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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Naked Juice – Really More Partially Clothed. Lawsuit Over “Natural” Label and Very Unnatural Ingredients

When I was in college I had a chemistry professor who was ranting about the overuse of the term “all natural” and was pointing out to us how there are plenty of things that are “natural” that are in fact not good for us. I believe arsenic was the example he used. Years later, I see “all natural” all the time on processed food and usually look at this with a large dose of skepticism.

Not everyone shares this skepticism though, and a recent lawsuit against Naked Juice revolving around the “all natural” claim reminds me just how not just unhealthy, but also not necessarily natural “all natural” can be.

Disclaimer… I don’t think I’ve ever actually purchased a Naked Juice drink (probably because I’m cheap). But I know a lot of people have, and have paid a premium price for the supposedly all natural and non-GMO juices and smoothies. They claim that “We only add the best, all-natural ingredients to our juice. Oh, and a label.” Turns out, they add a little more than that. They recently settled a lawsuit for $9 billion dollars over deceptive advertising and their “all natural” claims. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued they added Fibersol-2 (a soluble corn fiber used to increase the fiber content of foods) fructooligosaccarides (a fructose-based alternative sweetener and indigestible fiber) and inulin (a soluble fiber) and also contained genetically modified (GMO) soy as well as calcium pantothenate (synthetically produced from formaldehyde). While Pepsico (the parent company of Naked Juice) of course denies all wrongdoing, they don’t deny that they add these ingredients. Their statements denying wrongdoing revolve around the fact that there aren’t really any mandated standards for what falls under the term “all natural”, so they didn’t actually fall afoul of this. I would imagine that for most people though, these ingredients don’t really fall under what we think of when we hear “natural”. As for the non-GMO claim, looks like they don’t actually know if their ingredients are non-GMO and part of the settlement includes them hiring a testing firm to verify if there are GMO ingredients in their product.

I previously did a post on the interesting math of 100% juice plus added ingredients that brought up issues with food labels and how misleading they can be. The Naked Juice case brings up other food labeling issues and frustrations, and is a reminder of how closely you really have to look at those labels. Generally speaking, the big marketing phrases on the labels like 100% juice and all natural, are just that… marketing. You actually have to read the ingredients to get the real story. And this is incredibly frustrating as a consumer. And as a mom of 3 little boys who barely has time to quickly get through the grocery store before everyone melts down – I imagine my boys getting into all kinds of trouble while I try to pay close attention to reading the entire label.

Until there are real standards on the labeling of food, that don’t allow companies to mislead us with their marketing , there really isn’t much alternative though, other than trying to make what we can ourselves, and limit our processed food and drink intake.


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40,000 Pancakes an Hour – Fascinating to Watch – But Not Really Something I Want to Feed My Family

My six year old loves the show How It’s Made on the Science Channel. It’s this show where they play elevator type music while a narrator talks over images of factory workers and machinery making all sort of stuff. It’s actually a pretty interesting, and mesmerizing show. What does this have to do with eating less processed food, or pancakes?

I’ve seen several of these shows that feature various food products. One that was on recently was for Aunt Jemima frozen pancakes. After watching as the batter was made in a humongous vat with a variety of processed ingredients (like partially hydrogenated soybean oil (trans fat and GMO all in one), it was totally fascinating watching as a machine dropped perfect little dollops of pancake batter onto a conveyor belt/griddle. Plopped out in rows of 8 pancakes at break neck speed, the little circles cook for a couple of minutes and are then flipped by this totally cool multi head spatula thingy that perfectly flips all of them at the same time. The pancakes make their way along the conveyor into a blast freezer and are then packaged up and sent on their way to our freezers – at 40,000 pancakes an hour. While this was totally fascinating to watch, it didn’t really make me hungry for pancakes and served to remind me of how something so seemingly benign could be so completely unnatural and processed.

Even before our new less processed life, I very rarely bought the frozen pancakes (frozen waffles are a completely different story). But I did use the ready-made pancake mix. You know… the just add water stuff. I admit, the Aldi brand pancake mix makes some very yummy pancakes. But of course just like the factory made pancakes, the mix is full of artificial and processed ingredients. So I decided to make from scratch pancakes. My first try was made with 100% whole wheat, which was a hit with the youngest 2 boys, but the oldest didn’t like them at all. So I’ve compromised and am now using half whole wheat, half white flour.

Here is the recipe I’ve used that has been a hit. I make a big batch and then freeze the extras. If you do freeze them, it works best to freeze them laid out on a cookie sheet for an hour or so before putting them into bags so they don’t stick together. To heat them up, you can either microwave them for about 30 seconds a pancake or put them in the toaster. If you do use the toaster, there will be a crunchy crust on the outside.

Pancakes with Whole Wheat
1 cup white whole wheat flour (if your family is cool with all whole wheat, feel free to use 2 cups whole wheat flour and omit unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2TB sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 cup buttermilk (I use 2 1/8 cup 2% milk mixed with 1/8 cup white vinegar)
2 eggs
3 TB vegetable oil

Mix dry ingredients (fluff with a fork to add some air). In separate bowl mix wet ingredients, then add wet ingredients to dry and mix until combined (small lumps are okay). Drop by spoonful (about 1/8 cup per pancake) onto hot (375 degrees) griddle or frying pan (you can tell it’s hot enough when you drop a couple drops of water on the heated surface and it sizzles). Once you see little bubbles popping on the pancakes, flip them and cook until browned. Don’t flip them more than once as it will make them tough.

Personally, I love to use my electric griddle for pancakes. It’s a nice flat surface and keeps a nice even 375 degree. Plus the one I have has removable cooking surfaces so it’s easy to clean.

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Yummy Whole Wheat and Flax Banana Muffins – Buttery, Caramelly Goodness…

I love banana bread. My mom made it when I was growing up and I’ve been making it since I was a teenager. When I was a sophomore in college I lived in a rental house with 5 other people. Come finals time, it seemed we all procrastinated studying and the house ended up extra clean, and filled with banana bread. At one point I think there were nearly a dozen pans of varying sizes and shapes (picture the typical college house’s hodgepodge kitchen fare) filled with banana bread.

So, since even college kids can manage it, there obviously isn’t anything particularly revolutionary about turning your overripe bananas into muffins. But since I’m doing things a little differently now that we’re being less processed, I decided to make my already very good banana bread recipe into something a little healthier. The result was actually very yummy and doesn’t scream “healthy” or “whole grain”. The recipe uses brown sugar and butter, so you get a caramelly (probably not a real word, but it totally works) salty sweet banana bread that is just as yummy cold as is straight from the oven or warmed up. In fact, my youngest boys scarfed down 3 mini muffins for breakfast and would have had more had I let them.

So here it is… the recipe for my Whole Wheat and Flax Banana Muffins

Whole Wheat Banana Flax Muffins

4 TB butter, softened (I used regular salted butter)
1/4 cup applesauce
2 TB ground flax seed mixed with 6 TB water (or 2 eggs)
2 TB milk (I use 2%)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup mashed overripe bananas
1 2/3 cup white whole wheat flour (I use the Trader Joe’s brand)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Beat the butter, applesauce, flax and water (or eggs), milk and brown sugar with your mixer until it’s smooth, then add bananas and beat on high for 1-2 minutes. (I’ve found that beating it longer leads to less dense banana bread as it adds air into the mixture – since you’re using whole grain flour, this air really helps).

Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Use a fork to fluff these up a bit (again to add some more air). Then combine the dry ingredients into the wet and stir well. This batter works equally well for banana bread, muffins or mini muffins – all baked at 350. For muffins, use the little paper wrappers or grease your pan. Bread (in a bread pan) bakes for 55-60 minutes. In a cake pan, it would be more like 25 minutes. Regular size muffins are 15-20 minutes and mini muffins bake for 12-15. whatever you turn the batter into, you can tell it’s done when a toothpick comes out clean and you can see it starting to brown just a little bit around the edges.


Fruit Roll Ups Success and Recipe for Apple, Zucchini and Carrot Fruit Snacks (Rolls)

I posted quite awhile back about trying to make homemade fruit snacks with gelatin. While I’ve given this a couple of additional tries, I admit I’ve given up on making passable gewey little fruit snacks like the ones your kids enjoy out of the little bags. I have not, however, completely given up on fruit snacks and have actually done quite a few successful batches of fruit “roll ups” – or fruit leathers. (I’m sticking with calling them roll ups for my kids as leather just doesn’t sound appetizing).

A couple of notes on this one… I’ve read that it is possible to do these in the oven (on a cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap or a silicone mat at your oven’s lowest setting for 6-8 hours). I haven’t done this though. I use a food dehydrator – which works pretty well. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, I see them all the time at charity resale shops. In fact, I got mine for $3 a couple months ago. You’ll probably also need the fruit roll accessory, which in the case of my dehydrator are these little donut shaped flat sheets that I found on Amazon for $5. So for an investment of $8 I got a perfectly usable food dehydrator.

Second note… I’ve tried a bunch of different fruit combinations and have thought all of them were yummy. However, my six year old won’t eat any of them that have seeds. So the really yummy berry ones are out for him (although the 4 year old will eat them up). I may try making a batch and straining it through cheese cloth or something to get the little berry seeds out, but for now I make the berry ones for myself and the younger boys and an apple based, seedless one for my oldest.

Third note… I add veggies to my fruit roll ups whenever possible. Zucchini seems to work really well for this (as I’ve written it’s becoming one of my go-to veggies). I stumbled upon adding carrots as well when I decided to use up the little bag of baby carrots in the fridge that was starting to dry out.

Fourth note… You can use frozen or fresh fruit for these, as well as fruit that is just a little overripe. In fact, it’s a great use for fruit that is a little past its prime.

To make the fruit rolls, add all your fruits (and veggies) to a saucepan (peeled, cored and roughly cut up if necessary) along with a little sugar and lemon juice. Cook, covered until everything is nice and soft. Then use your blender or food processor and mush the crap out of it until it’s as smooth as possible. Taste your puree and add more sugar or lemon juice if necessary. Keep in mind that dehydrating will concentrate the flavors. Then add to your pan or dehydrator (brushed lightly with vegetable oil to prevent sticking) and evenly spread to between 1/8 and 1/4″ thick. Dry until they are no longer wet, or until they do not indent when you touch them and don’t stick to your finger. If the edges get too dry, you can brush them with water. You can also do this if you accidentally let the whole thing get too dry. Once dry, cut into whatever shape you would like. Many people also wrap them up in little paper rolls like the packaged ones. I just store them in a ziplock bag.

Berry, Apple and Zucchini Fruit Rolls

Each of the below recipes makes two trays in my dehydrator, it may be more or less depending on your machine or if you use the oven.

Apple, Zucchini ad Carrot Fruit Rolls
4 apples, cored, peeled and cut up
2 zucchini, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup carrots (baby carrots or peeled and cut carrots)
1/3 cup sugar
3 TB lemon juice

Berry, Apple and Zucchini Fruit Rolls
16 oz bag frozen berries
2 zucchini, peeled and cut into chunks
2 apples, peeled, cored and cut up
1/3 cup sugar
3 TB lemon juice

Apple, Pear and Zucchini Fruit Rolls
4 apples, peeled, cored and cut up
2 pears, peeled, cored and cut up
2 zucchini, peeled and cut into chunks
1/3 cup sugar
3 TB lemon juice

These are all yummy and I feel like when I hand one to my kids I’m giving them a piece of fruit with just a little added sugar.


Post Vacation Detox – Getting Back to Less Processed

Our family just returned home from a six day road trip (15 hour drive) to Grandma’s house, and in addition to all the regular getting back in the swing of things after vacation, we’re having to get back into the less processed swing as well.

Eventually, I want to be at a point where a road trip won’t have to mean resorting to more processed food with drive thru stops and all kinds of convenience treats. But I’m not there yet. So in addition to the carrot sticks and peanut butter sandwiches our road trip meant bags of fruit snacks, McDonald’s in the car for lunch, all kinds of Doritos and pop that others brought to the lake and the “real” macaroni and cheese at Grandma’s house.

I was a little nervous after watching both the kids and my husband and I wolf down the Doritos (there’s something in those things that definitely keep you from feeling satisfied with just a couple). And the kids acted like they were being fed a gourmet dinner when I pulled out the Kraft blue box at Grandma’s. I figured I’d be starting from scratch getting them used to our less processed food at home again.

Thankfully, nobody blinked an eye when we got home and I served the butternut squash macaroni and cheese. My oldest actually asked, “Is this the homemade kind? I love that kind!” And the whole wheat pancakes were just as popular with the younger two as the fruit loops had been at Grandma’s. So the lesson is, even if you can’t be perfect and there will be times when you fall off the wagon, it is still worth being less processed when you can because as your kids and family get used to the healthy stuff, it will take an awful lot to have to start completely over again.


Butternut squash macaroni and cheese “Wow Mom, this time it’s actually orange”

Awhile back I posted a recipe I used to replace the boxed mac and cheese and I still make this once every couple weeks to have frozen cheese sauce on hand. When my last two produce boxes from the organic food coop had a big butternut squash in it, I decided to go ahead and branch out and try another mac and cheese recipe.

The results were pretty good and have all kinds of hidden veggies. The best thing about this cheese sauce was the wonderful orange color that the butternut squash added to the sauce without any added color or turmeric. My oldest actually saw the finished sauce and commented, “Wow, this time it’s actually orange like Will likes”.
I found several recipes online for butternut squash macaroni that sounds absolutely wonderful – but I knew these wouldn’t work with my kids since they were the baked variety complete with a (to me) yummy crumbly topping. For my picky boys, I put together the following:

Butternut Squash Cheese Sauce
1 small butternut squash
olive oil
3 cups 2% milk
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder

Cut the butternut squash in half and remove seeds. Place the halves on a cookie sheet cut side up, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven (or until tender). In the meantime, shred or process your cheese in the food processor. Carefully scoop the roasted squash out of the skin and place into your food processor or blender and puree until it is silky smooth (the smoother you get your squash the better your kids won’t know it’s there). Heat the milk in a pan until warm but not boiling, then add the pureed squash, cheese and spices and cook over medium heat until the cheese is melted.

I used about a cup and a half of the sauce to a half box of whole wheat pasta and then freeze in 1 1/2 cup portions in zip lock bags. The next time you need macaroni and cheese, you take the sauce bag out of the freezer when you put the water on for your pasta and let it thaw slightly while you cook the noodles. Once the noodles are done and draining, add the sauce to the pan you cooked the noodles in, add a little milk and heat it up on medium heat until it is thawed and warm and then add your drained noodles. Add extra salt to taste if you prefer it to be saltier.