There has been quite an eruption in the availability of food over the past 50 years, shifting away from the local growers and producers toward a more industrialized food production and distribution mechanism. This shift has called for food items to have longer shelf lives, to be shelf stable instead of needing refrigeration, as well as finding alternative, cheaper ingredients to cut overall costs, whereby increasing the profit. So where does that leave us, those who consume the food? It leaves us food with a higher cost, more preservatives, more “filler” ingredients and overall a far less fresh product. As a family, we try to eat as few “processed” foods as we can, meaning our diet consists mostly of fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, farm raised meats, raw dairy. However, there are some items that must be purchased from a grocery store. We still need bulk grains, flours, sugars for baking and making our own pancakes and waffles, as well as breakfast cereals which my kids just love to eat as a snack. So I am certainly not anywhere close to cutting out the mass market grocers, but I certainly steer clear of many items that I previously purchased. Here are the top 10 ways our family is eating cleaner, avoiding extra processing of food, and making the switch to the healthier alternative:
1. Stop buying flavored, sugary yogurt. I used to love to buy yogurt tubes, probiotic yogurt smoothies, and many other flavored yogurts for myself and our family. That is until I began truly analyzing nutritional content and ingredient lists. I have found that many of the flavored yogurts are “low-fat”, which if you have read my blog post on Milk, you will know I am already getting suspicious. Low-Fat means milk has been homogenized and most likely pasteurized, therefore rendering the nutritional value down to very little. Secondly, I have noticed that sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup are regulars in the flavored yogurt circuit. All of which I try to avoid when and where possible. My alternative is to purchase the whole milk organic yogurt in bulk, then flavor it with honey or maple syrup and frozen fruit. This way I can control the amount of sweetener goes into the yogurt, as well as know the sweetener is a whole food and not a derivative of beet or corn sugar.
2. Bake your own “treats” for the kids instead of reaching for the Oreos or Goldfish. Typically on Monday I will bake two or three items that will be sent as treats in lunches or eaten as after school snacks. I usually make either chocolate chip cookies, zucchini bread, banana bread, lemon raspberry muffins, oatmeal cookies, or homemade power balls to keep on hand when myself or the kids are looking for a sweet treat. Though these are not all nutritionally dense, they are homemade with organic ingredients, free from processed sugars and preservatives. Not very often this occurs, but if they are not eaten by the end of the week, I pop the leftovers in the freezer to be pulled out and put in the kids school lunches. This saves money also, since processed sugary treats usually aren’t cheap. Win Win!
3. Breakfast smoothies for all. I have been on a smoothie kick lately, which has been a great nutritional boost in the morning for both my kids and myself. I usually put at least 2 veggies in the smoothies (Spinach, cucumber, carrot, celery), as well as frozen fruit, bananas, a splash of OJ and water. Sometimes I add chia seeds or flaxseed meal, sometimes lemon zest and ginger. I have found the store bought smoothies in the frozen section pack way too much sugar and are expensive! I am confused why we pay so much more for such less quality and nutritional value! I feel like racing against the clock in trying to get all servings of fruit and veggies in the kids each day, so this morning boost keeps my mind at ease, their bellies full, and provides a dose of vitamins and minerals via the fresh produce.
4. Homemade Waffles and Pancakes, with organic maple syrup instead of the traditional pancake syrup. Once again, making my own waffles and pancakes is not only cheaper, but more nutritionally sound. I know exactly what is going into the waffles and pancakes, and it is only a few ingredients! Usually I will make a big batch on Saturday morning and put them in the freezer for the coming week, making breakfast quick and nutritious. Also, traditional pancake syrup has more high fructose corn syrup, sugar and corn syrup than it does actually maple syrup. It did take my kids a little bit of time to get used to the maple syrup, as it is a unique flavor, but recently at a pancake breakfast they had the old pancake syrup and couldn’t even eat it, both older kids said it was way too sweet. Once again, this step takes a little bit of fore thought and preparation but once the pancakes and waffles are in the freezer, it is the same cooking time on busy mornings, just pop them in the toaster to heat them up and they are ready in no time.
5. Homemade popcorn. I know this doesn’t really need it’s own category, but this one is so easy I couldn’t leave it out! Instead of buying microwave popcorn, we simply buy the corn kernels and add them to a stock pot with a few tablespoons of olive oil and a few shakes of salt and in not time we have fresh, organic popcorn! The list of ingredients on the microwave popcorn bag is a mile long, not including the chemicals used to line the bags. This is an easy switch. Cheaper, healthier and you don’t have to feel bad giving your kids this snack. I also sneak homemade popcorn into movies 🙂
6. Homemade jellies and jams. My grandmother was a pro at canning and preserving all of summer’s bounty to be enjoyed throughout the year. She made pickles, jams and jellies, canned apricots, and dried the leftovers. These days, jams and jellies are so expensive and so full of processed ingredients and preservatives. Strawberry freezer jam is a quick recipe that is sure to keep your family eating jam for months to come with just one batch. At the end of summer I typically buy 2 or 3 flats of organic strawberries and use them for freezer jam. The recipe is contained in the Pectin box. I just use organic sugar, and since it is in the freezer, I cut down the sugar by about half. Delicious, nutritious, homemade and well worth it!
7. Buying a share of a cow. Ok, don’t get scared away. This was a long time coming in our house, as we were learning about the horrible living conditions and processing facilities that handle the meat that comes to market. Along with hormones and antibiotics, typical cattle ranches and poultry houses keep their animals in unsanitary conditions. Usually confined to small indoor spaces and with no room to avoid feces and urine, they are not healthy and require antibiotics to stay alive. This vicious cycle produces meat high in antibiotics, low in nutrition and also a sad existence for the animal. We buy our meat from Organic, grass pasture raised farms where the animals live as they should, grazing and moving about naturally. They are not given any antibiotics because they typically don’t require them. Also, though it is a large chunk of money up front, the price per pound is around $6, which will get you a variety of steaks, roasts, ribs, ground beef, etc. We also take the bones to make bone broth which we use in our soups. There is very little waste. Overall the average price per pound is much better than the grocery store prices, and so much better for you and the animals.
8. Farmer’s Markets for the win! Every tuesday morning after I drop the big kids off at school, I take the little ones to the local farmers market where we peruse the in season produce and pick our fruits and veggies for the week. Yes, the selection is smaller as only in season items are for sale. The prices, are however about the same or a little bit cheaper than the grocery stores. I love shopping at the farmer’s market because it cuts out the middle man, the grocery stores. I don’t want my apples grown in Washington then shipped to California to be stored in refrigeration for months before they hit the grocery stores. Also, these large grocery chains and distribution centers are paying bottom barrel prices for the produce, therefore keeping farmers relying on their contract with big business to stay afloat. I don’t mind paying the same price as the grocers, since it all goes back into the farm and its sustainable operation. Another aspect of the farmer’s market is that the little ones enjoy picking out their own fruits and vegetables, which then increases the likelihood that they will actually eat them come dinner time. Give it a try, you won’t regret it!
9. Canned Tomatoes – or actually no canned tomatoes. Tomatoes are very acidic and when canned, typically begin to eat through the lining of the can due to their acidity. I prefer to buy my tomatoes in either paper cartons or glass jars. Sprouts Farmer’s Market has a great selection of tomato products ranging from paste and sauce to whole and diced, all in cartons or jars. I know I cannot get rid of my family’s exposure to harmful chemicals, but I try to minimize it as much as possible. This is one rule I never break. If I buy tomato products, they are not in cans!
10. Organic Cleaning Products. This really started when I had children. I couldn’t stand to put paraben laden bubbles in their baths or lather their heads up with other possibly carcinogenic chemicals. I try to buy shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste and lotions with the fewest ingredients or else attempt to make my own. I recently began using coconut oil as a moisturizer for dry hands, feet and elbows and also on dry ends of my hair. It has worked great! I also make my own laundry detergent using Fels Naptha soap, Arm&Hammer Washing soda and borax, with essential oils to give a natural scent. The recipe can be found on the Duggar family (of 19 Kids and Counting fame :)) blog, under “liquid laundry detergent”. This process takes a bit of time, but it is pennies on the dollar to what you pay for laundry detergent in the stores, and many fewer chemicals as well.
I know I am not perfect and still “cheat” on my natural lifestyle almost every day, however I am striving to create a healthy environment for my family. I am hoping to instill a clean eating lifestyle in my children that they will one day appreciate and also to help keep their immune systems in top condition. I am also still learning. Every day I learn something new, do my research, and then decide if we need to make a change based on the findings. But every day is a new opportunity to do what is best, what you feel is right, to create the most opportunity for your family and a healthier world for us all. May you find some of these tidbits uplifting and inspiring, as I am not judging but just sharing. I know we are all on our own path and I just hope I can add a little bit of light to yours.
Blessings as always,