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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My Top Five Veggies to Hide in Our Food

946418_4788937597180_403803275_nIn addition to trying to eat fewer processed foods, I’ve also been hiding veggies in a lot of what I make. I know there is a debate about whether veggie hiding is ultimately good for your family – the argument against is basically that your kids don’t learn to eat fruits and vegetables if they don’t know they’re there. To be fair, I still put the veggies on the plate as well. Currently, only the six year old will actually eat his vegetables (he’s actually pretty good about it and loves things like broccolli, asparagus and green beans). My hope is that eventually the other two will come around. But until then… I’m not ashamed to trick them into eating at least some vegetables.

Here are the five veggies I hide most often, with examples of where I hide them.

Zucchini – I puree and put this stuff in almost anything. For some things, where a little bit of green color won’t be noticed I use it without peeling. For other things, peel first and then puree. It works great because it doesn’t have a strong flavor and just blends in with whatever it’s added to. Top uses: Fruit Roll Ups, Tacos, Pasta/Pizza Sauce, Sloppy Joes, Brownies

Carrots – These are also good to puree and add to anything that could benefit from a little sweetness. I cook them prior to pureeing for use in fruit roll ups. For everything else they go in raw. Top uses: Pasta/Pizza sauce, fruit roll ups, tacos

Sweet Potatoes – This one was actually an accidental discovery. I had a bunch of sweet potatoes that were going to go bad while I was out of town, so I cut them into fry shape pieces and froze in a ziplock bag. Sadly, my boys won’t actually eat sweet potato fries, so I was left to find alternative uses for them and was pleasantly surprised at how well they can be mixed into other foods. Like the carrots, they add a little bit of sweetness so they are good for anything that can use a little sweet or you can adjust your salt to compensate. Top uses: Pasta/Pizza Sauce, tacos, sloppy joes

Spinach/Greens – Spinach can surprisingly blend in with a variety of foods from smoothies to pasta sauce. I puree it raw and then freeze the pretty green mush to use later. It does add a bit of color to what you add it to. For smoothies, it can be noticable in terms of color unless you use a small amount or blueberries to counteract a bit of the green. When used in tomato sauces, it makes the sauce a sort of brown color. Top uses: Pasta/Pizza sauce, Quesadillas, Smoothies

Red Peppers – These too became a go to when I had a bunch that were going to go bad and had to freeze them. Now I purposely buy a bunch when they’re on sale and always have strips on hand in the freezer to add to the food processor. These are best in flavorful dishes like tacos or pasta sauces.

Cauliflower – Steamed and pureed, cauliflower can be added to almost anything. Macaroni and cheese, pasta sauces, tacos, sloppy joes, mashed potatoes… it’s mild and doesn’t really add color so is very versatile.

All of these can be pureed and frozen. I often throw a bunch of veggies into the food processor before they go bad and then freeze the mixture to have on hand. My most used mix would be carrots, zucchini, red peppers, and onions.

What types of veggies do you hide in your family’s food? What dishes have you found work well for adding hidden veggies?


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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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Zucchini Brownie Bites – Yummy

Since I started doing the less processed thing, in a very public way, I sometimes find myself in the very frustrating situation where I feel like I have to publicly be less processed. To be honest, this is almost entirely self-imposed. I doubt that any of my family and friends would really scoff if I showed up with store-bought cookies for an event, but I feel like I can’t do that. So when I recently needed to bring a dessert to a family reunion, I found myself struggling to figure out what to bring as I felt like I couldn’t just run out and get a commercial brownie mix and call it good.

What I ended up with was zucchini brownie bites. These are very yummy, despite being relatively nutritious. One note though, unlike those commercial brownie mixes, these actually do rise a fair amount. So the batch I quickly made for the family reunion ended up rising out over the muffin tins and turning into some pretty ugly (yet yummy) lumps of brownies by the time I managed to get them out of the pan. The second batch I made where I adjusted for this turned out to be much prettier.
Zucchini Brownie Bites
Zucchini Brownie Bites (makes 48 – about 75 calories each)
2 cups shredded peeled zucchini
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar (I used cane sugar similar to sugar in the raw, but plain white sugar would also work)
1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips or chopped walnuts (optional)

Put zucchini, sugar and oil in blender or food processor and briefly process until mixed well (doesn’t take more than a few seconds in my blender). In separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add zucchini mixture to dry ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips or nuts if you’re using them. Using an olive oil sprayer or paper towel, grease two 24 spot mini muffin pans (or use mini cupcake liners). Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full. (If you fill them more, you will end up with the blob I mention above). Bake at 350 for 8-12 minutes until toothpick comes out clean. (Mine turned out perfect at 10 minutes). Once these have cooled, you may need to use a plastic spoon to just loosen the edges prior to taking the brownie bites out of the pan.

If these aren’t going to be eaten within a day, they are best stored in the fridge or freezer since the zucchini makes them more prone to spoiling. Also, the whole wheat flour and flax do give these a little nutty – whole grain texture (which I personally think helps make them yummy) but if you prefer a more traditional brownie texture, you can use all unbleached flour and leave out the flax.


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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.


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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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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).