My best friend recently recommended the 100 Days of Real Food cookbook to me. I am not one to turn down an invitation to check out a new cookbook, so I bought it. Lisa Leake is the author, and she and her family gave up all processed food for 100 days after she read books like Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and watched movies like Food, Inc., which criticize the food industry for causing many of the chronic diseases that plague our country. She wrote a blog while they did it, and she has since published this cookbook with several "real food" recipes in it. While I think some of her "rules" were pretty extreme, I liked the general idea of not relying on any processed food, so my family and I did it too! For seven days. This is a far cry from 100 I realize, but my family already eats pretty well and I didn't know how it would go, so I decided a week would be an interesting challenge. I didn't follow the book exactly, but we made our own rules and the entire family, including my three-year-old and six-year-old, followed them for seven (plus) days.
Here's what we did...I picked a week that wouldn't make this challenge especially difficult. We didn't have social engagement, parties or dinner plans that would interfere, and the kids didn't have events at school that would cause problems either. So, from one Sunday to the next Sunday we ate mostly things that I made, and the few packaged items had only REAL ingredients that I recognized, and none of those ingredients were sugar or refined flours/grains. I tried to limit oils to olive oil and coconut oil, which are both minimally processed, as well as good, old-fashioned butter. For example, Trader Joe's whole wheat pita pockets and corn tortillas were ok, as was a tomato sauce that I found at Costco that had only veggies, oil and spices, salsa and guacamole that were made with only real, fresh ingredients. We drank only milk, unsweetened iced tea and LaCroix, as well as an occastional beer (but only on the weekend). The only sugar we ate was in the form of honey or organic maple syrup. I had recipes for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. I found myself making my own jellys and sauces to flavor plain yogurt. We made breakfast, instead of pouring from a box or pulling from the freezer. We made our own trail mixes instead of opening protein or granola bars. I baked our own snacks, like nature cookies and roasted pumpkin seeds. The kids didn't eat the snacks provided at school, I sent them from home. And because I made things the kids liked, they were ok with it! I will admit that I did sneak a minimal amount of dark chocolate chips into the nature cookies to make the kids more agreeable, but being that I was eliminating all other sugar I didn't have a problem with that.
How'd it go, you ask? Well, my house was a disaster and the laundry piled up because I spent all my "free" time in the kitchen prepping, baking, roasting, baking some more, then cleaning up so I could pack lunches and snacks. But, I love to cook, so I really didn't mind. It was fun and felt amazing to provide such good food for my family. The most challenging parts were breakfasts and snacks. Most days, in a normal week, I cook dinner anyway, and we eat a lot of those dinner leftovers for lunch, so that didn't really change. Breakfast, however, is usually cereal or Nutri-grain Eggos, and it was tough for my kids to break that habit. I pack snacks for my first grader everyday for school, and it's so easy to grab a bag of Annie's Bunnies or pretzels, so I had to find new options there too. I'll share some of the recipes I relied on below, and in upcoming blog posts. Shopping took longer too, as I had to visit multiple stores to get what I needed. Whole Foods has great stuff, but it's pricey so I only get there what I can't get at other places, like sunflower seed butter that doesn't have any palm oil or sugar in it and whole wheat pastry flour that bakes a muffin much lighter that regular whole wheat flour. I shopped at Mariano's, Trader Joe's, Harvest Time, Costco and Whole Foods. All in one week. Whew.
And now? Well, we have relaxed the rules a bit, but many have stuck. For instance, I won't buy a flavored yogurt anymore, I buy plain and flavor them myself. I don't buy Eggos anymore either, but we do still eat some very lightly sweetened cereal. I have worked new homemade options into the breakfast rotation though. I have made my own bread and biscuits, which always intimidated me in the past. I used the bread machine, but I'm counting it anyway! My kids didn't ask for a piece of candy in weeks, in fact I don't even think they remember was still there. We have eaten out a few times, but less than normal. It costs more at the grocery store these days, but I'm saving by not eating out much at all. We are sticking to it as much as possible. My sweet tooth is much improved. Part of the impetus for taking on the real food challenge was that I was craving a lot of sugar, particularly chocolate. Cutting out sugar made the urges go away. I mean if it's in my face I have a hard time saying no, but I don't crave or seek it out like I was before. Yay!
If this is something you'd like to try, you have to plan ahead! We were out of town the weekend before we started, so I had to have Sunday's meals planned before we left so that I knew the food we needed would be ready to use. Everynight I had to plan the entire next day, every bit of food we were going to put into our mouths! But the results of the experiment are really great. I don't think it's a coincidence that I ran my fastest race EVER that 8th day of our challenge. I felt amazing! My boys both have nut allergies, and at one point my older son said to me, "Mom, I kinda, sorta, maybe a little bit like this thing that we are doing because we don't have to worry about nuts in anything since you made it." Awww, me too B, love you buddy.
Here are some good "real food" snack ideas that you may want to try! I'll follow up with some breakfast ideas soon.
Popcorn: homemade or we used Skinny Pop (popcorn, oil and salt is all)
Plain yogurt flavored with berry sauce http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/05/03recipe-berry-sauce
Plain yogurt flavored with pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup
Cheese stick with Triscuits
Corn tortilla (corn, water, lime juice were ingredients) with cheese and guacamole
Homemade trail mix: seeds, nuts, raisins, popcorn
My husband gets hungry mid-afternoon and it was challenging to keep him stacked with snacks at work once we eliminated his highly-processed protein bar. One day I sent him with a plain chicken leg for a snack, for real. He laughed, but liked it. After all, he made it himself in the smoker that week. Yum! I'm getting hungry.