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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Would you like wood pulp with that? An easy less processed swap

One of the things our family eats a lot of is cheese. The boys love cheese tacos – essentially tortillas microwaved with some cheese, cheese on our scrambled eggs, cheese for tacos, pizza, you name it, we can probably put cheese on it. So one of the things I wanted to change when trying to be less processed was our cheese. I’ve bought the preshredded stuff for quite awhile, thinking it was easy, and then not really thinking anything else about it. But then I looked at the ingredients in a bag of shredded cheese. On top of your usual cheese ingredients was celluose (an anti-caking agent) as well as something simply called a “mold inhibitor”. Completely pushing aside whatever the anti-fungal ingredient is… let’s focus for a second on the celluose (which is actually in a lot of processed foods). Doing a little research, it seems that this is actually wood pulp. Mmmm… nothing like saw dust to make your food taste good.

Of course, you can read that this is perfectly safe for human consumption (I even read one article that quoted someone on how it actually adds a little extra fiber to your diet). But my gut tells me, we are not beavers. If they are feeding us wood pulp, some kind of crazy processing (chemical or otherwise) would have to have taken place to the wood pulp to make it so we can eat it. Not to mention, wood pulp just doesn’t sound good.

So I’ve been shredding our cheese. Once a week or so, I pull out the food processor and quickly shred a block of cheese. Really quite simple, and the boys fight over who gets to push the button on the processor or push the little plunger thing down. I put the shredded cheese in a ziplock bag and we’ve got shredded cheese without wood pulp. This does clump up and you have to – horror – use your fingers to separate it a bit when you sprinkle it on your food. But it actually tastes better than the preshredded stuff, takes less of it to get the cheese taste you want, and it melts better.



Success at last! My replacement for boxed mac and cheese

I don’t know how long mac and cheese has been a kid staple, but I do know it it’s been a long time since it’s actually one of the first things I remember learning to “cook” back when I was a kid. I usually only feed it to my boys once a week, but they would probably eat it everyday if I let them, so it seemed like an obvious place to try to make a less processed improvement. And I’m happy to report that on attempt #2, I had an actual success that all 3 boys like.

So here it is… I made a relatively simple cheese sauce by melting 1/2 cup butter, then adding 1/2 cup flour. Cooking for a couple minutes to cook out the flour flavor and then whisking in about 3 cups of milk (sorry, I forgot to precisely measure – so it might have been a little more milk. If it ends up too thick, add more milk). Once this thickened, I added 8 oz of shredded sharp cheddar, a little bit of onion powder, salt to taste (I discovered you want to actually make this a little saltier than you would like since the salt is mellowed out quite a bit once you add it to the starchy macaroni), 1.5 cups of steamed cauliflower florets pureed down to a babyfood like mush, and pepper. Once it was all melty and yummy, you add about a cup of sauce to a cooked 13 oz box of pasta of your choice.

Of course, since very few of us actually think we’re feeding macaroni and cheese to our kids for the nutrition, and in reality it’s all about the convenience, here is the best part of this recipe. The left over sauce can be put into 3 ziplock bags and frozen. Next time I want to give them macaroni and cheese, I just cook the pasta like I would with with blue boxes of mac and cheese. Then while the noodles are draining in the collander, I leave the burner on, take out the little bag of cheese sauce, cut it open and plop my cheesecicle into the hot pan with a splash of milk. Stir this until it’s mostly melted, add the pasta back in (adding more milk if it gets too thick) and voila. Mac and cheese that takes not much longer than the boxed stuff, but is vastly better for my kids.

This was my basic sauce for attempt one and two. The reason I needed an attempt number 2 comes down to my 4 year old. After the first try my oldest and youngest were eating multiple helpings, but the 4 year old… well he had his issues, mainly around color and pepper. I used fresh cracked black pepper to season the sauce for attempt #1, and he ended up with a bite with a bit of the pepper and pretty much freaked out. Spitting, rubbing his tongue, being very dramatic. You’d think he just got a bit of habenero. So for the 3 remaining bags of sauce, he wouldn’t eat it because he was afraid of the pepper. If he even saw a small bit of black, he’d freak again and not eat it. He also had an issue with the fact that it wasn’t yellow.

To fix these things for attempt #2, I used ground white pepper (most of the flavor, none of the telltale black spots) and added about 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (for a little bit of color). The result is that all 3 boys will gladly eat this. And there will usually be enough for me to also eat lunch, and we may still have leftovers.

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Aren’t those supposed to be round? The Expectation of Perfect Food

Yesterday I made homemade frozen pizzas (more on this in a few days once we reheat them) and when I showed my husband a photo of my plastic wrapped rustic pizza he joked “Aren’t those supposed to be round?” Which brings up an interesting point with processed v. unprocessed food…

Our diets of highly processed foods have completely changed our expectations of what food should look like. Factory made food is always exactly the same shape, same consistency, same color, etc. It’s designed that way. If my kids do get the rare misshapen chip or cracker they will laugh about it, make sure to show it to whomever is nearby, and if I’m lucky maybe be willing to eat it despite it’s abnormality – usually after a fair amount of coaxing and explaining that it’s fine, just a different shape.

So as we try to eat fewer processed foods, our expectations of what our food should look like are way off. For example, as I continue my quest for a good chicken nugget replacement (we’re now on attempt #4), one of the issues I’m facing other than taste and texture is actually shape and consistency. The kids expect them to all be the same homogeneous little lumps of chicken. Instead they’re all slightly different. I could probably figure out a way to use some sort of mold or cookie cutter to fix this, but honestly I think we need to get used to imperfect food. (Of course, if I keep striking out on the chicken nuggets, I may change my tune…)

What do you think? Do we expect our food to be too consistent?

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Doomed if We Do. Doomed If We Don’t. Is there anything that isn’t bad for us?

As I’ve been trying to do a bit better at not feeding my family processed foods, I’ve been doing a lot of reading online to try to find recipes as well as suggestions. The internet or “magic box” is a wonderful thing for research, but you can easily get caught up in too much information. There are tons of blogs, scientific articles and magazine fluff pieces on what is or isn’t healthy, what we should never eat, what we should always eat, etc. And honestly, if you read all of it you can easily be left with the impression that there is nothing you can do. We are indeed screwed. Doomed as it were to live shorter lifespans loaded down with unhealthy foods and drinks.

This is one of the reasons why I decided from the get go that I wasn’t going to be militant with this. Other reasons are that it could easily get ridiculously expensive or take far more time than I have. Also, I’m notoriously good at half assing things. So this whole process of being less processed will truly be aimed at being less processed. We will not be the models of clean living who avoid anything with a trace of badforyouness. But we will be better where I can.

In the meantime, here’s a funny look at how ridiculously hard it would be to actually follow all of the nutrition advice we are constantly bombarded with.


Homemade Fruit Snacks Attempt #1

Okay, I know it would be best to just have my kids eat fruit and avoid fruit snacks altogether. And in reality, fruit snacks are a sometimes treat rather than an everyday thing at our house. But in my quest to take out processed foods I found a few recipes for homemade fruit snacks and thought these might be not only a way to take out one more processed item but also sneak a little more real fruit into my kids’ diets. For my 4 year old and 6 year old, lack of fruit isn’t a big problem. They’ll gladly eat apple slices or even sliced up strawberries (with sugar, but still strawberries). For my nearly 2 year old though… he’ll eat apple sauce and bananas… and that’s it.

My first attempt at the fruit snacks went like this… the ingredients are simply fruit, juice, a little sugar or honey and 2 packs of gelatin (much better than the crazy list of ingredients in our box of motts fruit snacks). IMG_0779

I used a bag of frozen strawberries (I know these are on the dirty dozen and you should buy organic, but hey, I’m also on a budget and so these were normal old frozen strawberries).
I added these to a cup of orange juice and about a fourth cup of sugar and cooked them until they started to fall apart and get thick on the stove and then pureed them in the blender. The recipe I found for the fruit snacks mentioned that you have to make sure to continue stirring when adding the gelatin in order to not have lumps of gelatinous goo. So I thought I was being smart by just adding the gelatin in the blender as well.

You’re then supposed to pour it onto a jelly roll pan lined with foil and let them set in the fridge for several hours and then cut into little sqares or use little cookie cutters. The result was okay. I thought they were decent tasting, but definitely not the right texture. Also, they were a little too sweet and one dimensional.The older boys ate some of them, but only if I strongly suggested it, and the little guy just threw his onto the floor. So, this was attempt #1.

Next time I will change a few things. One – I will not add the gelatin in the blender. This ended up creating a frothy mixture that led to spongy snacks. I will also double the amount of gelatin to 4 packs to try to get a chewier consistency. To fix the flavor, I think I will swap some lemon juice in for some of the orange juice. Will also swap out the foil for wax paper for ease of finishing them. I will definitely try again though since if I can get these right, it would be fruit other than bananas that Max might actually eat.