What, If Anything, Would Compel you NOT to Eat Processed Food for One Week

I read a quote the other day by Edward Stanley that said:

“Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.”

And over the course of the last week, I’ve watched a new documentary on Netflix Sugar Coated.

When exactly did the consumption of processed food, almost to the complete exclusion of real food, and the inability to engage in a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis, become so normalized that the thought of giving up processed foods made you do one of either 2 things – disregard anything I have to say in this post, or freak out and wonder how on earth that would even be possible.

Over the last few years, enough people have asked me how I lost weight or got to look the way I do, I’ve come up with a standard response: “I don’t eat sugar, I don’t eat processed food, and I limit alcohol”.  By the time I’m done that short little sentence, most people have stopped listening, and if they haven’t, by the time the hear the bit about limiting alcohol, they’re ready to change the subject.

Here’s the thing though . . . when I have these conversations, part of me wants to throw my hands up and scream.  If we feed ourselves a diet of predominantly processed, nutrient-deficient, non-organic, genetically modified diet, what do we expect the end result to be?  It can’t be health and vitality, because nothing in this world can survive long-term without solid nutrient-dense foods.

That being said, there are a few people that have been willing to hear me out, but then start to question how it’s possible to eat that way and not spend all my time in the kitchen.

Well, my simple answer to that is with another quote:

“It’s not about having time.  It’s about making time.  If it matters, you will make time” (Anon).

So, I thought I would outline for all of you, just how it is that I “find the time” to make sure my family gets the healthiest, most nutrient-dense food I can give them so we can do our best to limit disease and our risk of contracting disease later in life (like cancer, diabetes, etc.)

It all starts on Sunday.  I have (as I’ve talked about before), a dry-erase magnet on my fridge where I write down what we’re having for breakfast and dinner for each of the days of the upcoming week.  On Sunday, before we do a big grocery shop, I plan out our meals for the week based on what we have going on that week.

You can absolutely find healthy foods at your local grocery store – while meats that are traditionally raised without the use of antibiotics, hormones, or feed that contains genetically modified ingredients certainly taste better and require a little bit more time to source (we visit the St. Lawrence Market every Saturday to stock up on meats) – you can get at least antibiotic and hormone free meats at all the major grocery stores now.  You can also get lots of organic fruits and vegetables there too, while you’re at it.  Sure, fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market (where there farmers selling their actual crops and not just produce that has been sourced from elsewhere) are a better choice, but until you’re ready to take that next step – just shop at your local store.

Sundays are often the day when the Husband and I will batch cook things that we might need for the week.

Sundays are also often the day when I make a batch of my chocolate chip cookies so the kids will have a healthy snack for the week.

For example, I bought 24 chicken thighs at the grocery store yesterday morning, popped them in a simple marinade when I got home, and the Husband barbecued them for us at lunchtime.  We all had some for lunch, but I now have 20 leftover to use for my lunches, and the kids lunches this week.

Each night, Sundays included, as soon as the dinner dishes are done,  the Husband and I prep some of what will be needed the next morning.  That might entail washing and prepping fruits for our daily smoothie or veggies for the kids and the Husband.  I also use this time to make sure the kids’ backpacks are packed and ready to go for the next day, and on Sundays in particular,  I tend to organize any activity bags we might need for the week (swimming, skating, hockey).

I suppose I’m lucky in that Husband and I make a great team in the mornings.  While I’m getting ready, he makes the kids’ breakfast and the smoothies for all of us.  And while he’s getting ready, I assemble the kids’ snacks, a bag of veggies for him, and my salad while simultaneously cooking eggs for my breakfast.  If he’s not around, the kids and I have the same breakfast at the same time, and snacks and my lunch are assembled after.

Lately, the kids have been REALLY into cooking, and helping me get the things I’ve been adding to my daily salad from the garden.  So, I’ve been eating with them we’ve been making my salad and their veggies (they have to have one snack of veggies a day, house rule).

Do your kids help you cook?  If not, why not?  It took some supervision at first, but my 5 year old can now cut up pretty much any vegetable, whether it’s going in a salad or her snack container.  Not only is it more fun to have the kids in the kitchen with you, I’ve found they’ll eat better, knowing they’ve prepared it, and they’re learning a life skill . . .To minimize the risk of accidents, they each have their own knife and they each get their own cutting board.

Depending on what we’re having for dinner that night, I might have the kids help me cut up broccoli or carrots in the morning so they are ready to go for dinner.

I’m also lucky in that both my kids have their lunches provided for them at school – so aside from my salad, and their snacks, I don’t need to do any other food prep in the morning.  All in all, the entire time I spend in the kitchen in the morning is 30 minutes, tops.

Again, depending on the day, if I’m at home before I have to pick the kids up from school, and I’m making a “recipe” for dinner, I might do some dinner prep before I leave – pre-measure ingredients, or chop up things like onion or other veggies.

Once we’re all home, I usually start dinner prep at 5:30.  If we’re having something that doesn’t require much assistance, the kids are in charge of setting the table, while I get things started.  But again, since they love being in the kitchen so much, they’re often in there with me chopping, mixing, even cooking on the stove.  Dinners are usually a protein and 2 veggies.  Because I menu-plan and shop on Sundays, I rarely need to go to the store during the week, and my total food-prep time is no longer than if I were making a pre-packaged meal from the grocery store.

I will stress that although we are only 4 people, I usually make enough food to serve 6 – that way I have leftovers for my lunch, or to freeze for when I’m in a pinch.  And when I make things like my chicken fingers, I make TONS, and freeze them.  The kids LOVE making those with me, so why not make a double or triple batch . . . it doesn’t take double or triple the time, and will save time down the road.  Also, when I’m making things like roasted sweet potatoes, I make lots – there’s nothing I love more in a salad then roasted sweet potatoes (if you haven’t tried it . . . you have to  . . . it’s delicious).

And that . . . well, that’s how I “find” the time to eat well.

Before I conclude, I want to add in that I know many of you believe that it’s simply too expensive to eat organically.  To that I will say . . . once you realize how much better you feel, how much healthier you are when you start eating this way, it becomes an easy choice.  But more importantly, healthcare is expensive.  Far more expensive that eating organically ever will be.  Medicines, parking fees to visit doctors, etc. . . . the costs add up . . . wouldn’t it be better to spend perhaps a little bit more nourishing yourself now than pay all the medical bills if/when disease sets in?

And so, given what I’ve had to say today, what would compel you not to eat processed foods for one week???  Because, I bet that once you start, you’ll keep at it for a lot longer than one week!

And now for my new favourite chicken recipe – the one I made yesterday!

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Easy Lemony-Herbed Chicken (thighs)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • juice from one lemon
  • 3 clove minced garlic
  • 1 shallot (minced)
  • handful chopped fresh herbs (i’ve used rosemary, thyme, basil . . . use whatever you have on hand, you like, sounds good to you)
  • -salt and pepper to taste
  • chicken – use whatever you want – but just enough to serve about 4-6.

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, add in all the ingredients and mix with a spoon, fork, whisk . . . whatever.
  2. Add in your chicken, and using some tongs, toss it so that all the chicken pieces get well coated with the marinade.
  3. Let the chicken sit for a few hours, all day, overnight.  When you’re ready, cook the chicken however you want – I’ve been barbecuing lately.  But you can also throw it into a pan and bake it in the oven at 350 until it’s no longer pink inside.  Or you could sauté it on the stove top.

Have we Forgotten How to Cook (And in the Process Have we Forgotten What Real Food Tastes Like?)

I have always loved cooking and as such, have involved the kids in cooking since they were old enough to stand on a chair and hold a spoon.  Both kids enjoy looking at cookbooks and picking out recipes to make – my son is known for bringing home cookbooks from his school library instead of novels.  This year has seen them learn how to chop vegetables and start to man the cooking of simple things on the stove.  All of which has been great.  But …

Our herbs and salad greens finally started to take off this week, which meant I was much more comfortable taking cuttings to add to our meals.  Every morning, the kids and I go out to the back porch and snip some kale, parsley an basil to throw into my salad, which turns into them each taking a taste of the various things we have growing.

Yesterday, we got a bit too aggressive with our basil cuttings, so I had leftover which I decided to throw into a pan with some tomato and kale and eggs for my breakfast (for those of you that are curious, I melt a generous teaspoon of coconut oil in a pan, add in some chopped frozen kale – I’m using up the last of the frozen stuff for my morning eggs and when it’s gone, I’ll start using the fresh stuff from my garden – a diced tomato and whatever herbs I may have picked.  When the veggies are warmed through and soft, I crack 2 eggs into the pan, stir them around so the whole thing becomes a sort of scrambled egg omelette.  It’s not the most elegant of meals, but it does taste AMAZING).  When the eggs were cooked, I gave each kid a taste.  And immediately they wanted their own, even though they had each just had their own fried egg.  Seeing the excitement on their little faces as they realized just how good food could taste was a wonderful moment for me.

It is so hard today not to get overwhelmed by the images of stunningly gorgeous food and the millions of recipes that bombard us every day – recipes that when you dig a little deeper turn out to contain multiple hard-to-find ingredients, take a relative eternity to prepare, and end up either not working, not looking anything like the pictures you’ve seen, and/or not tasting particularly good.  Then there are all the articles telling us how we should eat, what we should eat, and when we should eat it in order to optimize our size and our health.  Add in working parents, kids, homework, after-school activities, and it’s hard not to just throw up your hands, run to the local grocery store, buy some pre-prepared meal and throw it on the table for the kids, and maybe a bit later in the evening for the adults.

But if we strip everything back to the very basics – forget about making those ridiculous recipes – and instead go back to cooking simple, good food that tastes good, not because it’s filled with additives and sugar and artificial flavours, but because it’s made with the best ingredients that taste good on their own.  If we can re-learn how to cook that way, maybe we’ll start to remember how good real food tastes, and we’ll start craving the prepared/processed food less (which in turn will make us healthier, leaner and overall happier).

And while this may be very optimistic, I’m hoping that by instilling in my kids at an early age, how amazing real food tastes, how amazing it is to use ingredients from our own backyard, and how fun it is to cook together, as they grow up, they will continue to crave this good food over the chemical-laden food choices they will be exposed to.  And maybe, they might even convince some of their friends that “real” food eating really is better.

And now for the “recipe” part of this post . . . Last weekend, the Husband picked up a ton of chicken thighs – the kind that have both bones AND skin.  He made a simple marinade out of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary from our yard.  The thighs all got barbecued, some were eaten for dinner that night, and the rest were used for dinner and my lunches the following week.  Tuesdays are a quick turn-around day for us – meaning we don’t have much time between getting home from school and needing to be back out the door for baseball.  So, last week, I used the leftover chicken as protein portion of our dinner (it was actually a neat experiment for the kids comparing how the cold chicken tasted versus how it had tasted when it was fresh off the barbecue).  I chopped up a plate of veggies for us all, and then I made a side dish of my favourite pesto sauce that I served over pasta (I do allow us one pasta night a week.  We can all tolerate gluten relatively well, as I’ve said before, and everyone loves it.)  The kids LOVE peeling and chopping garlic and picking basil from our backyard (it was supplemented with some from the store), and then getting to use the Cuisnart made for a fantastic 20 minutes in the kitchen with them – time so much better spent than having me alone in the kitchen and them watching a show or just hanging around.

Pesto Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (please use the good stuff)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic (this depends on how garlic-y you like things, what your kids will tolerate, and how big your cloves of garlic are – use your discretion)

Directions

  1. Rinse off the basil leaves, and throw them into the bowl of a food processor.  Add in the cheese and garlic.  Pulse a few times until the basil has been chopped up finely and everything looks pretty well combined.
  2. Through the feeder tube of the food processor, with the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil.  Keep the processor running until all the olive oil has been added and the sauce looks well mixed.
  3. Serve this over pasta, quinoa, tomatoes, or just as a salad dressing . . .it’s delicious!

 

Getting Real

So, I’m feeling the need to get real with you, and myself.  My last post was as much for me as anyone else.

Throughout the month of December, our family ate more refined, processed and sugar-filled foods; we slept less; we moved less; and a glass or 2 of wine a night was not uncommon.  I thought I was simply relaxing – relaxing my ideas of what is good for us (and I mean good for us in every way).  Turns out that throughout the month of December, we were all crankier, we had less energy, we were quick to get frustrated with each other . . . which made us crankier, took more energy, and lead to more frustration.  So . . . where exactly was the relaxation?????

As we approach the end of January, a month where refined foods, and especially sugar have all but been eliminated from our diets, where we have focused on getting proper exercise and proper sleep . . .well, we’re all much more energetic, calmer, kinder to each other . . .

In life, I think we ALL want to feel good.  When we wake up in the mornings, we want to have energy, to move easily, to be pain free and disease free.  And yet what do we do to make that happen?

Do we, as a population really no longer believe that how we feed ourselves has no effect on our physical well being, on our mental well being?  Do we really expect that after years of feeding ourselves, and our kids processed, chemical laden food, while no longer prioritizing physical fitness that we’re all going to live long healthy lives????

Because of my tumour, I have become involved with Toronto General Hospital, and am working on a few projects to make services and programs for tumour/cancer patients more readily available.  Yesterday, I had a meeting at the MOST AMAZING cancer support centre, Wellspring, with not only representatives of Wellspring, but representatives from the hospital, including a Radiation Oncologist.  The services that places like Wellspring and hospitals like Toronto General and Princess Margaret are truly wonderful.  Tumours/Cancer are conditions that have profound effects and consequences for those that develop them, never mind their friends and family that care about them.  And when you look at the lifetime risk of developing cancer (1 in 2 for American men and 1 in 3 for American women, with a 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 risk of dying from cancer respectively – see Cancer.org for more statistics), more people than EVER are going to need these services.

And while millions of dollars are spent on these wonderful programs, and on research to cure these diseases, imagine if none of this was necessary?

Put differently, what are we doing to minimize the risk that we, or members of our family aren’t unnecessarily at higher risk for these diseases?   (While I fully realize that there are a lot of reasons why a person might develop a disease, we are, by now, all well aware of the fact that poor diet and lack of exercise play a significant role in the development of disease).

Which brings me back to the idea of “getting real”.  I get that we’re all busy – juggling work, kids, commitments and budgets.  And so the idea of quick, easy, cheap food is really appealing.  But what is all that quick, easy, cheap food getting us?

I’m right there with you.  I have the Husband that works long hours.  Two kids that have school and extracurricular activities.  And I have my work as well.

But here’s the thing . . . by focusing on good quality, unprocessed “real” food, I end up saving time, energy, and even money, and our family is happier and healthier.  And I know that I’m doing my BEST to avoid exposing us all to any increased risk of disease.  (and by best, I mean that I do like to have a treat – and I will have a piece of cake, or a special meal out – I do like alcohol, and I will have a drink from time to time – and I will let the kids have treats too, Fridays, for example are treat snack day where they can have ONE processed snack in their lunch – but on the whole, I am committed to eating real, unprocessed foods)

And if I can get “real” for a minute . . . I can make 60 of my gluten-free, sugar-free cookies in 20 minutes.  The kids LOVE them.  They ASK to eat them.  You can find 20 minutes in a day to make a batch of snacks that can last a week or longer (depending on how many kids you have).

I made my almond flour chicken fingers in 10 minutes this week – and even better, the kids made them with me, then trimmed the beans and chopped the broccoli – we had family time and a tasty dinner.  Oh . . . and there are enough leftovers that I can feed the kids this meal again next week.

 

Do organic and natural ingredients cost more?  Individually, sure.  But when I can make 60 cookies (which translates into 20 – 30 snack servings) for about $7, and a box of 6 packs of star wars cookies (the popular snack in my kids classes these days) costs just about $3, which is the cheaper option?  I won’t lie and say almond flour is cheap – but the chicken finger recipe can come together in under $20 – how much would  you spend if you bought fast food for your family’s dinner?

I’ve talked about choice before . . . what choice are you going to make to ensure the health and happiness of your family . . . today, tomorrow, in the days that follow?  Because I know that I am going to continue to choose the “real” option.

 

My Quest for Tasty School Snacks The Kids Will Actually Eat Continues

While I proclaimed my love of Disney yesterday, the one aspect of the Most Magical Place on Earth that really bothers me is the over-abundance of sugar-laden foods.  On one had, I absolutely understand the desire to celebrate a trip to Disney with special food treats.  I do enjoy the Mickey ice cream sandwiches (and yes, I did have one on the trip).  But on the other, some of the “treats” are so over-the-top it’s hard not to shake your head.  Take for instance one of our breakfasts; it was a buffet where characters visited your table while you were eating.  As if that wasn’t excitement enough for the kids, there was a large bowl of gummy bears placed next to a tray of croissants, along with dishes of jam and butter (I wasn’t aware that gummy bears were a traditional accompaniment to croissants . . . haha).  There were also rice krispie treats, krispy kreme donut holes, and brownies.  And this was breakfast!!!

Seeing this excess of sugary foods and how easily and in such quantities that people were consuming these foods made me think just how far we’ve come, as a society, from eating, never mind valuing real (unprocessed, sugar- and chemical-free) food.

So now that we’re back, I’m even more committed than ever to making sure my kids grow up to not only value, but to enjoy and to choose real food over it’s processed counterparts.

Which lead me back to my quest to find healthy “treats” that the kids can enjoy during snack time at school and not feel ostracized by the other kids with their processed snacks.

Both my kids LOVE granola bars.  I’ve tried to buy healthy store-bought versions, but they are hard to find in school-safe nut-free versions that are actually edible (according to my kids, anyway).  And so, I started to research how to make granola bars.  And after reading LOTS of recipes, I came up with one that, at least one of the kids and I think is pretty darn good.  They’ve been requested as tomorrow’s snack, which I’m taking as a good sign.  They were super easy to make – we whipped them up after school and were ready to test after dinner!

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Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

  • Servings: 18ish bars
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1/4 cup butter

1/3 cup honey

2tsp vanilla extract

1/2tsp salt

1/4 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar if that’s more your thing)

2 cups old fashioned oats

2 cups puffed rice cereal

2/3 cups Enjoy Life chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Line a 9×9″ pyrex pan with parchment paper.
  2. Heat the oven to 350 and spread the oats on a rimmed baking sheet.  Toast the oats for a few minutes (it took about 5 in my oven) until they are just a bit toasty looking in colour.
  3. While the oats are toasting, put the butter, honey, vanilla, sugar and salt into a small saucepan and heat on medium heat.  When the mixture comes to a simmer, put the timer on for about 2 minutes – when the 2 minutes are up, take the pan off the oven and let it cool for a few minutes.
  4. While the mixture is cooling a bit, add the puffed rice to a big bowl, and then add in the oats and mix until they are well combined.
  5. You can now add in the butter/honey mixture.  I just dumped it in and then mixed it well with a wooden spoon.  When all the puffed rice/oats have been well  coated with the mixture, add in the chocolate chips and mix well.  If the butter/honey mixture is still warm, the chocolate chips will melt a little – personally, we all liked how this turned out.  If that’s not your thing, let the butter/honey mixture really cool before you mix all the ingredients together.
  6. Once everything is well combined, dump it all into the pan and using a metal spoon, press the mixture down into the pan so that it is really tightly packed.
  7. Put the pan into the fridge and let the bars set up.  Once they are firm, lift them out of the pan and cut into as many/few bars as you want.

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