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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Being Thankful for the Privilege of Eating Healthier

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.



Back When I Was a Kid… A Rant on Soccer Game Snacks

Anybody remember being a kid and getting orange sections as a snack at your soccer (or other sport) game? Pretty sure that used to be the norm. Oranges and – shudder – water. The norm now… prepackaged crackers or cookies or other way processed snack food, served along with a “juice” box loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring and who knows what else. Not just bad in terms of the processing and questionable nutrition of the snacks themselves, but also bad in terms of all the packaging.

So what is a mom trying to feed her family fewer processed foods to do? Well, I don’t fuss when my kids are given these snacks at the end of the game because I’m not a Nazi about it. We do better where we can and don’t totally freak out about a processed snack every now and then. And when it was my turn this week to bring the snack… I caved and brought some little packages of Annie’s organic bunny crackers. While not perfect and still meaning a lot of extra packaging, they are marginally better than the usual stuff. And while I would really like to bring some orange segments, or hand out apples or bananas, I don’t want my son to be “that kid”. So we compromise.

But I wish we didn’t have to. It should be fine for a group of kids to eat fruit. Or – shudder – not need to have a snack after the game. Or if they need a snack after the game, their parents can provide it. Near as I can tell, the purpose of the snack isn’t nutrition after that hard hour of exercise. The purpose is that of a treat. Don’t get me wrong. Treats aren’t all bad. But after an early morning game, right before lunch (as was the case this weekend – a couple of weekends ago it was right before dinner) do we really need all the kids to get a treat? Can’t they just play their game and not have it be about the treat afterwards?

What do you think? Do kids really need a treat after their games? What type of treats should they get?

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Mommy Has a Melt Down

So yesterday was one of those days. You know… those days where you feel very put upon. Where nothing seems to go right and everything your kids do is just so darned annoying. There wasn’t any one particular thing that made it a bad day… it was just… an annoying day. A Mommy melt down sort of day.

To give you an idea of the day… while at the grocery store, already feeling pretty annoyed at the boys and trying to read the ingredients on boxes of fish sticks in hope of finding one that wasn’t completely unnatural sounding (no such luck), my two year old actually stopped fighting with the 4 year for a few minutes and started grabbing me, pulling my face down to his to give me kisses. It was very sweet, complete with a melt your heart little “mmmmmmwwwwwa”. I started to shake off the annoyed and crabby a little bit, thought maybe it would be worth not selling them to gypsies afterall. And then… the little #$&#$er head butted me hard enough that I bit my lip and drew blood. Since I couldn’t find a suitable band of gypsies, I took them home to make dinner.

Dinner meant fighting with the boys when they wouldn’t eat the homemade, yummy chicken and rice dinner that they were perfectly happy with the night before, but apparently weren’t down with the leftovers. This type of thing happens a lot as we get used to healthier foods. And it is particularly annoying when I know that were I to plop a plate of Kraft mac and cheese and fish sticks down they would happily eat it and ask for seconds or even thirds. So in my already frayed and annoyed state, I very nearly shrugged off the whole less processed thing. I mean, what was the point of all that extra work if the boys wouldn’t even try to cooperate and would prefer to starve anyways?

Luckily, it wasn’t long before bedtime. I was able to drink part of a glass of wine (before the dog (4th child) decided to lap directly out of my wine glass). I was also able to watch a movie and at least decompress a little bit. So this morning I am back to keeping on keeping on with the less processed lifestyle. This afternoon I’ll be making some butternut squash mac and cheese and maybe even a batch of fruit roll ups. And I’ll stop looking for gypsies (at least for now).

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Our Fourth Child… Cuz It Was Obviously So Easy With Three…

winnieDisclaimer… we still have 3 kids. But we recently inherited a dog when my husband’s mom passed away. Not just a dog, but a 105 pound dog who is going through heartworm treatment and refuses to eat dog food. My mother in law meant well and loved this dog as though she were her child, and so the dog ate a lot of people food. In fact, the paperwork from her previous vet even lists her diet as “Iams and leftovers”. Ordinarily, the mean mommy in me would just put down the dog food and figure she’ll get hungry enough eventually and eat it. But because of the heartwork treatment, it’s important that she eats… so I give in and she continues her people food diet. And not only does she still prefer people food, she’s picky in that she won’t even eat the same food from day to day so finding something she likes today doesn’t mean she’ll eat it again tomorrow.

So here’s the bit of irony… as I was cooking the dog’s breakfast this morning (yes you read that correctly… the dog got a fresh cooked breakfast) I was really wishing I could just feed her some processed dog food. And as I struggle to figure out daily what to feed her I find myself getting behind on my make ahead non-processed foods for my other children. Which is how yesterday we ended up at McDonalds, and how the boys and the dog split a large box of Chicken McNuggets.

But it’s okay. Because the less processed thing is really a journey and we’ll try to do better today.