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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Easy, Delicious and Homemade! French Onion Dip That is WAY Better Than Store Bought

Homemade French Onion Dip

Homemade French Onion Dip

My husband is a HUGE football fan. And a large part of the home football viewing experience has always involved snacks. Prior to our less processed lifestyle, these snacks involved a lot of velveeta, store bought dip and other very processed foods. Luckily, most of these things aren’t really very hard to replace with a healthier, less processed version. My latest success in less processed snacks is French Onion Dip. Store bought tubs of dip, while easy, are loaded with unnatural ingredients, and are often ridiculously salty. Also, if someone says they made onion dip, it probably involves a package of dried soup mix, which is also loaded with strange ingredients and is super salty.

My homemade French Onion dip, on the other hand, has very few ingredients, is super flavorful without being crazy salty, and is very EASY to make!

Homemade French Onion Dip

1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup fat free, plain greek yogurt
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp white or black ground pepper

Add onions and olive oil to saute pan and cook on medium heat until onions are mushy and carmelized (15-20 minutes). Mix onions with the rest of the ingredients and refrigerate for at least an hour (the longer you refrigerate it, the better it gets).

And that’s it! You can adjust the salt and pepper for your taste. I like to serve this with kettle cut chips or pretzels, which are already salty on their own. If you serve it with veggies, you might want the dip to be a little bit saltier.


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Super Easy Homemade Chocolate Syrup – For yummy hot cocoa and chocolate milk

As the weather has turned to downright brutally cold, my kids have been asking for a lot of hot cocoa. Last winter I would make them small cups of hot cocoa using the oh so convenient tub of instant hot cocoa mix, complete with the unaturally crunchy (but still tasty) little marshmallows. But since we’ve been eating less processed foods, instant hot cocoa with it’s huge list of scary sounding ingredients just isn’t an option anymore. In the past if we were out of instant hot cocoa mix, I would heat up some milk and add hersey’s syrup – which was a really yummy hot cocoa, and considerably better than the instant stuff. But the list of ingredients for the chocolate syrup wasn’t particularly good either (HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP; CORN SYRUP; WATER; COCOA; SUGAR; CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE); SALT; MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES; XANTHAN GUM; POLYSORBATE 60; VANILLIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR).

The solution to this one is actually ridiculously easy, and very tasty to boot. Homemade chocolate syrup.bigstock-Hot-Chocolate-In-A-Cup-Isolate-2817353

This is what I made. You can adjust the sugar, salt and vanilla for your taste.

Chocolate Syrup
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 TB vanilla

Place all ingredients but vanilla into a small saucepan. Heat and stir until the sugar and cocoa is dissolved. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Let cool and store in fridge for up to a month.

That’s it! You can then add it to warm or cold milk just as you would the processed stuff for super tasty chocolate milk or hot cocoa.


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.

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

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Finally Nailed It! Chicken Nuggets All Three Kids Will Eat

It is very clear that despite their shared genetics, my children do not share the same taste for food. This has become very frustrating as I’ve tried multiple times to create a healthy version of chicken nuggets. Ideally, I would just cut up little chicken strips, bread them in some whole grain bread crumbs and bake them. I would like these and they’d be healthy. But no… the youngest one doesn’t like the texture of real chicken (or real meat of any type – it all has to be the mushed up or ground variety). The middle boy is super picky about not having too much “cook” (my boys’ word for brown food or carmelization) and is also super neurotic about the shape of foods. The oldest one is my easiest one to please, but he doesn’t like baked and breaded foods. To him, the baked breading isn’t crunchy enough compared to the fried variety.

After several attempts, I am happy to report that I have managed to satisfy all three of them though! For these chicken nuggets, I used boneless skinless chicken breasts that I pulsed in the food processor until they were just shy of mush (still a little texture, but a bit like ground chicken). To overcome the shape obstacle, I used a cookie cutter so they’re all exactly the same shape. For the breading, I compromised and fried them. These don’t fit into my diet as well, but as active kids, they can use the fat.

So here they are… my chicken nuggets that mimic the processed ones you buy in the store…
Homemade Chicken Nuggets

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I made breadcrumbs in the food processor with left over heals)
oil for frying

Pulse chicken in food processor until it resembles ground meat. Should have a little texture left, but be pretty mushy. Add between 1/4 and 1/2 cup breadcrumbs until you get a mixture that holds together enough to be able to make very loose balls.

Place a 2″ round cookie cutter on a baking sheet and fill the cutter with about 1/2″ chicken mixture. Press chicken down to shape into little disk. Remove cutter. Place the cutter next to this little disk and repeat until your chicken is gone (will probably require at least 2 baking sheets).

Once you have the chicken all formed into nice little circles, place the sheets into the freezer for 15-20 minutes. You want them to be just cold enough so they will hold their shape, but they should still be sticky so the breadcrumbs will stick.

Mix remaining breadcrumbs with a little salt and pepper. You can also use other spices at this point depending on your family’s tastes. Some cayenne, onion salt and poultry seasoning would be very tasty if your family doesn’t require bland food.

Heat 1/2 inch oil in large pan to between 325 and 375. I use a cast iron dutch oven as it keeps the oil at a nice even temperature. Dip each of your little chicken disks into the seasoned bread crumbs and fry for about 3 minutes per side or until they are a nice golden brown. You can use a meat thermometer to check the internal temp reaches at least 160. If they are getting brown too soon, turn your oil down. You can also place on a rack in the oven after frying to make sure they get cooked all the way through.

This recipe makes a lot of chicken nuggets. I freeze the leftovers to easily reheat later. Before placing them in a plastic bag, place the cooked nuggets on a clean baking sheet in the freezer for about an hour. This keeps them from sticking together. When you want to reheat them, bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. You can also microwave them, but they are a lot tastier heated up in the oven.

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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.


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.


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.