Over the last 3 years, I have replaced most processed and prepared foods from my family’s diet. It wasn’t and isn’t always convenient but it definitely has changed our health for the better! We used to eat all the wrong stuff! Everything I bought was ready made out of a box, can, or freezer. If you’ve ever read the labels on a box of Hamburger Helper, it doesn’t even sound edible or tasty! I have four very active and hungry children! It is a challenge to feed everyone and do it on a budget while at the same time keeping the meals healthy! There are a lot of chemicals, additives, and preservatives in processed foods. There are lots of things that we shouldn’t be putting into our bodies let alone feed to our children! I started to recreate our favorite processed foods in my kitchen with the most basic ingredients. Even though we are on a tight, shoestring food budget, I manage to buy certain organic ingredients that will maximize the nutritious benefits for my family! Anyone can learn how to eat the healthiest meals and improve your family’s health!
Here are a few of the things that you can start doing right away!
1. Rule of thumb – if you can’t pronounce words, recognize the ingredients as a food, and don’t have any of the things listed on the label in your cabinet, don’t buy it! Read the ingredients of your favorite, go-to processed meals. The labels are like commercials on the box, they will tell you things or put pictures on the box that really have nothing to do with the product inside the package. For example: a picture of a cow in green grass on a farm when in reality, the product came from a cow on a factory farm, laying in mud, sick, and pumped full of antibiotics!
2. Look out for the worst offenders in processed food ingredients: MSG (monosodium glutamate), aspartame, high sodium content, non-organic corn or soy, partially hydrogenated oils, hydrolyzed soy/corn/wheat protein, and high fructose corn syrup. If the product is supposed to be meat, from an animal, it shouldn’t have soy fillers in it! 95% of the non-organic soybeans in the US are genetically engineered to withstand very large amounts of pesticides and herbicides, not exactly a health food! And soy is in everything! I should know, since I am allergic to soybeans!
3. Stay away from flavor packets! These are always very high in sodium and contain lots of unnecessary chemicals. It is better to use an organic and/or homemade beef, chicken, or vegetable stock to add flavor to brown rice and meats. Fresh herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, and cilantro will take your meals to the next level of flavor and are so much healthier too! My pantry is always stocked with fresh garlic and basil, these two together make tomato sauce taste wonderful!
4. Fats. Healthy fats are a necessary part of a balanced diet. Not all fats are created equal and some do so much more harm to you than others! Omega 3 fats are great and those are: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, organic butter, and pastured egg yolk. There is a whole host of nuts that are high in Omega 3 fats as well. Healthy Omega 6 fats are from grass-fed beef and free-range poultry. Fresh, wild caught seafood contain healthy fat and Krill oil is a great supplement to take! Get rid of the soybean, corn, canola, margarine, and shortening because these oils are not heart healthy and overly processed! Be aware that a lot of restaurants use these unhealthy oils and it’s best to avoid fried food and fast food for this reason.
5. Choose fresh vegetables and fresh fruit as side dishes. You don’t need the boxed rice and canned corn. Balance your dinner plate with a healthy protein and lots of colorful raw, steamed, broiled, grilled, baked, and sautéed vegetables! My kids are in love with sautéed broccoli! I drop it into boiling water for 6 minutes and then I sauté it with olive oil, fresh garlic, sea salt, and black pepper until fork tender. They actually fought over the broccoli a few nights ago and there were no leftovers! To add variety to our meals I’ll serve fresh strawberries or apples with dinner instead of pasta or rice. Strawberries go great with roasted chicken!
6. A word about salt. Table salt has added iodine in it because people weren’t getting enough of this nutrient through everyday eating, right. So how about we get iodine by eating things from the sea. Table salt will increase your blood pressure and has more sodium per serving than sea salt. Why not just use sea salt with naturally occurring iodine and less sodium per serving! We made the switch to sea salt and now table salt tastes way too salty to me and I am more sensitive to salty foods so I avoid them as much as possible.
7. It’s always better to eat naturally occurring foods than highly processed foods. For example: Butter and margarine. Years ago studies came out the saturated fat was bad, anyone remember that? So, companies came up with a way to make a butter-like substance out of vegetable oil. With vegetable right in the name, it’s got to be healthy right? Well, not exactly. You see, butter is churned from the milk of a cow. If that cow is grazing in grass and happily lounging on a farm that butter will be so much better for you than digesting a factory processed, trans fat and hydrogenated “vegetable” oil. I think factories and I think pollution, smog, and chemical by-products. Definitely eat butter in moderation though. Moderation is key with fats and salt!
8. Last but not least is sugar. Sugar actually comes from a plant called sugar cane. There are other sources of sugar that are in processed food though. Genetically engineered sugar beets and high fructose corn syrup are the two most common ingredients found in processed food. Our bodies process cane sugar, or sucrose differently than fructose. A word of caution – high fructose corn syrup is made from genetically engineered corn, which is not naturally occurring in nature but created in a lab to withstand mass quantities of herbicide/pesticides. The BT corn variety releases the pesticide when the insects bite it…and that is was makes high fructose corn syrup. So again, naturally occurring vs highly processed is the choice to make. I gave up conventional sodas 3 years ago. When I do get a hankering for the sweet fizzy stuff, I grab a cane sugar soda instead. Most of the time, I drink water.
So to sum up: Buy Organic and Support your local farmers! Go to some farmers markets in your area and try some fresh fruit and veggies! Take a cooking class to learn some tips and techniques and start preparing homemade meals for your family!