Has it really been 100 days already? Time flies when you’re having fun, I guess. Living and breathing Real Food these past 100 days has made us realize a lot of things. We thought we’d take a minute to share our thoughts on the challenge and hope you will share your experience as well. We are so far from experts, but here are 10 things we learned during the last 100 days (we thought 100 would be overkill).
1. We already prepared a lot of real food, without even thinking about it. “I credit this to my mother, grandmother and extended family who always make everything homemade,” - Magge
2. The transition to Real Food was easier than we thought. “To make my homemade macaroni and cheese Real Food macaroni and cheese, I just subbed white flour out for some white whole wheat (that King Arthur’s stuff is awesome), and the regular noodles for whole wheat ones. Done. And awesome, BTW.” - Maggie
3. Reading labels is important. Not only does this help extend that precious alone time at the grocery store (when did grocery shopping alone become such a luxury, BTW?), it also changed what we buy. The staples like bread, bagels and yogurt we used to buy without thinking twice have now been swapped out for Real Food versions. It’s the little things that make a big impact. Here's how to read food labels.
4. Eating Real Food is expensive. There just isn’t any way around this one, but we did find a lot of tips to make it more affordable. We know the cost is a big challenge, preventing a lot of people from eating Real Food. We are hopeful healthy, organic, whole foods will become more and more accessible to everyone in the coming years.
5. Rethink fast food. We don’t eat fast food, but what kid (or adult) doesn’t love chicken nuggets. Have you ever thought about making homemade chicken nuggets? They are so good and there is no mystery meat. Here is a recipe we used for inspiration. You probably won’t be able to make them look like dinosaurs, but the kids will get over that once they taste them.
6. Getting the kids involved is so fun. Stirring, pounding, mixing and pressing out tortillas was a highlight for Maggie and her boys.
7. Having a plan is key. This not only saved our sanity, but made it easy for everyone to be on board. “It’s easy for the nanny, my husband or my mom to look at the meal plan on the fridge and make Parker something to eat when I am away from home. It takes the guesswork out of cooking and makes feeding her healthy so easy.” - Melissa
8. Leftovers are the best. In addition to prepping and planning ahead, making a little extra of whatever we were having for dinner, meant we could turn it into lunch the next day.
9. The right tools make a big difference. “I would cook and puree a lot of fruits and vegetables for Parker on Sundays. But without a bunch of trays to freeze the purees in, I would have a bunch of pureed food that has to sit in the fridge while I wait for the trays to be available again. More trays would make it easier, but at $25 each, I just couldn’t spend the money for that convenience.” - Melissa. On the other hand, Maggie has already gotten her money’s worth of her newly acquired tortilla press.
10. We discovered new favorite foods. Farro, homemade ricotta, homemade almond milk are just a few of our new favorite things. We also learned to not fear fat.
Now it’s your turn...what did you learn during the challenge? What are your Real Food tips?
No matter your intentions to cook, eat and serve Real Food, it is difficult. The grocery store is full of products labeled "real", "wholesome", "natural" and "organic". You have to decide what messaging you can trust when making choices for your family. When do you choose organic? How many ingredients on the label are too many? As a guide, we use the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen as a rough guide for when to choose organic vs. conventional produce (because, let's be honest, organic food is expensive). We also roughly stick to the "no more than 5 ingredients" rule set forth by 100 Days of Real Food. Beyond this, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite ways to ensure our family eats Real Food that you can try as well.
My number one tip is to join a CSA. What is a CSA? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of fruits and vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.Reasons I love being a CSA member:
It allows us to support local farmers
We know EXACTLY where our food is coming from
We know the produce is fresh, organic and local
It gets us experimenting in the kitchen
When I say we know exactly where the food is coming from, I mean it. As a CSA member, you often have the opportunity to visit the farm. Being able to tour the place where your food is grown makes you even more invested in eating healthy, local food.
One of the best side effects of becoming a CSA member (besides playing with chickens and baby lambs) has been that it pushed us outside our comfort zone when it comes to the ingredients we cook with. While our household is a fruit and veggie loving one, we still tend to get into a rut, turning to the same go-to options.
With a CSA you don't choose what comes in the box each week—that's up to Mother Nature. When that gnarly looking celery root stares up at you from the box, what do you do? Why, you hop on the Internet (or our favorite, Pinterest) and research recipes. When the result is a creamy, rich alternative to mashed potatoes that is packed with fiber, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B6, all is right in the world.
Trust me, we know we are spoiled in California when it comes to the accessibility of amazing produce year round. And depending on where you live, you may not have the option to join a CSA. But there are other ways to enjoy fresh, local produce. There are also larger-scale CSAs throughout the national similar to Farm Fresh to You. Here are 10 to check out.
Also, look for a farmers market near you and make it fun for the kids by letting them choose a new fruit or vegetable each trip that they want to try. Just make sure they know one of the rules is that once you cook it, they have to actually try it. :)
Whether you have a windowsill, a porch, a small area in your yard, or an acre, you can take advantage of that space and grow your own herbs and produce. It doesn't get any more local than that. Check out our Farm to Pouch board on Pinterest for ideas and inspiration for growing your own produce.
Tell us: What are your favorite ways to eat farm-to-table?
My sons Kelley and Finnegan are 5 and 3. Kelley is in kindergarten, and then goes to an afterschool program for a couple of hours (from 1-3). Finnegan is in preschool during the same hours. This means that mama’s preparing lunch for these guys every day of the week. Yeah, every single day (except holidays and those puzzling “in-service” days).
I’m not sure if you are there yet. You know, waking up each morning with the “I have to make school lunches” dread. Stressing over what to put in that fourth container of your kids’ BPA free bento box. Frantically peeling and chopping that last dehydrated carrot in the back of the produce bin because that’s all the plant material left in the fridge. Searching (for what seems like hours) through the Tupperware drawer to find the lid to that fourth container of your kids’ BPA free bento box. I’ll be honest, it’s a grind.
But I must say, things have gotten easier for me. Planning is huge. Preparing the lunch box the night before is even huger (I just checked Dictionary.com and that is actually a real word). Taking on this Real Food Initiative has helped me on both fronts. The truth is, if you want to eat more real food, you have to be organized, and you have to plan. For example, if I want my kids to have wholesome real food applesauce in a pouch for lunch, instead of one loaded with added sugar and artificial ingredients, I need to do it ahead of time. The good thing about this is if I plan and make it on the weekend, I have enough for the entire week (this recipe is great, you can do it in the slow cooker).
Also, if I plan ahead by making a double batch of a particular recipe, I have extra for the boys’ (and even my) lunches during the week. I’ve been doing that a lot with a recipe from 100 Days of Real Food for macaroni and cheese. And what’s even better about this is, when we finish having this fantastic real food mac ‘n cheese for dinner, I just plop what’s left into the good ol’ bento box and I’m half way to “lunch is packed” heaven.
Leftovers are a true sanity saver for me. Here’s an example of today’s Real Food Lunchbox with leftover pork (from dinner), French Toast (from breakfast) and cut up fruits and veggies (from the weekend snack). Having this Real Food Lunchbox already prepared when I woke up this morning was pure bliss.
We want to talk lunchbox with you this week. Let us know your tips for creating healthy, real food school lunches. And check in later in the week for some fun, lunch box give-aways.
Today’s Real Foodie is nutritionist, recipe developer and food blogger Lauren Kelly. As a mom of three busy and always hungry little boys, Lauren believes it is important to feed them quality, real food. For her, granola is a great example:
“Granola is one of those products that is incredibly healthy and so easy to make at home. Many of the store bought granolas are filled with extra processed sugars, high fructose corn syrup, additives and preservatives. Making your own granola at home takes the guess work out of figuring out what's in the store-bought ones. You control the ingredients. And with your granola containing quinoa (high in protein), 100% maple syrup (least refined sugar), coconut oil (filled with good for you, heart-healthy fats) and raw nuts (also filled with heart healthy fats , protein and fiber) you can enjoy this guilt-free. Make sure you use unsweetened dried fruits. Many of the ones in grocery stores contain unnecessary, added sugars. They are naturally sweet already! Many people focus of calories, fat and protein, but people also need to be aware of the quality of their ingredients. I try to eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as I can and that is why I like to make many of my meals from scratch. This granola is a perfect healthy breakfast or snack and no one could ever tell just how healthy it is!”
Here’s Lauren’s recipe for Gluten Free Quinoa Granola. Watch out, it is SUPER addicting!
Today’s Real Foodie is Maria Speck, author of the cookbook Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, which won the Julia Child Award and was named a New York Times notable cookbook, a Washington Post top 10 cookbook and one of Cooking Light’s Top 100 Cookbooks of the Last 25 Years. Maria has a passion for propelling Old World staples such as faro (our favorite!), barley, polenta, and wheat berries to the forefront of new American cooking. She draws on food traditions from across the Mediterranean and northern Europe to reveal how versatile, satisfying, flavorful, and sophisticated whole grains can be. Maria has been kind enough to share her recipes for Fig Muffins with Creamy Goat Cheese Filling and Kamut Salad with Carrots and Pomegranate with us, which are fantastic Real Food Recipes for the family to enjoy.
When we asked this critically acclaimed cookbook author why she chooses Real Food, she had this to say:
"For me, one of the big pleasures of cooking and eating real food has to do with flavor. You might find yourself amazed at the clean taste of a garden-fresh tomato or a cucumber in summer, or you might discover layers of flavor in good-quality chocolate or a local cheese. Personally, I have been smitten by the nuances of flavors in ancient grains, which so many still just regard as a blank and bland canvas. Grains to me not only have many fascinating textures, from comforting (think polenta or millet), to softly crunchy (as in amaranth and quinoa) to supremely chewy (as in wheat, spelt, or rye berries). They also have subtle flavors I learned to cherish and use in my everyday cooking: rye, for example, brings enticing tang, Kamut buttery richness, and oats a pleasing natural sweetness. Discovering these aromas can be a revelation."
Let us know what you think of the amazing flavors of Maria’s Real Food Recipes!
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