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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Did I go too far… My children start to push back on the less processed lifestyle

When I started the journey to making my family less processed, I made the decision to go ahead and also add in extra nutrition wherever possible. So as I make sauces I add in extra pureed vegetables, most things that might have been fried before are now baked and any baked good is made with whole wheat flour. My thinking was that if I was already getting the kids used to a different taste and texture for their food, I might as well make these switches at the same time.

For the most part, this has been successful. Nobody scoffs at the whole wheat pizza crust. The veggies in the sauces are completely unnoticed. Where it has gone less well is in my attempts at chicken nuggets (still haven’t nailed this one) and the swap to whole wheat hamburger and hotdog buns as well as whole wheat pancakes. Or more accurately, these haven’t gone over well with one of the 3 kids. Just because nothing can be simple there has been pushback on the healthier options from my oldest, who has actually been the best about most of the other switches.

He refuses to eat the whole wheat pancakes, which are totally yummy, even though his younger brothers will eat multiple helpings (I think it’s partly because he doesn’t eat syrup on his pancakes, so maybe the wheat ones are drier for him). He’s also complained about the wheat buns and is very very picky about how crispy the outside of once fried things but now baked things like chicken nuggets and fish sticks are.

When I started this, it was completely with the understanding that I wasn’t going to be too hardcore about it, so I’m going to use that thinking for this problem. I think I’m going to have to step back just a bit on this one. Next attempt at fish sticks or chicken nuggets, I’m going to try flash frying them to get them crispier and I’m going to use a little smaller amount of the whole wheat flour in the pancakes and waffles (maybe 3/4 whole grain 1/4 unbleached white) to get him more gradually used to it.

Hopefully this will help to keep moving forward without my usually on-board buddy staying on-board.

Has anyone else tried making big changes in their family’s diet and gotten pushed back?


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Spreadable Butter – Skip the Margarine

Remember when we used to be told that butter was bad what with all the saturated fat, and that we should instead use margarine? Then it was avoid margarine because of the trans fat. Now many margarines are advertised as not containing trans fats (although there are tricky labeling laws that allow them to say they have no trans fat as long as it’s under a certain amount, so no trans fat doesn’t actually have to mean no trans fat). And let’s face it, even without the transfat, margarine is made of a whole big scary list of unpronouncable ingredients.

I’ve actually been using real butter rather than margarine for most uses a long time now. It ends up costing a little more, but is tastier, and even before the push to be less processed, I recognized this stuff was far too fake to be good for you. The exception for butter though was that we usually kept a small tub of margarine around to use for spreadable purposes – pancakes, toast, grilled sandwiches. We didn’t use a lot of it (maybe a small tub every six months) but it was still there.

Now that I’m really focusing on getting rid of unnatural processed foods, I wanted to get rid of this little tub. The most obvious option would probably be to just get a stick of butter out a bit before needing it so it could soften up a bit, or do as many people do and leave a stick out in a butter dish. I don’t really like the idea of leaving the butter out, and I never think far enough ahead to take it out of the fridge early. I suppose I could play around with the microwave and see if there’s some magic time to heat it up where it gets soft but doesn’t turn to melted butter, but any attempts at this have had mixed results.

Land-o-Lakes makes a spreadable butter product that is actually pretty tasty – it has 3 ingredients, cream, canola oil and salt. I could probably be okay with this since at least they’re all recognizable ingredients. It’s a little pricey though, and since I do the bulk of my shopping at Aldi – I would need to make a special trip to the big grocery store to get it. So my solution is homemade spreadable butter.

I mix equal amounts softened butter and canola or olive oil (needs to be a mild olive oil so you don’t taste the oliveyness) and salt to taste. Then I use my hand mixer and whip it up until it’s nice and fluffy, and refrigerate it. Note of warning, use a big bowl since the oil will splash (I ruined a favorite shirt by using a bowl too small and getting all these little oil spots all over myself). And there you have tasty , minimally processed spreadable butter, for a fraction of the cost of the commercially available product and i can completely control the salt content as well as keep track of what oil I’m using (eventually I’m going to switch out my canola oil for a non-gmo, cold pressed variety – just have to use up the big bottle of the conventional stuff I still have).


Homemade Cheez-Its

One of the problems I’ve had in doing the less processed things is that I haven’t had a good replacement for the ubiquitous gold fish crackers. The kids love these, and honestly, I like what an easy snack they are. For things like camp, school and preschool where the boys need to bring a snack and I haven’t prepared (shocking I know…) they’re far too easy to throw into the little baggie and go. But even the more “natural” and healthy varieties are loaded with sodium and preservatives or un-pronouncable ingredients.

So I was excited when I found a bunch of recipes online for homemade cheese crackers. There were a ton of different variations, but the basic ingredients for all of them were cheese, flour, and butter (which means these are not diet friendly – just less processed). There is also a wide variety of ways in which these were prepared. One site even had instructions for how to make your own mini cookie cutters using an aluminum can. While I applaud this mom, I’m not that ambitious, so my kids are stuck with the relatively easy to make cheez-it or square variety.

Cobbling some of these together and using whole wheat flour, here is what I used for homemade cheez-its…

8 oz block of extra sharp cheddar cheese (you can also use 2 cups of shredded cheese)
1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour (can also use whole wheat white flour or unbleached flour if you prefer)
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 stick cold butter (cut into small pieces)
2 TB cold water

Break the cheese into a few big chunks and place in food processor. Pulse until cheese is in small crumbles (or add shredded cheese to processor). Add flour and spices and pulse until well blended. Then add butter and process until you get a grainy almost dough consistency. Then add the water and process until you have a good dough (just a few seconds). Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 min-1 hour).

Roll chilled dough out using a little flour to keep from sticking to 1/8 inch (the thinner you roll it the crispier the crackers) and using a pizza cutter cut into squares (notice my very not perfect squares). Then use a skewer to poke a hole in the center of each cracker. If you want a little saltier cracker, you can sprinkle some kosher salt onto the unbaked crackers.

Place on a cookie sheet about a half inch apart and bake for 10-12 minutes until just starting to brown. These will get cripsier as they cool, so don’t over bake them. Once cool, store them in an air tight container.

My kids like these and I’ve gotta say they are pretty tasty (again not diet friendly though). They are not particularly salty – especially when compared to the commercial variety. So if you prefer a saltier cracker you can add an additional 1/2 tsp of salt.

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Interesting Math… 100% juice with added ingredients…

Even before beginning this whole less processed thing, I used to laugh at the labels on juice that would say “100% juice” and then in small print say “with added ingredients”. I mean, call me silly, but isn’t 100% supposed to be… you know… 100% of something. Wouldn’t adding other ingredients to that 100% make it more than 100%?

Turns out that with processed foods… 100% is almost never actually 100%. A quick little bit of research and I actually tracked down the FDA’s rule on this one, and here it is:

“If the beverage contains 100 percent juice and also contains non-juice ingredients that do not result in a diminution of the juice soluble solids or, in the case of expressed juice, in a change in the volume, when the 100 percent juice declaration appears on a panel of the label that does not also bear the ingredient statement, it must be accompanied by the phrase “with added ___,” the blank filled in with a term such as “ingredient(s),” “preservative,” or “sweetener,” as appropriate (e.g., “100% juice with added sweetener”), except that when the presence of the non-juice ingredient(s) is declared as a part of the statement of identity of the product, this phrase need not accompany the 100 percent juice declaration.”

So… you know that totally clears it up… right? Reading a little further in the regulations and it turns out that the 100% juice label just means that whatever juice is in it needs to be directly expelled from a fruit or vegetable or contain a certain amount of soluble solids. There is even this completely gobblety gook table with numbers that would only make sense to a mad food scientist of what could equal 100% juice.

Basically, the lesson is, if you’re drinking juice, do not rely on a heading of 100% juice. Read the actual ingredients or you could very well be drinking sweeteners, artificial colors or who knows what.

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Using fetal cells to develop natural and artifical flavors

This particular post gets a disclaimer. I debated about actually posting it, but decided this particular processed food issue is too crazy to just not mention. So here’s the disclaimer. This post is not in any way intented to be political. Please do not make it political. I am looking at this issue purely from a strange things done to food perspective and if anyone feels the need to post political comments on it, I won’t approve them for posting. Please don’t take offense at this… but this is a blog about our food.

Sooo… deep breath. Here goes… I recently read about a company that makes food additives – flavorings to be exact. And the process they use to do this involves using fetal stem cells. From a purely scientific standpoint, it’s an interesting process. From a why on earth would we need this much science for our food standpoint, it’s alarming. I am not a scientist (liberal arts major actually) so please forgive the very basic understanding of this process, but basically they use kidney cells and can tell how these cells react to various flavorings to see if they are sweet, sour, etc. This saves them the time and expense of using an actual human being to perform initial tests. The cells aren’t actually part of the flavorings, so it’s not quite a Soilent Green situation, but there’s absolutely nothing natural about it. Below is a synopsis of the story and link to a site that discusses it. I particularly like the last line of the synopsis “Flavor enhancers do not need to be listed on food labels, falling instead under the generic category of artificial and/or natural flavors.” All the more reason to avoid products with the vaguely named artifical flavor, or actually even natural flavor…

Here’s a synopsis of the story and link to a site that discusses it.
“The biotech company Senomyx creates novel flavor enhancing compounds for the processed food industry in order to make foods and beverages that taste good while reducing sugar and salt content. Customers include Pepsi Co., Ajinomoto Co. (the maker of aspartame and meat glue), Nestlé and others.

The genetically engineered flavor enhancers work by triggering taste receptors on your tongue, effectively tricking your taste buds into sensing sweetness, saltiness, or “coolness”
Senomyx has created a taste testing system that provides scientists with biochemical responses and electronic readouts when a flavor ingredient interacts with their patented receptor, letting them know whether or not they’ve “hit the mark” in terms of flavor. This process uses human kidney cells originating from an electively aborted human fetus.

These fetal kidney cells (HEK293) have been cloned for decades, as they offer a reliable way to produce new proteins using genetic engineering. Senomyx has engineered HEK293 cells to function like human taste receptor cells.

Flavor enhancers do not need to be listed on food labels, falling instead under the generic category of artificial and/or natural flavors.”


Not quite my grandma’s kitchen. All the stuff I ended up needing to eat less processed

A few years ago I went through my kitchen and did a major decluttering that resulted in giving a whole bunch of rarely used, bulky kitchen appliances to the Salvation Army or friends… You know, things like a breadmaker, food dehydrator, waffle maker, etc. Once I really started getting into the less processed thing a couple months ago, I ironically found myself at the local charity store repurchasing several of these things. Since starting on this journey, I’ve gotten a breadmaker, juicer, waffle iron, popcorn air popper and dehydrator. I also got a sweet deal on a chest freezer on Craigslist. This one has been pretty crucial. Since I still need to have convenient meals to feed my family, I end up freezing a lot of things like sauces and ready made meals and definitely needed the extra space. In addition, the food processor that I used to use maybe once every couple months has been used almost daily (since in order to eat less processed food I’m now the one quite literally processing my food). This one I found particularly humorous (not ha ha funny, but funny nonetheless).

I’m not saying that everyone who decides to venture into a less processed diet for their family would need all these bulky appliances. I know our grandmothers made due with considerably less. But for me these are helping quite a bit. And luckily for the pocket book I was able to find so much of it used (probably because everyday someone like my prior self goes through their kitchen and says, “I never really use this” and ships it off to the donation center.

My most valued appliances:
Freezer – Prior to getting the chest freezer we only had the plain old freezer above our fridge which was almost always full and hard to find things in. And that was before I started needing to freeze cheese, pizza and marinara sauce, homemade waffles, chicken nuggets, etc.

Food processor – I use this to puree veggies to hide in our food, shred cheese, make dips and sauces and make one ingredient banana ice cream.

Breadmaker – I mostly use this one for making pizza dough so far. But in the coming weeks I’m going to try making some actual bread with it (most commercially available bread is stock full of nasty unnatural stuff, or is quite expensive if it’s not). And my six year old wants to try making hamburger buns.

Crock pot – I started using this one a bit before even trying the less processed thing. Now I appreciate its ability to make meals more convenient even more.

Waffle maker – Pretty self explanatory, I make waffles with this. My boys used to eat a lot of freezer waffles, so this seemed like an obvious place for me to swap out some of our processed foods.

Dehydrator – I’ve yet to master a good fruit snack recipe, but I did come up with a pretty good one for fruit rolls and have used this a few times. I’m also planning on trying to dehydrate some plain old pieces of fruit.


My new favorite vegetable… or is it a fruit…

Way back when I was in high school, I was the props mistress for a one act play Of Widows and Vegetables. I have absolutely no recollection of what the play was about (it was – gasp – over 20 years ago), but I do remember spending a fair amount of time creating an oversized stuffed zucchini (because large phallic vegetables are funny for all ages).

Since I’ve started the less processed thing, zucchini has become a different sort of focus as it’s become a go-to ingredient in my processed food replacements and in hiding extra nutrition in the kids’ food. I guess technically, zucchini is a fruit rather than a vegetable (that whole it’s got seeds thing) but I’m going to count it as a veggie. I know many people who aren’t big fans of zucchini – probably because if it’s overcooked on its own, it can become mushy and fairly unappetizing. But this very tendency to get mushy (along with a pretty neutral flavor) is what’s making it so versatile for my purposes. Once cooked, peeled and pureed zucchini has virtually no texture, little flavor and no color. Leaving the peel on adds a negligible amount of texture and color.

So far this week, I have put pureed zucchini into pasta sauce, sloppy joes, tacos and fruit roll ups (will post about these later). And the boys, who won’t eat zucchini when I cook it on its own, are none the wiser. There was the moment when I was making the fruit roll ups and my six year old saw the peels in the garbage can. I was able to get out of this one though because he asked “Did you put that cucumber in the fruit snacks?”. Since a zucchini is not a cucumber, i was able to say no without technically lying (don’t judge me).