Welcome to Karen, our first guest blogger! Karen will be writing a three part series on making the shift from processed food to whole food.
Karen is a blogger of Test Drive Kitchen where she tests and reviews quick & easy healthy recipes for the family. Currently, Karen is enjoying the full time job of being a mom to her toddler son, Ryan. When she’s not cooking up a storm, you can listen to her tell stories of mommyhood on her radio segment, “Mom Gone Wild” on the DC Area’s Mix 107.3 FM Monday evenings at 8:40pm EST.
I’m writing this for all those who would like to make a change, but not turn the household routine upside down. For those who have limited time, limited budget and limited cooking skills. I’m writing this for those who don’t want to see our children eat the way we did growing up on tv dinners, canned vegetables, Tastycakes and fast food. I’m writing this for people who are horrified about the childhood obesity epidemic. I’m writing this for people who are exhausted, want to act but don’t have to time to research first steps. So here are my first steps. Hopefully they will give you some direction.
The journey from consuming mostly processed foods to 80% whole foods didn’t occur overnight. In two years time, I tried so many new foods, I’ve lost count. If I didn’t like it the first time, I tried to make it several different ways until I landed on success. I started eating things I used to “hate” like blueberries, mushrooms and soy products. Now I can’t imagine life without them.
So how has the change affected my life? Well, let’s see:
- My taste buds have come alive again after years of being deadened by sugar and salt. I’ve discovered flavor profiles I never even knew existed.
- The artist in me came alive seeing colors on my plate like red beets, orange squash, bright green spinach and deep purple eggplant.
- I’m sleeping better than I have in years. I’m fueling my exercise endeavors with good food choices & meeting my athletic goals because of it.
- I started a cooking blog to keep track of my successes and failures and found a great outlet for writing in the process.
- All my life I dealt with stomach cramps and constipation, only to find that this change in my diet finally made me regular. It made me want to scream from the rooftops, “Fiber is a beautiful thing!!”
- And finally when I added portion control and consistent exercise to my routine, I lost 40 lbs in 6 months time and kept it off for a year now. (The photos are of me before and after!)
You can do this. It doesn’t have to be a complete life upheaval. Aim for 80% whole food and 20% processed. That is very manageable. However, you may find yourself eating less and less of the processed stuff, because it just doesn’t taste as good and it’s too darn expensive. You don’t have to be a cook. When I first started and had few skills in the kitchen, I would refer to my style as “assembling.” It was a less intimidating concept than full blown cooking.
Some immediate changes that will jumpstart your journey from processed to whole foods:
1. Get organized! Purchase clear, stackable tupperware in various shapes and sizes. Sturdy ones that will last through hundreds of dishwasher loads. When I could see what I purchased, I ate it fresh or added it to a cooked meal before it went bad. I took a photo of the inside of my fridge and blogged about organization.
2. Make your shopping trips no more than twice a week. Once is ideal, but not always realistic. Be honest with yourself when purchasing perishable items. Don’t buy the ideal, buy what will really get eaten. If you are interested in cooking, strive to make two dishes from a recipe that will spread out to multiple meals and adjust shopping list accordingly. But don’t make this a hard and fast rule if you’re upcoming week is crazy.
3. “Shop the perimeters” is a famous mantra of “whole foodites”, but I will add a caveat…make sure you visit the spice aisle if your pantry needs filling or updating. Check out this incredible spice catalog on line (www.penzeys.com) If you need to go to the frozen aisle, stick to frozen fruit and frozen non-flavored & non-buttered vegetables.
4. When you’re hungry and you need food NOW, you will usually grab what’s within reach and usually it’s not healthy or satsifying. Rather than get to the point of ravenous hunger, eat smaller meals multiple times a day. I probably eat something-whether it’s a piece of fruit, a handful of nuts, a slice of turkey- every two hours. I have to. I’m running around after a toddler and I need the energy! In addition, make your meals have bang for their buck by bulking them up with nutritional powerhouses like fruits and vegetables.
5. Make your boring stand by meals into something more appealing to look at and interesting to eat. For instance a regular bowl of white pasta with sauce can be transformed into a delicious, hearty meal by changing up the pasta to it’s whole grain counterpart. Then, add your favorite steamed veggies, cannellini beans (from a can as long as you drain and rinse them), sautéed spinach and onions with either pasta sauce or with just a touch of olive oil and grated parmesan cheese. Throw in toasted pine nuts to make this dish really memorable. No room in your bowl? Great! Use only ½ cup of pasta and make the rest the “add-ons.” Soon, you will start thinking of your pasta as the “add-on!” All the sudden, you’ll notice that the veggies became the main attraction and no longer the side show.
6. Make soup at least once a week. Here’s the Soup 101: Place 1 diced onion & 2 chopped garlic cloves in a large soup pot with 1 T of extra virgin olive oil. Saute on medium heat until soft and brown. Then throw in whatever diced veggies you have on hand (i.e. celery, zucchini, carrots, potatoes) add a can of diced tomatoes and a 2/3 cup of cooking wine. Add whatever spices you like plus salt & pepper. Season to taste. Put lid on the pot and let it simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. When veggies are tender, add 8 cups of chicken or vegetable broth & one can of rinsed and drained beans (I prefer cannellini). At this point, you can add in any cooked whole grain you have on hand. I usually reach for cooked bulgur or brown rice. Taste the soup and add additional seasonings if you need or even a splash of balsamic vinegar. Serve the soup with grated parmesan and a crusty piece of baguette. Note: soup is definitely tastier the second day. An overnight in the fridge does wonders.
7. Mis en place is your new best friend. It’s the French phrase for “everything in it’s place.” This will save you so much time. You can chop an onion while watching the Today Show, put it in a sandwich bag and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to throw it in a stir fry in the evening. Who said we have to carve out 30-45 minutes of our evening to cook? You can start assembling your ingredients at any time. By the time you’re ready to cook, you’ve got 5 neat bags or dishes of prepared and measured ingredients and it’s just a matter of putting the puzzle together and turning up the heat.
8. Make your life easier and buy a slow cooker with a timer. Also get slow cooker liners, so you won’t be scrubbing ‘til the cows come home after dinner. With a slow cooker and a few recipes, you’ll be able to toss in a protein like chicken or beef with some veggies and spices and let it cook slowly and safely on a low heat for 7-8 hours and with a self-timing feature, it will turn off. Poof! Dinner when you get home from work. All because of 10 well spent minutes in the morning. My favorite? Morrocan Lamb stew (http://testdrivekitchen.blogspot.com/2009/01/stew-slooooow-cooker.html)
9. Don’t have the knife skills or the time to chop, dice or send it to the stir-fry? Well, you’ve got to get this gadget called the Vegetable Chop & Measure which I own and love. The only slice you’ll make is the half the vegetable and place is facing downward. Then one quick push of the lever and you’ve saved a few minutes.
10. Assembling, not cooking, is the key to your quick meals. You’ll need to spend some time on a Sunday evening to set yourself up for this, but you’ll be happy during the week. I grab 3 tupperware containers and plan to fill one with a cooked protein, one with chopped vegetables, and the other with a cooked grain or whole wheat pasta. The cooked protein could be salmon or chicken easily prepared (salmon at 375F with 1T of olive oil & salt and pepper is done in 12-15 min. & 1 lb of chicken breast is baked in 350F in 20 min. Just add whatever seasoning you want and pop it in.) With your protein cooked, slice it up and add it to a container and put it in the fridge. Now, grab a Steamer bag of frozen vegetables or steam your own vegetables on the stove top or microwave and put the finished product in another container. Finally, put up couscous or bulgur or pasta on the stove-up and depending on the grain you chose, that will be finished in 5-20 min. That has it’s own container, too. Not much prep time at all, mostly just cooking time that you are totally hands off in the kitchen. Now you have several different meals ready to go when you get home. A cold salmon salad. A chicken breast with couscous. Chicken & pasta with your favorite sauce. Salmon with rice and veggies. You can mix and match your proteins, veggies and grains probably 4 different ways. If you make enough, you can feed the family or your spouse for at least three days. If you’ve made soup on the weekend, you have another meal that may stretch the whole week.
Whole food grocery list
This list is not meant to be a weekly one. It’s your master list. It’s all inclusive of items that I recommend trying to incorporate in your family’s diet. Buy only what you will use or if there’s a good deal, what you can freeze.
Fruit for snacking like apples (Fuji are crisp & sweet!), bananas, pears, seedless grapes, any kind of berry and whatever fruit is in season. Throw in a lemon or two for flavoring dishes.
Vegetables for snacking, assembling, flavoring and cooking
Spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, mushroom, asparagus, peppers, fresh herbs, fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, onions, potatoes (red, rustic or sweet); cut up squash; cauliflower. This list can go on and on…but this is a great start.
Whole 4 lb chicken for roasting, lean Chicken breasts; lean ground turkey; lean ground beef (90% lean or more); Salmon; white fish fillet, like turbot; deveined shrimp; eggs. Canned beans: cannellini, pinto, black, garbanzo; etc.
Must haves for pantry
Extra virgin olive oil; Chicken & vegetable broth (a lot for soups); Pure maple syrup; Honey; Canned tomatoes (diced and whole);Tomato sauce; Dijon mustard, low sodium soy sauce, cooking wine like Marsala, sherry, white; any type of balsamic vinegar; Red wine vinegar; variety of spices, Kosher or sea salt; Ground pepper.
Whole wheat bread or pita, whole grain pasta, quinoa, couscous, bulgur, brown rice, oatmeal, cornmeal to start…
Unsalted butter, skim milk, fat free yogurt (flavored and plain) or try greek yogurt, grated parmesan cheese, goat cheese or feta.
Dried Fruit and Nuts (for snacking, salads, sides)
Raisins, Cranberries, Cherries, Dates, Figs, Pecans, slivered almonds and pinenuts.