Monday, July 16, 2012

Healthy eating for the whole family - A Step by Step Guide

I've been on a kick recently to cut out as much of the processed foods out of our diet as possible. Well, actually, it's not a kick since I've been doing it for years now. I guess you could call it a mission.

Yes, I'm on a mission to keep my family healthy and to teach my daughters good eating habits. To that end, 90% of what we consume is purchased fresh. I don't buy anything packaged except for crackers, pasta, rice and a few other items. I do not have one aluminum can in my pantry.

Ever since I read about all of the chemicals that seep from the can into our food, I cannot bring myself to eat anything out of a can.  Taking a stand agains aluminum cans was easy since we already had the habit of avoiding canned goods (we just don't like how the food tastes out of a can). But there was one item that we used quite a bit...tomato sauce. Finding plain tomato sauce in a different container was hard to do. So my dear husband had the hare brained idea to make our own tomato sauce. I actually tried to do it, but found it to be too time consuming, not to mention, the mess I made.  I finally found tomato sauce in small cartons. No chemicals and the price was really reasonable compared to the cans.

The more I read about what's in our food, the more I am determined to cut out the processed foods. It's really scary. It's not just about eating chemical, pesticide, and additive free. It's about making sure my family is eating the best, freshest, safest food possible. By making all of our food fresh I can control what goes into it (fat, butter, oil) and how it is prepared (baked vs. fried).
Here are the top ways I have found to promote healthy eating at home and when we go out.

  • Planning - I plan weekly menus so we are not tempted to "eat just anything unhealthy" just because everyone's hungry. Menu planning also makes it easier to go food shopping because you are more likely to stay within budget when you stick to a list. By planning ahead, you can make sure you have all of the ingredients you will need for the meals you want to make.

  • Shopping - I choose to shop in stores that have more organic and natural food choices. Although I don't buy strictly organic, I do look for certain things like seafood that is wild caught instead of farm raised. You would be shocked at the conditions of most of these "fish farms" and how much bacteria and other stuff is in your seafood. Another thing to remember is that the FDA regulations when it comes to imported seafood are very lax. I've read that only about 5% of imported seafood is actually regulated. Scary!

  • Getting the kids involved - Asking for the kids' input in meal planning teaches them to make good choices and it helps them see the value of eating healthy vs. eating junk food.

  • Setting Limits - We don't have any type of junk food in our house. The children do not eat chips or drink soda. But as parents we do understand that kids like that kind of stuff. So we allow our kids to eat junk food on weekends. But it is not a free for all, there are still limits and they have to show moderation.

  • Finding balance - I think it's important to teach kids to seek balance in all aspects of their lives. It is no different with food. Since we don't eat cookies or other packaged sweets, when the kids crave a "sugary treat", we will bake fresh cookies. The kids get to eat cookies, they help in the kitchen with the baking and I know what they're eating(no chemicals or additives).
  • From frozen to fresh vegetables - Did you know that the US government allows a certain amount of bugs, maggots, larvae and other insects in our frozen vegetables? Yes, it's completely acceptable, so it should come as no surprise that with every bite of your frozen broccoli or corn, there are crushed up insects that you are unknowingly consuming. How gross is that? I knew that canned veggies were bad, but I always thought I was safe with the frozen ones. On the upside, it is very easy to prepare fresh veggies. Of course, you can purchase and eat them right away. But vegetables perish quickly so you need other options. See "Storing" below for tips.

Heres the article that changed everything for me    8 Bugs You Don't Know You're Eating

  • From processed to homemade - My oldest daughter practices sports and is very active. She's also always hungry and really relies on those power bars or fruit bars for energy throughout her day. So I decided that I would start making my own energy bars! My daughter was willing to try them out which was a great first step. It turned out that she loved them and asks for those little energy bars all the time! Not only am I saving money, but my daughter is eating something fresh, homemade and with no additives. It's a win-win in my book.

  • Storing - After I wash all of my leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, collard greens) I dry them with a clean towel and store them separately in sealable containers always with a paper towel. The paper towel absorbs any moisture and the leafy greens stay fresh longer. With other veggies, I'll wash them well, then blanch them quickly in boiling water. Once they're cool enough, I store them in the freezer. When I need them, all I have to do is put the veggies in a bowl with a little bit of water and microwave it for 30 seconds to a minute. They are ready to be consumed!

  • Cooking ahead and freezing - This is a good tip for us busy moms juggling a million things at once. Take a couple of hours on a Sunday and prepare your meals for the week, then freeze them. When you are busy and need a quick dinner, pull one of those dishes out of the freezer and you are still providing your family with a healthy homemade option.

  • From Canned to fresh - Buy dried beans instead of canned. It's a little more work but it's totally worth it. I wash and soak the beans, then cook them without any seasoning. I freeze them until I'm ready to use. I do this with black beans, red beans even lentils.

  • Your local farm - Go to your local farm for fresh eggs, meat, and poultry. This way you can be sure you are buying eggs and poultry from free range chickens and the meat comes from cows that are grain fed without hormones.

Other steps I hope to take:
  • Growing my own food
  • Raising chickens for eggs
  • Making my own bread and pasta
For now, I can feel good about the fact that my kids are learning healthy eating habits and becoming educated about food choices and nutrition. And I can rest assured that I won't find any bugs, animal or human parts in our food. Yuck. How many of those stories have you read? Too many for me!

What about you? Are you a junk food junkie or a healthy eater, or somewhere in between? I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. It sounds like you're taking some great steps to ensure your family gets safe, healthy food you feel good about-- that's awesome! That tomato sauce is a good find-- tomato products are tricky to find in alternative packaging. Odd as it may be, I'm bothered far more by the thought of chemicals and poisons in my food than I am by the thought of animal hair or insect parts. I kind of figure even fresh produce has some bug pieces involved. Gross? Maybe, but I'll take bug parts over pesticides any day. :)

    1. Hi Jessie,

      I agree with you about the bugs, if I had to choose.

  2. This is a very thought-provoking article! We are trying (think baby steps) to eat more healthfully. I think your thoughts on "balance" are key to being successful at maintaining a healthier diet.

    1. Hi Judy,

      When I read the Eat this Not That article about bugs in frozen foods I was so upset because we used to eat frozen brocolli everyday! Now I buy fresh and blanch it. A little more time consuming but worth it.
      I'm going over to your blog!

    2. Bugs?! Yuck. We eat frozen brocolli too. Well that is getting thrown out today!

  3. Great read! We've been slowly, but steadily changing from processed to non-processed foods. My youngest son has SPD and many kids with SPD can improve simply by eating "cleaner", but especially avoiding preservatives and artificals. (It's amazing what dye is in!)

    I have to say that the bug thing make me a little queasy, but I'm sure they're there! We do eat frozen veggies...but we also grow some of our own and buy fresh. (I have 3 LARGE bowls of snap peas, pole beans and leaf lettuce in our frig from our garden we're eating this week.)

    I also make our sweets and breads...and we have 7 hens and 2 ducks for eggs. Nothing like fresh eggs! :D We've thought about growing animals for food, but the kids and I would make pets of them all! (You should see our spoiled hens and ducks! I don't think most hens come inside to nap on a kid's lap while they read or watch TV! LOL)

    So, I guess we're inbetween! LOL I do still buy pasta and sauce - our tomatoes keep dying! - cereals, milk, and cheese at the store.

    1. Hi,

      Wow, you are doing a whole lot more than I do at this point. Good for you!

  4. We don't eat many processed foods, but I do eat chick peas from a can on my salad...maybe I should just buy dried beans and soak them...hmmm....

    1. Hi Theresa,

      Buying and making dried beans seems overwhelming, and it does take a bit longer, but its so worth it.

  5. Good info! I posted some healthy eating resources on my blog today. :)

    1. Great! I am always looking for new ideas. On my way over!

  6. Great tips! Hope you will join me at Mom's Library! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Wow! What a great post! Thanks for all the wonderful information! :)