Saturday, April 20, 2013

Helpful Links

I've had another busy week in the kitchen, and have been excited to discover some delicious new recipes.  Fortunately for me, many people have embarked on this food journey prior to my family, which means that I have been able to take advantage of their hard work.  In order to try to make thinks a bit easier for any of you who want to experiment with this lifestyle, here are links to some of the foods we've been eating.

Lisa over at 100 Days of Real Food has created a great site that has really guided me through this journey.  In addition to the wealth of knowledge that her site provides, she also has a whole store of recipes.  Some of the ones we've tried most recently include whole wheat crepes, breakfast cookies, chicken in whole cooker, chicken stock, chocolate sauce, cinnamon raisin bread, Mara's peanut Thai pasta, refried beans in slow cooker, whole-wheat tortillas, and toaster pastries.  Her veggie burger recipe also has great flavor!

We've had a few misses trying to find a good whole wheat hamburger bun recipe, but I am happy to say that we hit the jackpot the other evening.  I tried the recipe from My Kitchen Addiction and loved it!  The buns were easier to make, looked pretty, and tasted great!

Snacks have been a challenge, as we have to provide several each day for the kids at school, so I've been continually hunting for new recipes there.  I modified one of my favorite granola bar recipes from Sweet Girl Confections to fit our real food guidelines.  I took out the brown sugar, added in peanut butter, and subtracted the pumpkin seeds, since they were not a big hit with the four year olds.  We've been making a batch of these almost weekly.  We also tried out a graham cracker recipe today from Big Life Little Garden .  The initial taste tests were promising, so hopefully the kids continue to enjoy these. 

My kids started tball a few weeks ago and we were in charge of snacks for the first game.  I wanted to stick to a healthy snack, but still make something that the other children might actually eat.  We opted for apple slices and soft pretzel bites using the recipe from Once a Month Mom .

Hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do.  Thanks again to all of the great bloggers who have come before.  If you have any delicious real food recipes, please share them in the comments below.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Incredible In-laws

Okay, I know we are still getting acquainted here, but one thing you should know is that I'm one of those rare and lucky people who actually enjoys spending time with her in-laws.   They are wonderful people and I truly feel that I am fortunate to have married into their family.  That being said, however, thinking about my in-laws and our real food transition has been stressing me out a bit. 

See, the problem with liking them is that we spend a lot of time with them.  Which was never a problem until we switched to real foods.  My mother-in-law is actually quite a healthy eater herself, but my father-in-law, bless his heart, is not.  The man avoids most fruits and all veggies, and doesn't consider a meal to be complete unless it contains some sort of animal product.  As a result, while we always have salad and fruit on the table at my in-laws, there is also a lot of meat, along with convenient sides like Stouffer's mac & cheese or Bob Evans mashed potatoes.  Plus, my children have gotten into the habit of enjoying ice cream with sprinkles at the end of most of their meals there.  In the past, I've always let it go, figuring that it's nice for the grandparents to be able to spoil their grandkids a bit.  With our new food attitude, however, I knew something had to change.

We usually eat at my in-laws twice a week, which seems too often to just ignore our guidelines.  And yet, while I am trying to be consistent for the sake of my family, I am very aware of not wanting to "put anyone out".  Over the past few years, I've gradually come to the mindset that this is the best way to eat for our family.  I know, however, that many people do not understand or agree with our choice, and I'm not trying to change that.  So I've been faced with how to sensitively approach the topic so as to change our eating habits without making my in-laws feel offended or uncomfortable.  At just two weeks into this transition, we had started by basically letting it go, with the plan that my husband would talk to his parents in the next day or two to try to work out a system.  Our goal, with their permission, was to stock some staple items, such as whole wheat pasta, all-beef hot dogs, and grass-fed ground beef in their pantry and freezer, so that we could easily substitute items when needed. 

Imagine my surprise and pleasure, then, when we arrived today for lunch after church to find the following menu: baked chicken, brown rice, salad, and mixed strawberries & watermelon.  The chicken was free-range, the salad greens organic.  My mother-in-law had purchased organic milk for the kids to drink, along with organic yogurt and organic frozen fruit to make smoothies as a special treat.  I was honestly blown away.  As I am the one who does the majority of the shopping in our household, I know firsthand how much more expensive it is to buy organic produce & dairy, and humanely-raised meat.  I am so touched that my mother-in-law went out of her way to purchase all these items just to make us feel more comfortable at her home.  It's just one more example of how kind and generous my in-laws are.  It has also allowed me to feel more confident that we may actually be able to sustain this change. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Another First

Wading into the real food waters is allowing us to experience a lot of firsts.  Tonight we had another one - our first restaurant experience where we actually tried to follow real food guidelines.  We've been out to restaurants twice before since we started eating real foods.  The first time, though, was a day after we started and so I convinced myself that it was too soon to worry about it.  The second time was last weekend, when I took my husband out to dinner for his birthday.  We had already planned the restaurant several weeks in advance, before real foods were on our agenda, and it was not a very real food-friendly place.  So we viewed it as a last hurrah of sorts, and ordered all of the junk that we used to love diving into.  While I was excited at the time, I felt both guilty and sick for the remainder of the evening, which was not worth the trade off.

So tonight, when we went out with a group of friends from church, we figured we were out of excuses.  I attempted to do my research, scouting the menu ahead of time to determine possible options.  Of course, it's hard when you don't have a list of ingredients to refer to.  It was also tricky knowing that most people would be ordering appetizers to share, since they tend to be one of the least healthy options on the menu.  We made a plan, though, and I am happy to say that we stuck to it.  We ordered hummus, subbing in fresh veggies in place of the pita bread.  We also got a cheese plate with local cheeses, and chose to eat them with the offered apples, as opposed to the cracker variety that came as an accompaniment.  I'm not sure if everything was 100% real food, but I feel confident that we did a pretty darn good job for a first attempt.  The only thing that was really hard for me to pass on were the nachos.  I may need to try to find a brand of tortilla chips soon, so I can make my own at home.  Once we got home, we enjoyed a simple taco bake for dinner.  Would it have been easier to eat the free, prepared appetizers tonight?  Of course.  After our homemade meal, however, I feel both satisfied and content, knowing that I'm giving myself the best fuel possible before my long run tomorrow morning. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Major Kitchen Time

Well, we've survived our first week on mainly real foods.  It's been a steep learning curve, but I feel satisfied with our progress so far.  In about ten days, we've transitioned to almost all real food.  My husband has been wonderfully supportive, and I've been shocked at how well my twins have transitioned as well.  My daughter has actually started to request salad for lunch, which is something I never thought I'd see.  Now it's figuring out how we can maintain and improve this lifestyle.

Unfortunately, with it still being early spring, most of our local farmers markets haven't yet gotten up to speed, but I was thrilled to find an indoor market this past Saturday.  After bypassing the delicious looking baked goods and the local wines, I was able to find some great local foods that fit our real food bill.  I left the market with lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, potatoes, eggs, ground beef, salmon, coffee, and goat cheese.  On my way home, I made my first-ever stop at Trader Joe's, where I was able to find some great deals on pantry staples, such as white whole wheat flour, raw cashews, and oatmeal. 

With our newly restocked kitchen, I got down to cooking.  On Saturday, I made a batch of cheesy crackers for my children to take to school for snack.  Most of Sunday was spent in the kitchen as well.  I started with whole wheat pretzel nuggets, which came out better than I expected.  We then tried a new food, baking a batch of kale chips.  I took a brief step away from real food to make a vanilla and chocolate cake for my husband in honor of his birthday.  After the birthday celebration, I made another batch of granola bars, followed by banana muffins.  The night wrapped up with corny salmon cakes, which we divided between dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow.  I'm wiped out after all that cooking, but I'm looking forward to going into a new week with a batch of healthy, homemade snacks and meals planned out. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Going against the norm

I've never considered myself much of a rebel.  You might even look at my life and describe it as boring, mundane, or predictable.  And as someone who doesn't really like change, I'm pretty much okay with that.  I am quickly discovering, however, that I'm really going out on a limb with this real food diet.

Now I know that I've been blogging for a total of about three days, and it's probably not wise to start stating strong opinions right up front.  I'm not really one to hide my feelings, however, and I've gotten quite worked up about something over the past day or so, so please forgive me and indulge me for a moment here.

I don't expect everyone to eat the way my family does, but when did society decide that our children need to be provided with food on a non-stop basis?  And why is it that most of the food we offer our youngest children is far from healthy?

My twins are 4, and thus far, they have been real troopers with this diet change.  Granted, I have been talking it up every chance I get, but they haven't even blinked an eye at finding altered versions of their favorite dishes on their plates at each meal.  Also, considering how much they tend to complain in general, the complaints have really been kept to a minimum.  I'm prepared for the hard conversations and the times that I will have to tell them "no", but I honestly didn't expect it to be quite this often. 

I had to contact their preschool this week to inform them of our new eating guidelines.  Upon doing so, I discovered that my children have been eating 3 snacks a day at school.  That is in addition to the lunch we send and the snack I give them on the ride home.  So now I have to not only pack lunch every day, but also three varied snack options so they don't rebel when their friends are eating school-provided, packaged food. 

In addition, we started t-ball last week.  After the first practice, the coach sent us an email with reminders, asking each family to sign up to provide snack following each game.  He requested juice and something to eat as well.

Okay, now maybe I'm crazy, but I really don't think my four-year-olds need food every 90 minutes to make it through the day.  In the summer, we eat every 2.5-3 hours, three meals and two snacks total in one day, and they seem to do just fine.  So why is it that when they have a t-ball game at 6pm, right after they have finished dinner, we feel obligated to feed them an hour later at the end of the game?  Or why do they need a snack upon arriving at school at 8am, another one at 10 am, and then lunch at 11:30am?  And why are they being offered juice at every opportunity?  Whatever happened to the cup of tap water and two orange slices I received as a kid after a soccer game?  I can't help but wonder if many of the behavior problems I see in my students might be diminished a bit if they ate slightly healthier snacks with less sugar. 

I know part of my complaint is that due to other people's preferences, I now have to justify to my children why they can't have juice and soft pretzels on a daily basis.  I also worry, however, that we are setting our children up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits by fostering this behavior at such a young age. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Charming Cheese

Okay, I need to vent about the food habits in the life of my preschoolers, but I'm putting that aside tonight in favor of a rave review.

Who says real food can't be amazing?  My husband has a birthday coming up this weekend.  In celebration of the big event, I brought home an artisan cheese plate tonight from Talula's Table, a little market/gourmet food/exclusive restaurant in nearby Kennett Square.  This was my first time visiting Talula's which I found online when I was searching for good cheeses in the area.  See, I like to think that I am the Banker's first love, but if I ever were to have any real competition, it would probably come from cheese.  The man thinks that it is the one ingredient that makes everything better.  About a year ago, we spent the weekend in Hershey, and we enjoyed the most amazing cheese plate during one of our dinners out there.  We've been talking about going back, for the cheese alone, ever since, and while we couldn't swing a weekend away right now, I figured we could at least enjoy some more cheese. 

So a couple of days ago, I called up Talula's and asked if they could make a plate for two using local, organic cheese.  They kindly agreed and tonight after work I made a little detour on my way home to pick up the cheese, along with a local red wine to go with it.  After a fine, but unremarkable dinner of homemade red clam sauce over whole-grain pasta and a side salad, we poured ourselves two glasses of wine and broke out the cheese plate.  What a wonderful treat in the middle of a ho-hum work week!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A bit more of the backstory

Okay, sorry for the story in snippets here, but life is a bit busy (doesn't everyone say that), so I have to take the opportunities when they arise.  Here's a bit of a back story on who you're going to be reading about:

I'm in my early thirties, and could classify myself as a wife, mom, teacher, runner, and amateur baker & photographer.  I love reading, the beach, naps, and traveling.  My family consists of my husband, who we'll call the Banker, since he's in finance, and my four year old twins.  Peanut Butter is my little girl, who's my mini-me in looks and personality.  Buggy is my awesome boy who challenges me to no end, but gives the best hugs known to man. 

I have an undergraduate degree in exercise science and have been around sports my whole life, so I like to think I've always been aware of nutrition.  We ate pretty healthy food when I was growing up, and I've tried to keep my family doing the same as well over the past few years.  A couple of years ago, I read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and was inspired by the idea of eating seasonally.  While I definitely didn't fully embrace it, we did start making more trips to the local farmers markets.  I tried to stick to local produce and even purchase some local meats & eggs when I could.  Recently I stumbled onto the website and the ideas presented there just really connected with me.  I read Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food" and was convinced that I needed to make a change for myself and my family.  Which pretty much leads to where we are now.  We are doing our best to embrace the "real food" mindset, as Pollan laid out so well in his book.  I had planned to transition us over gradually, as I didn't want to waste the food we already have stocked up, but once I get into a project it's hard for me to pace myself so we dove in a bit faster than I had planned.

Here are the guidelines we are attempting to follow:

1) Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, local and organic when possible
2) Stick to 100% whole grains for all of our grain products
3) Eat pasture-raised meat from local farms
4) Eliminate any preservatives, artificial dyes, and unnatural ingredients in our foods
5) Stick to less-refined forms of sugar (honey & maple syrup)
6) Avoid any store-bought items with more than 5 ingredients

Pollan does a lot better job of laying this out in his book, and they explain it real well on the "100 Days" site as well, but that should give you enough of an idea.  We've been dabbling in this for less than a week, so I'm still doing a ton of learning myself, but hopefully I can teach you a bit along the way, even if it's just how we are making this transition in our own small family. 

A brief intro

Hi everyone!  Forgive me.  I'm fairly young (at least, I like to think so) but still live in a past-age where technology is concerned, so this is my first attempt at blogging.  Until now, I've never really thought I had anything important enough to blog about it.  Plus, I don't really relish the thought of baring my whole life online for the world to see.  I'm trying something new, however (besides blogging) and a friend of mine suggested I blog about it.  I'm a bit skeptical, but figure it will hold me accountable, so I'm willing to give it a try.  So here goes.  Please be forgiving and bear with me as I try to make some sense.

My family is currently in the process of switching to real foods.  By real foods, I mean that we are basically trying to eliminate anything with preservatives, artificial colors, etc.  It's an interesting challenge, and one that in many ways, is even more daunting than I had anticipated.  Right now we're less than a week in, so we're definitely novices here.  So lucky you, you're joining us right at the start.  Over the next few days, I'll try to catch you up with a bit of the backstory and then share how we are doing.  I look forward to sharing this journey with all of you!