Week 12: NO Sweeteners

Ok, so this last week was a tough week, especially at breakfast time. We were not to have any of the refined sweeteners we couldn’t have a couple of weeks ago as well as any honey or maple syrup. To be honest, this was a difficult week for me as a shopper, a cook and an eater. I’ve learned in the past how important it is to read labels, but this was the week that really put home that I don’t always think as hard about what is in the food others prepare.

I took my girls shopping at the grocery store Monday to be sure we had food for this challenge. Since most bread products with yeast will likely have sugar, or at least honey, I knew that was out. But tortillas don’t need to rise, so I looked through the selection of 4 or 5 brands offered only to find every single one of them had sugar. Then I looked at several other options only to discover sugar everywhere. I finally settled on a package of organic brown rice cakes — the only ingredient was organic brown rice. Fortunately, the kids loved them. They said they taste like popcorn and I agree. We finally left the store with little more than those rice cakes and fresh produce. Oh, and a couple containers of plain yogurt.

As I said, coming up with breakfast was a bit of a challenge. My youngest’s favorite Multigrain Cheerios were a no-no this week, along with pancakes with syrup, yogurt with honey, muffins made with honey or syrup… We ended up having eggs with veggies and fruit on the side on a couple of days, a simple smoothie of bananas, plain yogurt and milk with a side of fruit and homemade biscuits on a few days. Lunch was a little easier, we had leftover salad of corn, black beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic and cilantro on one day. Sardines, Sunbutter, fresh fruit & veggies and rice cakes were included in our mid day meals. One day, while shopping for clothes for the girls, we stopped in at the food court (I know, I know!) for lunch. Pizza? No, sauce and crust probably have sugar. Sandwiches? No, sugar in the bread. Japanese stir fry? OK! As we sat there eating, I was reminded that the teriyaki sauce probably had sugar. Darn! Well, we did try, but that is when it really hit me that I don’t always think to such great detail about what is in food someone else prepared. I need to think more beyond the main ingredients and think about sauces, dressings and dips. I can’t just think “whole grain bread”, I need to know what is in it besides whole grains. Dinners were the usual, except that I usually make my own salad dressings with a little honey to balance the flavor. We had one especially good meal of whole grain pasta topped with a cherry tomato sauce made from tomatoes we picked that afternoon at Carriage House. Sweet as candy! On the side, we had yellow and purple beans we also picked that day.

These last two weeks of challenges (has it been that long already?) will really help reinforce the habit of thinking about the foods prepared by others, of reading labels and asking questions with something other than my daughter’s peanut allergy in mind. This week our challenge is to eat no artificial ingredients. The final week will be to eat no packaged goods with more than 5 ingredients. Once these weeks are over, I will go back to some of these challenges, try to improve, come up with more related recipes and find some more fun food facts.

There is a tour of our beloved Carriage House Farm coming in October! If you would like, you can sign up to be a part of this fun OEFFA event.

As I said, this week was definitely a challenge, especially for me with my sweet tooth. How would you have to change your meals if you couldn’t eat any sweeteners?

Week 11 Challenge: Eat Local Foods

Way back in Week 3, I talked about choosing local when we did our local meat challenge. This week, we are trying to make all foods (or at least more of them) local. We have been working on finding more local foods. So far we have been enjoying the following:

Carriage House Farm, no grocery store is closer. Volunteering in their garden has gotten us quite a variety of super yummy food including pak choy, lettuce, mizuna, swiss chard, radishes, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, basil, dill, cucumbers and some others I’m sure I’m forgetting. They also produce honey that I can buy at the local hardware store, but have to go to the Farmer’s market or Whole Foods for their corn meal and whole wheat flour (which I do). Planning to try the black beans soon. They use organic sustainable farming methods.

Gravel Knolls Farm, just 10 minutes from Hubby’s work. Belonging to this CSA, we have gotten a lot of yummy veggies including garlic, onions, lettuce, swiss chard, zucchini, yellow and other squashes, lima beans, carrots, corn, potatoes, peppers, cabbage, okra, a variety of herbs and more. They also have free range chicken and eggs, which we regularly purchase. I have a few chickens in the freezer now for use in future months. They use organic, sustainable farming methods.

Webers Farm, 10 minutes from home. Hands down, the very best sweet corn I have ever had. We have purchased from here in the past and are happy to see the red barn open again this year. At last week’s visit they had onions, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers and corn. They are a low spray farm.

Grassland Graze, 15-20 minutes from Hubby’s work. Awesome grass-fed beef. I just bought 50 lbs for 7% discount. Should last us several months.

Meadow Maid organic raw milk cheeses, about 175 miles from home — found at the Farmer’s Market at Hubby’s work. We have also tried Blue Jacket grilling cheese, about 100 miles from home. Both are very good.

Snowville Creamery, about 180 miles from home. HTST, non-homogenized milk. Our new everyday milk.

Mrs. Miller’s Noodles, about 200 miles away in Ohio Amish country. Recently found these at the local farmer’s market at Hubby’s work. We tried the whole grain spelt noodles topped with sauteed onion, garlic, zucchini, globe squash, tomatoes and herbs. Apparently, I didn’t make enough because everyone wanted more. 🙂

What do we eat that isn’t local?

Several fruits including citrus, bananas, berries, kiwi, pineapple, coconut, olives. We can get melons around here and some berries, no problem. But the Ohio River Valley doesn’t have the climate to grow tropical fruits.

Canned beans or tomatoes. Of course making beans from dried is cheaper and fresh is better, but sometimes there just isn’t time.

SunButter. For us, there is no other alternative for peanut butter besides just not having it.

We don’t eat pork often, but I would like to find a local source. Gravel Knoll has it some years, but they weren’t able to this year.

Some cheeses and yogurt. Some things you just can’t get local (like parmigiano-reggiano). I would like someday to try making my own cheese and yogurt. A project for less busy days.

Other grain products incl rice, bread, crackers, flours, oats, other pastas. Given enough time, I believe I could make my own bread and crackers. I’ve been using an organic whole grain pancake mix too. I could probably make my own though (with no sugar). But making everything from scratch and still live life? That would be quite a chore. I don’t think I could do that.

Other condiments such as ketchup and mayonnaise. Say that last one quietly please. I have been staying away when it isn’t allowed for a particular week’s challenge and have tried other options to create that creaminess, such as avocado and hard boiled egg yolk. I’ve heard ground cashews could work too. There really isn’t much that can replace mayo, though. It will likely stay in our diets as an occasional thing.

I’ve recently found a local maple syrup producer. Clough Valley is just on the other side of town, about 30 miles from home. Looking forward to trying their syrup.

Restaurants. Sadly, we don’t eat out for entertainment. It’s mostly for convenience. Chipotle tries to use local foods when they can and I understand City Barbeque near us uses local chicken. But we don’t have the time to go to a restaurant that takes reservations. If you do and would like to find a place that serves local foods, check out Eat Local Cincy.

Those above are just a few local sources that we have tried, but I’m sure there are others. If you know of any, please tell me about it.

Findley Market — a friend has said he will give me a tour of the best local organic producers at this HUGE farmers’ market. Looking forward to it!


Locally Harvested for You

Green Bean Delivery

Weeks 9 & 10 Challenges: No Refined Sweeteners or Oils

What counts as refined sweeteners? Artificial sweeteners is first on the list and an easy one to guess. This includes, saccharine, aspartame and splenda. But sugar in it’s various forms is natural, right? Yep, but still not close to how it comes from nature, i.e. it is refined. That includes white sugar , brown sugar, turbinado, sucanat, cane juice, et al. This also includes sugars from other plants such as stevia, agave, corn syrup and brown rice syrup. So, what can I use as a sweetener? Honey and pure maple syrup. These are limited in their processing. Maple syrup is made by boiling most of the water from the sap of the sugar maple — taking it from 2-3% sugar to 66% sugar concentration. Honey, well, if you buy raw honey, most of the processing is done by the bees. Pasteurized honey is heated to kill off most of the botulism bacteria contained in honey. Honey is better for your blood sugar level and contains many antioxidants and enzymes that are good for our health. We managed this challenge with little difficulty, since it is our usual MO these days anyhow. Because we went to the Ohio State Fair that week, we did allow the kids one junk food item. They chose, of course, cotton candy. Why not? Sugar, artificial color and artificial flavors. They shared the bag and we came home with leftovers (that went into the trash). This week I made a batch of whole grain, double dark chocolate brownies with honey instead of sugar. My kids loved them. Hubby, not so much. I’m going to try to rework the recipe a bit before I post it.

Unrefined oils contain many times the health benefits of refined oils.  This is the main theme of our challenges and our switch to real foods — less processing/refining = much tastier & healthier food for our bodies. Heat processing, while it makes a more attractive and shelf stable product, destroys the health benefits of the fats we eat, taking them from healthy oils that reduce cholesterol and help our bodies absorb the fat soluble vitamins our bodies need into unhealthy fats that make our bodies fat and unhealthy. What counts as unrefined oils? Look for these key words: organic, unrefined, cold pressed, first pressed, extra virgin, non-hydrogenated

Butter: That is probably the easiest to find and use. Good for baking, frying, etc.

Coconut oil: Extra virgin, centrifuged coconut oil is good for medium high heat cooking applications.

Olive oil: In Europe, extra virgin means first pressed and unrefined. Not necessarily so in the US. It’s best to look for the words “first pressed” and “unrefined” on the packaging. This oil is great for salad dressings or drizzling over cooked foods.

Sesame oil: Good for medium high heat cooking such as sauteing or stir frying. Also good in sauces or dressings.

Red palm: Good for high heat cooking.

Flaxseed oil: add to cold foods, such as smoothies, to retain the health benefits.

Avocado oil: another good oil for higher heat.

Some of these oils can be a bit more difficult to find, though my personal shopper (Hubby) did a fine job finding some options at Jungle Jim’s. We also have the added inconvenience of a peanut allergy in our family, which limits our choices a bit as well. Many oils are packaged on equipment or in facilities where nut oils are packaged. Anyhow, we ended up with new sesame, olive and coconut oils in our pantry. We have tried them all. The coconut smells wonderfully sweet, like fresh coconut. Though the smell isn’t excessively strong, I still had difficulty mentally getting over the coconut smell while cooking fish I intended to top with pesto. The olive oil made much tastier dressings than the processed olive oils and worked well for slow roasting veggies. The sesame helped make a delicious veggie stir fry. I will continue to work these into my daily cooking.

Watch for refined sweeteners & oils: read labels and think about what you choose at restaurants. Sugar is added to most breads that need to rise. Honey will work as well, but sugar is what you will likely find when purchasing from a store or restaurant. Many products that are low-fat will add sugar for flavor and low calorie or “lite” products use artificial sweeteners. Think about condiments, beverages, breads, crackers, pre-made pasta sauces. If you can find a packaged food or a restaurant that uses unrefined oils, you have found a rare thing! Read labels and call or email companies when you want to know more.

Week 8 Challenge — Stop Eating When You Are Full

OK, so you might be thinking “DUH! Of course I stop eating when I feel full.” Well, for many people this is not so easy. Whether it is the deliciousness of a meal or that their plate isn’t yet empty or maybe they eat so fast, they don’t realize they’re full until they’re stuffed, some people haven’t learned  how (or more accurately, have lost the ability) to tune in to what their belly is saying. If you are one of those people that often finds yourself rolling away from the table groaning because you are so full rather than simply content and satisfied, maybe a few tips will help.

  • Eating a healthy meal full of flavor will help you to feel more satisfied than a pile of monotonous junk. More nutrition for your body will leave your belly happy, more flavor from a variety of healthy ingredients and herbs will make your tongue and mind happy.
  • Using a smaller plate can kind of trick your mind into feeling like you have eaten more. My eyes see an empty plate, must mean I’m finished. We only use the giant 10″ dinner plates for special occasions, when we have company. We use 8″ plates for nearly all of our regular meals.
  • Serve appropriately sized portions. Put any leftovers away immediately so you are less tempted to go back for seconds.
  • Slowing down while you eat will give your body time to recognize that your stomach is full. It can take 20 minutes for this message to get from your stomach to your brain. Please check out this interesting article to better understand the effect of the hormone leptin on appetite.
  • Since you’re slowing down anyhow, have a seat at the table with your family and reconnect each day. Studies that show the positive impact that daily family mealtime can have on kids I imagine, it has little to do with the sitting. I’m sure it’s more about the strengthening of relationships. People in many countries will spend hours together around the table for a meal, eating small portions and enjoying each other’s company. I think that also contributes to leaving the table content and satisfied.
  • Many people have grown accustomed to snacking all day and are confusing hunger for what is actually thirst. If you are hungry between filling meals, try drinking some water first, before having a snack. This is not to imply that snacking is bad. It might very well be good to have healthy snacks. But drinking a glass of water will help you to better listen to your body’s messages. Are you really hungry or just low on fluids?

This challenge is all about moderation. A tough challenge for some of us. Do you have any ideas you employ to practice moderation?

Weekly Challenges 5, 6 & 7 — Catching up

I am way behind here on posting for these last couple of weeks, so I’m going to try to catch up here.

Week 5 — No Non-fat, Low fat or Light (lite) Foods. We succeeded quite well. The only transgression was that our youngest ate the one individual serving of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt we had in the fridge for a snack. We won’t mention the “light” tea Hubby had the day after that week ended. 🙂 I have posted a recipe for ice cream made with an ice cream maker. I had hoped to make some cheese and or yogurt, but life beyond the blog got too busy. I will let you know as soon as I do though.

Week 6 — Try 2 New Whole Foods. I actually switched weeks 5 & 6, knowing we would be out of town at a family reunion at which I would have little say in what we ate. I figured we could get those 2 new foods in early in the week before we left. Well, we succeeded, though it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought. For years, I have had the habit of bringing home a new food for the family to try. So, Hubby went to Jungle Jim’s to find some new foods in their one acre produce department. Surely there would be plenty of options. As it turns out, the options for in season produce that we had not tried before was limited. We ended up with canary melon and casaba melon. The canary melon was, you guessed it, bright yellow on the outside and a lighter yellow inside. It tasted very much like slightly salty cantaloupe. Worth having again, though I do prefer other melons. The casaba melon was yellow tinged with green on the outside and light green on the inside, like the inside of a cucumber. It also smelled very much like a cucumber with that same coolness. The flavor was I guess you would say mild (very little flavor). It won’t be a highly requested item at our house. Early this week we had fresh figs, which is also new to us, believe it or not. We sliced them in half topped with mascarpone and a little drizzle of honey. My picky eater loved them, as did Hubby and I. My good eater wasn’t impressed. I look forward to some more new foods we haven’t tried yet, like dragon fruit, when it is in season. I posted a recipe for a yummy salad (Mediterranean?) that we really like for a cool summer lunch or dinner.

Week 7 — Only 100% Whole Grains. This seemed like it would be easy because we buy 100% whole grains almost entirely for home. We found out though, it is nearly impossible to get a meal at most restaurants and get 100% whole grains. Think croutons on salad, bread on a sandwich, crust on a pizza or breading on fried okra (we stopped at Cracker Barrel on our way home from the reunion to load up on veggies, mmmm). Even things called “whole grain” are likely not 100% whole grain. 100 Days of Real Food has a good guide to Understanding Grains. This week’s challenge pretty much kept us out of restaurants (I think that’s part of the point though, huh?), though the couple of times we did eat out, we realized our transgression during the meal.  I have posted a recipe for 100% whole grain carrot cake muffins, made with no non- or low fat ingredients and with maple syrup instead of sugar. Oh so delicious!  I also made some granola bars to take on the trip that turned out pretty well. It is a modification of the 100 Days of Real Food granola. We used steel cut oats, lots of seeds, a few raisins and no nuts. My family is thankful that popcorn is whole grain! I will be making my own 100% whole grain bread soon too. I had hoped to do that this week, but again, life and all… I’ll be trying pita and ciabatta as well as corn, I believe. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

With this week coming to a close, we end the challenges based around the major food groups. The remaining challenges are about fats, sweeteners, habits and packaged foods. If you have been joining us in any of these challenges, I’d love to hear how it’s been going for you. Do you have any tips to make these challenges an everyday thing?

Week 5 No Nonfat, Low Fat or Lite

Ok, so you’re thinking “I thought you were trying to eat healthier, and you’re going to eliminate low fat and non fat foods?” I know it has become counter-intuitive for us to think of full fat foods as health foods. I had been using fat free milk for years and low fat cheese too (the fat free stuff might as well be dry rotted rubber bands :P). The idea here is that the fuller fat version is less processed. There is natural nutrition in the fat that is stripped out and then added back artificially because the nutrients are important for our health. In some cases, the fat is being replaced with chemicals or processed foods such as added sugar or corn starch to make it taste good or give the expected consistency.

I have also seen “light” fruit juice. They take out some of the natural sugar and replace it with artificial sweeteners. What? I’ve never been a fan of what I call “fake sugars”, but really, in fruit juice? Again, taking out what God put in and replacing it with chemicals.

Our key to healthier food this week lies in moderation and careful selection from the options available. I will post later this week about a variety of milk and meat options, some of which I just learned about in the last few months.

BTW, we did quite well staying out of fast food restaurants and avoiding fried foods this last week. We had to have a couple of late dinners at home on evenings we are out until 7, but doing some of the chopping, mixing etc. earlier in the day helps some. I also made and posted a recipe for ChipHOMEle (my homemade version of my favorite fast food, sans the tortilla chips). I have added a few other recipes too. Check them out.

At the end of this last week, Hubby and I watched a documentary, Food, Inc. Based on that, I believe Chipotle might be the only fast food restaurant we might go to from now on. I highly recommend you watch this movie to find out more about where your food comes from and what happens to it along the way. Lisa at 100 Days of Real Food has a very good summary, but you really need to watch it to best understand it. It is available on Netflix and the Cincinnati Library has over 30 copies in their system.

Instead of just the one mid-week post this week, I will have one additional post to wrap up the budget for the last 4 weeks.

Week 4 Challenge — No Fast Food

We did ok in week 3. We had 4 servings of meat. We had cheeseburgers and roasted chicken from local farms. It’s the other 2 that weren’t local. We had ribs for a Father’s Day dinner at someone else’s house. The other was a total slip up on my part. One day when trying to figure out what we would have for lunch (our mornings this week turned out to be way busier than I anticipated), I decided on a turkey bacon sandwich. It wasn’t even until the next day that I realized we had had meat that probably wasn’t local. Please forgive me! If it redeems me at all, we went to the Greek festival this weekend. So much good smelling food, so many things with meat. But because we suspected the meat was probably not local, we remained meatless. Next year, we’re going to try some of those other items.

This week, our challenge is to have no fast food or deep fried foods. Hubby was disappointed to find out he couldn’t have tortilla chips with salsa. Fast food is from a restaurant with a drive-thru or where you watch them prepare your food through a glass window, a convenience store, food court, and so on. I’m disappointed that Chipotle is considered fast food. I guess the white rice isn’t best for me, anyhow.

You’ve asked, so…also this week with Hubby’s technical expertise, I plan to post some recipes.