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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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?

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Turkey and Veggie Tacos – My Latest Success at Tricking My Family Into Eating Veggies

In my quest for easy foods and nutritious non-processed foods that my family will actually eat, tacos are a sure win. Everyone likes them. All 3 boys eat a ton of tacos, as do my husband and I. It is also super easy to make an extra big batch of taco meat, and then freeze the leftovers which can be quickly reheated for a convenient, non-processed meal.

What makes tacos even better is how easy it is to hide healthy stuff in them. I’ve been particularly successful at hiding veggies in our taco meat, and everyone still loves it. For my latest batch, I had to actually make the boys stop eating after all 3 of them had eaten almost as many veggie tacos as my husband and I.

So here is the recipe for my Turkey Veggie Tacos…

1.5 pounds ground turkey (the turkey I buy from Costco comes in 1.5 pound packs)
1/2 small onion (rough chopped)
1/2 medium sweet potato (peeled and rough chopped)
1 stalk celery (rough chopped)
1/2 red bell pepper (seeded and rough chopped)
1/2 cup baby carrots
1 clove garlic
1 tsp olive oil
1 TB ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp salt
(If your family prefers spicier tacos, you can add more chili powder and cumin. For my family my husband and I just add hot sauce to our tacos and let the kids have a milder meat).

Brown ground turkey. While meat is browning, add veggies and olive oil to food processor and process until you get a good puree consistency. Add veggie puree and spices to browned turkey (drained if you have too much fat drippings – the brand I use doesn’t really leave much for drippings so I don’t drain it). Cook for a few minutes stirring occasionally (you don’t want raw veggies in your taco meat, even if they are pureed). Serve with your favorite taco shell or tortilla, shredded cheese, lettuce and hot sauce if desired.

You can also add zucchini or spinach to puree depending on the veggies you have on hand. Give them a try and let me know what you think.


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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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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”.
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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.
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Homemade Frozen Pizza – Still Just as Convenient, Better Tasting and Definitely More Nutritious Than Your Usual Frozen Pizzas

Pizza is one of those rare foods that all 3 of my boys will eat every time we have it. But I don’t have the time to always make homemade pizza and the ones we get from the pizza place are probably filled with just as much processed food as the frozen ones in the store. The alternative seems to be homemade frozen pizza. Make them when I do have the time so I can quickly heat them up later when I don’t.

This one ended up working out pretty well on the first try, and we are actually almost ready for the third batch. All three boys like these. Although I did make the mistake of cutting one into square pieces instead of the traditional triangle ones, which nearly sent the 4 year old into a meltdown. “We’ll NEVER have triangle pizza again…”. Once he got past the shape, he did seem to enjoy the pizza though.

I started with a homemade crust made in the bread maker – and added in some extra whole grain and flax for some sneaky nutrition.

This made two thin crust pizzas.
1 3/4 cups water
2 TB olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 TB honey
4 cups whole grain white flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed
2 tsp. yeast

Add the ingredients to your bread maker in the order listed – wet ingredients first, yeast in a little well on top and set for dough, or in my bread maker’s case, the appropriately labeled pizza dough setting. You’re going to want to check after it’s been stirring/kneading/doing it’s thing for a few minutes to make sure the dough isn’t too dry since different flours, humidity level, etc can all change the consistency of your dough. If it looks a little dry, add some extra water, a little sticky, add a little more flour.

Once the dough was done, I rolled it out into two mostly round crusts (or more accurately, I and my 4 year old and 6 year old rolled them out)and prebaked them for 6 minutes at 400 degrees. This is important to keep the crust from getting soggy. Make sure to use a fork to poke little holes all over the dough before baking (my boys loved doing this part) or the crust will puff up like a balloon. This actually happened the first crust I made and it was easily remedied by popping it after cooking, but the little holes beforehand are the better route. Let these cool completely, then add your sauce, cheese and toppings. Now for the trickiest part of the whole homemade frozen pizza experience… you need to find a nice flat empty space in your freezer. Before you wrap the pizzas, you need to freeze them on a cookie sheet or pizza pan for about an hour so everything sticks together and the crust has a chance to get nice and sturdy. The first time I did this, my flat space on top of frozen veggies and cheese sauces wasn’t quite as level as I thought and I ended up with some pizza sauce making it’s way into my ice cube tray.

Once they’re frozen, you can wrap them in plastic wrap and then I also wrap them in foil. Most likely, since we are using these within a week or two, I could skip the aluminum foil, but in case they’re there longer, it will help keep them from getting freezer burned. My next batch I may try individual pizzas that I can fit into a freezer bag to use a little less packaging.
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To reheat, I baked the frozen pizza on my pizza stone in a 400 degree oven for 15-17 minutes. They turned out very good. The crust was nice and crispy and they didn’t taste all processed and overly salty. In fact, all of the boys are liking this a little more each time we have it as they get used to the whole grain crust and less processed taste.
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My sauce (you could use whatever pizza sauce you like as well)
3/4 cup pureed carrots, zuchini and spinach – sauteed in 1 tsp olive oil
Add a 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I know there’s BPA in the can lining, but baby steps here folks), 1 TB crushed basil, 1 1/2 tsp crushed oregano, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt and 1 TB sugar. Simmer for a bit and then let cool completely before putting onto the pizza. This recipe made enough sauce for 3 pizzas. Since I make batches of two pizzas at a time, I use the excess sauce for pasta by adding a small can of tomato sauce, some sauteed mushrooms, onions and red peppers cut into super super small pieces and a pound of ground turkey.