Sunday, February 2, 2014

Desert Survivor's Tips to Eating Healthier

I've had some questions from blog readers about how we are eating now that we've given up a lot of processed foods and are eating more real foods. First, let me say that this is definitely a journey--we keep making baby steps towards a better diet. We sure do feel better when we eat better, though, so it's something we're going to keep working on.

In reading through various blogs and websites, it's become apparent that it's good to give yourself a little leeway. We try to eat 80% real food and allow 20% processed food (often breakfast cereals, an occasional frozen pizza, ice cream sundae, etc.).

Also, if you're curious about the difference between a real food diet, which allows non-processed foods from many categories, and a paleo diet, which allows non-processed foods from selected categories (no dairy, no legumes), this is an excellent article.

The only processing this crab received was boiling water.
Here are some of the things we do to eat more real food:

1. Read the food labels. This is simple, but really effective. If you don't know what the ingredients are, they probably aren't good for you! Things that I particularly look out for:
    a. Food dyes. Several food dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children. I now use the ones we have in our house for science experiments and use natural food coloring as much as possible (see this post about coloring Easter eggs).
    b. High fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup may not be any worse nutritionally than sugar, but it is more highly processed. We try to limit the amount of any sweeteners we use, as our ancestors had substantially less of it, and the amazing amount we ingest today as a society is causing all sorts of health problems, like obesity and diabetes.
    c. Caramel color. Often found in cola and barbecue sauce, and sometimes in beer. Causes cancer.
    d. Monosodium glutamate or 'natural flavorings'. Can cause trouble for some people. Although it may be okay for many, it's a sign of highly processed foods. Found in many canned soups, top ramen, bouillon cubes, and other foods my kids seem to like a lot (sigh).

Vegetable and chicken Indian curry in coconut milk--I enjoyed it just as
much the next day for lunch, but didn't spend much more time doubling
the recipe.
2. Cook from scratch--and double the recipe! Yes, it takes longer to cook meals from scratch, but by doing so, you are getting a better tasting, healthier meal. To help save time, make double the amount and then freeze or refrigerator the leftovers. It will only take a little longer to make two meals' worth, but will save you quite a bit of extra prep and clean-up time. Some simple substitutions we've made to make our cooking from scratch healthier:
    a. Whole wheat flour - I can often substitute 1/3 to 1/2 of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe with whole wheat flour and not notice the difference.
    b. Butter - we always use butter now. It's a natural product, nothing weird added, no extreme processing.
    c. Whole wheat pasta - here's a super easy switch--when you buy pasta in the store, opt for the whole wheat pasta. It usually just costs pennies more but has lots more nutrients.
    d. Brown rice/wild rice - another easy switch--white rice has had its nutrients stripped out of it, so buy the brown rice or wild rice and you'll be getting a much healthier option.

Strawberry with chia seeds
3. Breakfasts - You've heard it before, don't skip breakfast! I have to admit, my kids often preferred store bought cereals to the alternatives below. But we're working on it.
    a. Home-made granola - Here's a delicious granola recipe. But I will admit, I am still searching for the perfect recipe. Here's one I'm going to try soon. If you have a suggestion, let me know, because I love granola.
    b. Yogurt - I've experimented with making my own yogurt and it is pretty easy and so much cheaper! It also contains so much less sugar than most store-bought yogurts. If you do buy the yogurt, just read the label--yogurt ingredients can vary a lot.
    c. Eggs and meat - eggs are generally not processed, so they're a good real food. And bacon can be a great side, especially if you can buy it local without the processing much of the store-bought bacon gets.
    d. Whole wheat pancakes - here's a recipe we like. I'll make double the dry ingredients and store them in a jar so the next time we make them they're even faster.
    e. Muffins - our favorites right now are Banana chocolate chip muffins (okay, chocolate chips are a little processed, but hopefully all the healthiness outweighs that!). I'll usually freeze the extras so that I only have to make a batch once a week or so.
    f. Smoothies - green smoothies are delicious. I put fruit and greens into containers in the freezer so I'm more likely to take them out and dump them into the blender. Easy prep means more likely to eat!
    g. Fruit - don't forget the fruit! This is easy and fast: bananas, oranges, grapefruit, apple slices, berries, and more!

School lunch: leftover pasta and cheese, hard-boiled egg, strawberries and grapes, half a banana, and some applesauce in a reusable Nourish with Style container.

4. Lunches
Our lunches are often leftovers. I don't like cooking again, we don't exactly have a lot (or even a few) options for eating out, and pre-packaged food can be pricey. We usually have access to a microwave, so this works well for us.

Frozen 100% juice in cool containers has replaced popsicles for us
5. Snacks
    a. Fruit - my heart swells with my pride when my kids ask, "Can we have an apple or an orange for a snack?" We try to keep lots of fruit easily available. If it's easy to see and eat, that's the choice!
    b. Popcorn - microwave popcorn is convenient but full of weird chemicals so we make our own: buy regular popcorn, sprinkle the bottom of a lunch bag or small paper bag with kernels, roll over the top and microwave for about 2.5-3 minutes. Nearly as easy but healthier!
    c. Cheese - cheese is our go-to snack when we're a little hungrier
    d. Hard-boiled eggs - this is a simple, little-processsed food (heating is technically processing, but we're not concerned about that)
    e. Veggies - I can get my kids to eat veggies the best if we grow them in the garden. Sometimes if they pick them out at the store that helps. Instead of chips, I often give them carrots to munch on.
    f. Frozen juice - in the summer my kids love popsicles, but if you read the ingredients, they're often full of high fructose corn syrup and food colorings. So we freeze 100% juice in Silicone Ice Pop Makers, and it is now the special occasional treat that tastes even better.
    g. Applesauce - we only buy unsweetened applesauce now, and the kids like it a lot. If we put it into  special reusable Nourish with Style containers, they like it even better, and I am happy because the containers are reusable!

Making the food look appealing keeps the kids eating it!
6. Dinners
    a. Two veggies and a meat - We live on a cattle ranch, so meat is a primary part of many of our meals. We usually eat beef four times a week, chicken/lamb/hog twice a week, and fish/meatless once a week. We ideally have two veggies, or a hot vegetable and a salad, with the meal. Note that I said ideally--this doesn't happen every night!
    b. Carbs-sweet potatoes, brown rice - We've really cut down on the carbs with a meal, because we feel with the meat and veggies our hunger is satisfied. When we do want some extra carbs, we will try for sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes to get extra nutrients, brown rice instead of white rice, quinoa, or whole wheat pasta.
    c. Dessert? We all have a sweet tooth, so we often have dessert after dinner. At least two or three times a week we try to make fruit our dessert. Okay, sometimes we count chocolate-covered fruit as a fruit dessert. Other desserts are homemade cakes and cookies, and occasionally ice cream (sometimes homemade, but usually store bought.) Moderation is the key, just read the ingredient labels and find what you'd like to put in your body. And if you're willing to make the dessert, it's probably okay to have some of it.

Locally grown brussel sprouts
7. Where to buy?
    a. Grocery stores - Fortunately many grocery stores are catching on that people want healthier food, and selections are expanding. We often try to shop the edges of the grocery store, where the produce, meat, and dairy are located. My son told me that the donuts are also on the edge of the grocery store. He's thinking ahead!
   b. Co-ops - Food co-ops can be great places to get healthy food for a little cheaper. We're lucky to have Azure Standard available out where we are, and that's recently become available nationwide (or so I've heard). Bountiful Baskets is a wonderful option, although I find that since our nearest pickup site is over an hour away, I don't get to use it as much as I like.
   c. Farmer's Markets - If you have a farmer's market near you, use it! This is a wonderful resource! We don't have one near us, but we do try to buy from farm stands when in season and trade with friends who have gardens.

Health food stores are also a great option (unfortunately we don't have any near us). It's also now possible to buy good food from online, such as Abe's Market or even Amazon.

Elderberries are purported to have many health benefits, and since they grow
in my area, I'm going to try and use them more this next year.
Hopefully you've found something useful in this post. I'd love to hear more ideas of how to make simple changes to eat better. As I mentioned at the beginning, eating healthier is a journey. We are all at different points along that journey, but no matter where we are, each step we take in the right direction is something to celebrate.

The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which mean if you click through them and buy something from Amazon within 24 hours (even if it's different than what the link leads to), I'll get a small commission for the sale, and you'll still get the same low price you would get regularly. That helps me keep Desert Survivor up and running, so thanks!


A said...

We all love our "nut cereal" (granola) recipe.

1 cup water
1 scant cup honey
1 scant cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp (scant) almond extract
2 lbs (generous) oats

Put everything in a big bowl (I use a pasta pot) and mix to moistened.

Bake on cookie trays 350degrees until browned and done. When cooked and (at least slightly cooled) add sunflower seeds, slivered almonds, or whatever you want.
Sometimes I add some wheat germ in the last few minutes of cooking.

jhami said...

Great post! It's definitely work to be mindful about eating more real food, but we are trying as well. We don't go out to eat much but cook meals at home from scratch. Thankfully there are a lot of healthy recipes out there.

Mimsie said...

Very interesting and informative. Thanks for taking the time to explain your choices.

Desert Survivor said...

A--thanks for the recipe, can't wait to give it a try!

And thanks for the comments, it's good to know others are on the same path and we're in this together!

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