and public education campaigns. So it wasn’t that the cheese is healthier than other alternatives, it’s that Kraft paid to use the logo, and unfortunately, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics let them. Fortunately, the backlash has been swift and it is reported that Kraft won’t be using the logo for long.

The whole issue does bring up a bigger point though. How do we know what to choose when the labels can be so consistently misleading? I don’t have the best answer to this. In an ideal world, food companies wouldn’t be allowed to use misleading marketing practices. Given the huge amounts of money to be made, I doubt this is realistic though. Your best bet is to look beyond the flashy packaging. Turn the product over and look at the nutrition label. There are actually pretty strict rules for these. Look at the ingredients. Make an informed choice. Unfortunately, this can take a lot longer. But it’s the best for us in the long run.
Image courtesy Designed by Freepik

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30 Day Fruit and Veggie Challenge

946418_4788937597180_403803275_nHere we are, New Year’s Day (Happy New Year!) and like most of you, I’ve got my resolutions. Some of them are doable, some ridiculous and bound to fail, and some that will be hard but I really do want to make happen. One of the big, and most important ones is to really eat better and lose some weight. Because let’s face it… I turn 40 in a few short months and it’s not going to get any easier. I know… we all have that vague “I’m going to eat better” resolution, and in most cases it ends up failing – in large part because it is so vague.

Soooo… This year I’m getting more specific. I’m not going to just “eat better”, I’m going to eat more fruits and veggies. And, I’m not going to just “eat more fruits and veggies”, I’m going to eat at least 5 servings a day (combined). To help me do this, I’m putting together this challenge. And if anyone else wants to play along – GREAT!

Here’s how it works… and I want to make it relatively easy so that I can actually do it. For thirty days I’m going to get at least five servings, with either a fruit, veggie or both at each meal. I’m going to mark each day on the calendar.

Here are some of the ways in which I can get those servings in (and sadly wine doesn’t count as grapes…)

Breakfast smoothie – This one is a great one in that I can squeeze several servings in, including adding spinach and getting veggies in the morning.

Salads – Yeah, I know… obviously salads are veggies. But I can go beyond just lettuce adding in apples, orange slices, dried berries and of course lots of fresh veggies.

Frozen fruits and veggies – Don’t underestimate the advantage of this one. Many fruits and veggies are just as healthy frozen as they are fresh – without the added prep time. Just try to stay away from the ones covered in cheese, butter or other unhealthy sauces

Pureed veggies – I add a wide variety of pureed veggies to all kinds of things like tacos and mac and cheese

Soups – Make up a big batch of veggie soup, then freeze it in little single serving bags. Just heat and serve for a serving or two of veggies.

Snacks – Whether it’s a whole piece of fruit or some carrot or celery sticks with hummus, this is a good place to get some extra produce in, and in the process cut back on unhealthy snacks.

Add-ins – Add some berries to your yogurt, add cut up banana to your bowl of cereal, mix steamed broccoli into your mac and cheese or pastas, or drop some blueberries or even shredded apple into your pancake or waffle batter. I like to take a serving of frozen berries, microwave them for a minute and then add to greek yogurt with a little bit of honey. Yummy.

Roasted with dinner – This one is a little more time consuming, but very tasty. At my house we roast a lot of broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and even brussels sprouts. My oldest boy loves his veggies this way as well.

Swap out some of your meat and carbs at meals for an extra serving of veggies. Double whammy of more veggies and less of the more fattening stuff.

What are you going to do to get your five (or more) servings in? Visit Less Process Family on Facebook and let me know how your challenge is going!


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Easy, Delicious and Homemade! French Onion Dip That is WAY Better Than Store Bought

Homemade French Onion Dip

Homemade French Onion Dip

My husband is a HUGE football fan. And a large part of the home football viewing experience has always involved snacks. Prior to our less processed lifestyle, these snacks involved a lot of velveeta, store bought dip and other very processed foods. Luckily, most of these things aren’t really very hard to replace with a healthier, less processed version. My latest success in less processed snacks is French Onion Dip. Store bought tubs of dip, while easy, are loaded with unnatural ingredients, and are often ridiculously salty. Also, if someone says they made onion dip, it probably involves a package of dried soup mix, which is also loaded with strange ingredients and is super salty.

My homemade French Onion dip, on the other hand, has very few ingredients, is super flavorful without being crazy salty, and is very EASY to make!

Homemade French Onion Dip

1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup fat free, plain greek yogurt
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp white or black ground pepper

Add onions and olive oil to saute pan and cook on medium heat until onions are mushy and carmelized (15-20 minutes). Mix onions with the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate for at least an hour (the longer you refrigerate it, the better it gets).

And that’s it! You can adjust the salt and pepper for your taste. I like to serve this with kettle cut chips or pretzels, which are already salty on their own. If you serve it with veggies, you might want the dip to be a little bit saltier.


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Being Thankful for Healthy Food

This week we will all sit down with family or friends and completely overeat yummy food. Nutrition for the most part be damned! In the middle of all this gluttony, it is important to take time to focus on the reason for this feast, and focus on what we are thankful for. One thing I am grateful for is the ability to feed my family healthy food.

Insert sound of record scratching…

Okay… forgive me for a bit of laziness. I was going to write a post on being thankful this Thanksgiving for being able to give my family healthy food. But then I remembered that I did one last year. And I think it still pretty much applies… so here it is again – a reminder to be thankful for the privilege that allows us to feed our families healthy, less processed food:

I subscribe to a number of blogs on healthy eating (real food, less processed food, anti-GMO, etc). Lately I’ve noticed that some of the blogs (either the authors or those commenting on them) are increasingly becoming antagonistic in their insistence that everyone adopt a healthier, less processed lifestyle – with little understanding of how this doesn’t actually work for everyone. One aspect of this that specifically bothers me is that so many people who are fortunate enough to be able to eat healthy foods, don’t recognize what a privilege it is – and how thankful they should be for that privilege. The attitude is very much one of “If you make it a priority, you can do it. And if you don’t prioritize it, clearly you don’t love you family enough…” or at least that’s how it can come off.

There are a number of elements that have to fall into place in order to live a less processed lifestyle, and a large number of reasons this doesn’t work for everyone. These can be broken down into money, time and availability.

Money… It has been widely written about that the least healthy, most highly processed foods are also generally the cheapest, which is a large part of why obesity levels are highest among those with the lowest incomes. At the Aldi I shop at, a generic box of macaroni and cheese costs 33 cents or so, a bag of mystery meat hotdogs costs 80 cents, a loaf of highly processed bread also costs under a dollar. In contrast, conventional meat costs several dollars a pound. Fruits and vegetables as well are more expensive than the processed foods. Quality whole grain bread is more than twice the price of the cheap stuff. And this is only getting into the conventionally grown meat, produce and grains. You try to substitute organic and you’re talking many times more than what a large chunk of people can afford.

When this is pointed out to some food bloggers and those who comment on their sites, the response is that it can be less expensive to make more food from scratch at home. This is true. However… for many people time is just as much of a commodity as money. I am lucky enough that we can afford to mostly live on one income and I can stay home with our kids. While I am still busy, I can make the time to bake my own bread, cook up a batch of dried beans, make and freeze homemade pasta sauce and fish sticks, etc. For many families, mom, dad or both are working multiple jobs just to pay basic living expenses. Many families deal with the time required to care for a special needs child or an aging relative. Many working families have to drive large distances to and from work in order to make a decent living, and just don’t have the time to make all food from scratch. Their busy lives aren’t a result of not prioritizing. They are a reality of economic survival.

Then there is the reality of availability. I live in an affluent suburb of Chicago. Nearby is a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Marianos Fresh Market and soon to be another healthy food focused grocery store. In addition, there are a half-dozen Aldis as well as numerous traditional grocery stores both large and small… all within about 3 miles of my house. I also am fortunate to have a reliable car and money to buy gas to make it to any of these stores. In addition, I can have organic produce and meat delivered from a number of sources with varying prices. For many people who live in other areas, there is not this type of availability to healthy food options. In addition to actual food deserts where people in urban areas don’t have access to much more than a convenience store, there are other areas where there may only be one small grocery store – that doesn’t sell organic much of anything. And if they do it’s unreasonably expensive.

There is a need for a very real conversation about how to make healthy food more economically and logistically available for everyone. And it shouldn’t be the case that only those with the resources are privileged enough to choose to live a less processed, healthier lifestyle. The norm shouldn’t be GMO laden, overly processed foods that have lost much of their nutritional value in favor of profits for the monolithic companies who produce our food. But for now that is the reality. And I think those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to choose otherwise should be sure to be grateful for that opportunity – to recognize it as the privilege that it is, and stop being so judgemental of those who for varying reasons cannot make that same choice. I know that I am extremely lucky! And I need to be sure that I remember that.


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Five Easy Less Processed Lunches – No Bento Boxes or Food Sculpting Required

Vintage Lunch BoxesAhh lunch time. I’m sure many of us have seen the photos of wildly creative and time consuming lunches that the pinterest age has blessed us with. If you haven’t, imagine a little box with food shaped like your kids’ favorite movie characters, all laid out in individual wonderfully tidy lunch boxes. They’re honestly pretty crazy. These are not the lunches of our childhood. As a kid I remember many a meal of Campbells chicken noodle soup or boxed macaroni and cheese, along with the usual peanut butter and jelly. For the kids who brought lunches to school, there was a whole lot of bologna sandwiches with little prepacked bags of chips and if you were lucky a twinky. Prior to feeding my family fewer processed foods, lunch for my kids was often similarly made up of mac and cheese, cut up hotdogs, canned soup or sandwiches.

Aside from the boredom of eating these things over and over is of course the very processed quality of these lunches. I suppose I could always spend a bunch of time cooking up a wholesome homecooked lunch – but honestly I don’t have the time, or desire. So here are some of my go to less processed lunch options. Some work best while at home and some work great to send with my son to school.

Cheese Tacos – My kids love these and they’re ridiculously easy. Take a less processed tortilla (either make your own to freeze or Trader Joes has some good ones), add shredded cheese and microwave. I will also send these wrapped in foil in my oldest son’s lunch box. Add some carrots and apples, and it’s a decent and easy lunch.

Pasta with sauce – It occurred to me awhile back that if I was boiling water and making macaroni, there was no reason I couldn’t boil water to make other pasta. Cook up some noodles and add some less processed sauce (either a jarred variety without a bunch of fillers and strange ingredients, or if you make your own sauce, freeze extras). You can even heat the sauce in the pan you used to cook the pasta while said pasta drains.

Homemade “lunchables” – We call these cracker sandwiches and my kids love them. Grab some whole wheat crackers, some uncured lunch meat and pieces of cheese. Super fast and super easy. This also works great for an impromptu picnic. You don’t have to make anything before you go – just remember to bring something to cut the cheese.

Scrambled eggs – Who says eggs have to be a breakfast food. I will make scrambled eggs with some shredded cheese for my two youngest boys’ lunch, and they will eat them up before I can even make my own plate. For me this works especially well on a school day since my oldest boy doesn’t like eggs.

Leftovers – Make a little extra of whatever you ate the night before, and use it up for lunches. I do this a lot for my oldest. He has a small thermos and I will reheat the food in the morning then send it with him to school. He actually gets excited when we have something that he can take to lunch the next day.

What are your go to lunches?


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On and Off the Wagon – Getting Back to Being Less Processed

dreamstimefree_165622When I was in junior high, I kept a diary. I found it awhile back (it’s hilarious to reread now BTW). Other than the incredible drama of being a young teenager, one of the funny things I found in the diary was an entry where I hadn’t written for awhile, then when I started up again I apparently felt the need to explain to the diary why I hadn’t written. I had to catch up on everything that happened since the last entry. I think without the catch up, even my junior high self felt like it didn’t read like a complete story.

Now adult me finds myself having not posted to my blog in months. I debated getting right back into it with a post on 5 easy less processed lunches (will do that for the next post, so stay tuned) but then felt that same strong urge to fill in the story. And the story goes pretty much like this. I got lazy.

While my family is still eating fewer processed foods than we used to, and probably than a lot of people do, we’ve been eating more than we should. I’ve tried to at least do “better” processed versions for a lot of things (organic mac and cheese without artificial colors for example). But truth be told, my boys have had too many frozen pizzas and drive thru stops in the last couple months. I could make up all kinds of excuses about how we moved to a new house, I’ve been busy with blah blah blah. But the reality is just that I burnt out. I tried to go too extreme with the less processed and burnt out. But here’s the beauty of hawking a less processed lifestyle versus a completely unprocessed one… It’s okay. I’m going to be better at it, and realize that there will be processed food to some extent in the future. I will probably have those lazy days again (although here’s hoping it’s not lazy months). In the meantime, we’re back on the wagon. So watch out family… there is more experimentation and “weird” food coming your way!


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Don’t throw that produce away! Five tricks to save your produce when you can’t use it before it goes bad

Save your produceI’ll admit it. I used to waste a lot of produce. I’d have all kinds of good intentions and go nuts on produce at the grocery store, and then that week would get busy so the dinners I’d planned to make with that produce wouldn’t work out for that week, or our sucky fridge would hide the good stuff out of site and thus out of mind, or the produce CSA would bring things that I just couldn’t use right away. Or to be honest, sometimes I just let my fruit and veggie eyes get better than my family’s belly. Sadly, I’m not alone in this. In fact, it is estimated that most American households waste up to 25% of the food and beverages they buy! (For a truly shocking look at how much we waste check out this report)

As I’ve been making more homemade food and sneaking more fruits and veggies into my family’s diet, I have luckily came upon a few tricks to help keep that produce rather than throwing it away. Here are my top five:

Puree and Freeze
This one has been a life saver, both for the about to be thrown out produce and for the time to prepare meals down the road. I will spend a little bit of time with the food processor and puree veggies in batches if ziplock bags for sneaking into meals later. The key to this method in order to make the produce easy to use later on is to freeze it in a thin flat layer in your ziplock bag. This way after it’s frozen, you can just break off a chunk of it to use later if you don’t need to whole batch. If you do have to add water for pureeing, try to limit it as the more water you add, the harder it is to break the frozen puree apart. These are the ones I’ve found best – but I’m sure you can do this with most any vegetable that you have on hand.

Cauliflower: Steam (or microwave) the cauliflower until it’s tender, then puree and store. It can be added to macaroni and cheese, most ground meat based dishes, pasta sauce and a wide variety of dishes down the road.
Carrots, Zuchini, Peppers, Onions – wash and peel if necessary, then puree and freeze. I personally mix peppers and onions in one bag and zucchini and carrots in another. These can then be added to most dishes depending on whether or not you want the extra flavor of the peppers and onions.
Spinach, kale or other greens – Puree washed greens and freeze. You may have to add a little water. This can be added to cooked dishes or my favorite use, smoothies. Break off a chunk of your pureed frozen spinach and add with your fruits, yogurt and other smoothie ingredients. Your kids get some veggies and don’t even realize it!
Bananas – If your bananas are going bad and you don’t have the time to mix up a batch of banana bread, you can cut them up and freeze them. The cut up banana pieces can then be used later for baked goods or smoothies.

Chop and Freeze
This is a good way to save vegetables and some fruits for use later when you don’t need that fresh texture. Simply chop or slice your produce and freeze it in ziplock bags. I’ve had good luck doing this with onions, celery and peppers. The onions and the celery lose their crispness, but if you used them in something cooked you won’t notice. This also helps to save time later on when you are cooking a pot of soup or other dish and don’t have to chop your veggies.

Sautee or Blanche and Freeze
Some foods don’t freeze so well raw and can use a little bit of cooking prior to freezing. Mushrooms, for example get very mushy and gross when frozen raw. However, if you saute them quickly in some olive oil, the sauteed mushrooms freeze very well and then can be added back in to dishes like pasta, stroganoff or stir fries later when you need them. Cabbage is one you could freeze raw, but I’ve had better luck blanching it. Drop your cut cabbage into boiling water for a minute or so, then put immediately into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and freeze. The frozen cabbage is great for use in cooked dishes later (stir fry, soup, etc.)

Juice
Juicing is notorious for how much produce it takes to make a little glass of juice. That said, it can be a good way to use up some produce that you won’t otherwise have time to cook. Spinach, kale and other greens, most fruits, cucumbers and many other varieties of produce can go into a yummy juice. If you make a lot of juice, you can also freeze this for use later.

Soup
You’d be surprised how many different vegetables you can put into a batch of vegetable soup. If you’ve got leftover veggies, consider chopping and cooking them in a yummy broth, then freeze the resulting soup for use as an easy lunch or first course later.

How do you keep from wasting your produce?