Archives for December 2013

100 Days of Real Food: The Confessions, The Recipes, The Future

We hardly have any recycling.

I don’t crash at 4:30 in the afternoon every day.

I eat only when I am hungry.

I think more about what I eat because I have to make/prepare it myself.

These are some of the comments my husband and I have made since we started our 100 Days of Real Food challenge. The impact that eating less/no processed food has had on our family and lifestyle go beyond what we anticipated. At times, we have embraced the creativity it takes to find a recipe for goldfish crackers and actually make and eat them. We have also become frustrated with the time and effort it takes to replace the entire batch of goldfish crackers that were eaten in 5 minutes. Seriously! They were eaten in less time than it took us to clean up the kitchen after making them! Some additional impacts this challenge has had on our family include:

* My children are all more engaged in food preparation, from grating carrots for snack to cooking tortillas.
* School lunches are more interesting. The kids help think of creative things to put in their lunch. And the best part is, it all gets eaten!
* My children have a better appreciation for what goes into preparing food and therefore do not like to see it wasted.
* We think “outside the box” (pun intended) when planning meals. Who says we can’t have scrambled eggs and waffles for lunch or dinner and gumbo for breakfast? [Read more…]

One Way to Have Happier Holidays…Sleep

Now that the kids are officially on winter break we usually have a more relaxed schedule. Lazy mornings spent in pajamas, breakfast and lunch blended into one, and casual evenings that seem to go on forever – void of homework, extracurricular activities, and the general mad rush toward bedtime. This sounds like a wonderful break from the craziness of our typical after-school-day schedule but there are consequences for making this temporary shift.

The first consequence is that the shift is temporary. Nobody, including mom and dad, really wants to return to the normal school day schedule when the time comes in January.

Second, the lazy evenings that go on until way past regular bedtimes ALWAYS results in behavior and attitude shifts (not for the better) the next day. Our tween is like a fire breathing dragon, every one of us does our best to stay out of the path of her scorching flames. My fourth grader walks around scowling all day and is satisfied by nothing and nobody. And my first grader is just plain crazy – doing things that she knows are risky, inappropriate, and basically annoying to everyone.

And I won’t even go into the effect that lack of sleep has on mom and dad, because I know you know (insert winking smiley emoticon here).

Sleep is truly glorious and worth its weight in gold. The impact that it has on our physical and mental capacities on a daily basis is absolutely amazing when you think about it. Parents should value a good nights sleep for the family the way that we value a nutritious diet. It should happen regularly, be consistent, and be a lifelong lifestyle expectation (with the necessary adjustments during adolescence–adolescent sleep blog post coming soon).

Check out the following podcasts for a scientific look why sleep deserves such high value in a child’s life. For tips on how adults can get a healthy night’s sleep, sans medication, check out this link.

So it looks like we’ll all have a rockin’ winter break if the entire family is not sleep deprived. Sounds good to me, I’m on it!

Creating Holiday Joy on a Budget

Dear Santa,
Please bring me a Hello Kitty coloring book, and I want a horsie, and I want a rabbit, and I want a baby sister, and I want fifty dollars, and everyone says that I should ask you for my two front teeth. Please bring me all of these things because I’ve been really good. I listen to Mommy and Daddy except when I can’t. I love you Santa. I am going to make you cookies. Does Rudolph eat cookies? I love you Santa.

This Christmas list, written by my 6 year-old daughter (who is currently missing her two front teeth), makes me smile because it embodies so many of the characteristics of pure childhood: innocence, egocentrism, and a love of animals, especially reindeer. Her letter also makes me think about the decisions that I must make during the holidays. How do I get my children to enjoy the holidays without going broke? Does her every wish have to come true? Can I convince her that there is more to the holiday season than getting gifts?

I think so. Focusing on local seasonal activities and adventures seems like a great way to highlight the joys of the season without straining my pocketbook. The excerpt below, brought to you by parentingpress.com, is a great resource for winter activity ideas in our area.

Whether you’ve got a tight budget or you’re disgusted with the commercialism of the holiday season, there are a lot of reasons to make your family understand that “stuff” isn’t necessary for happiness. And there are a lot of ways to celebrate the season without focusing on expensive gifts.

One idea: sit down with family members and ask each to suggest a couple of activities that they’d like to be part of this month’s events. Pencil in as many as you can on your calendar, whether most everything has to happen on weekends or if you have some weekdays free. Among the ways we at Parenting Press (and in Benton County) celebrate with our families:

– Take a ride on the Corvallis Trolley

– Visit the Pepsi display (now located at the Fairgrounds in Corvallis)

– Visit Christmas Storybook Land in Albany (great for young children, strollers, and pictures with Santa)

– Attending local holiday programs, including displays of local artisan handicrafts

– Decorating pine cones with paint and glitter to mound in a bowl or hang on the tree

– Baking, especially gingerbread men and women and sugar cookies

– Setting up the electric train and cardboard village that are usually in storage

– Surprising the kids by moving into the dining room for a weeknight candlelight dinner

This year we have already gotten to build snowmen, go sledding in the park, and pack snow into dishpans to make blocks for a child-size igloo. When “snow fun” has been on someone’s wish list, we’ve gone sledding at Mary’s Peak or a state “sno-park” just off a mountain pass highway.

Whatever you do, enjoy, and remember to bring your camera. The pictures will be great for Thank-You cards after receiving those Christmas “I wants”.

100 Days of Real Food: What is “Unprocessed” Anyway?

As I circle around the grocery store I find myself, and my children, looking at food with new eyes. Scrutinizing, choosing, selecting, and redefining.

Is ice cream unprocessed? Is cheese unprocessed? Are canned beans unprocessed? What about dried beans? Rice? Dried fruit? Canned olives? A jar of pickles? Sugar? Flour? Salt? Okay, okay, some of these seem pretty obvious but others can be debated. If we are making bread, for example, then there is some processing that has to happen in order to go from wheatberries to flour.

Produce (fruits and vegetables) is easy to define as an “unprocessed” or “real” food. But there is more food in a variety of genres that we are used to consuming and we have never given a second thought about whether or not it is processed. During our journey toward completely unprocessed eating we had to take the time to define and redefine exactly what we meant by “real” and “unprocessed”.

So how far do we go with this? My children, while enjoying the freshness and variety of these choices, are confused by what “counts” as real food. My critical tween asks if we make homemade french fries at home is that more “unprocessed” or “real” than McDonald’s french fries? The potatoes are still processed. The only difference is who is processing them. Right? Of course not, I tell her, because we get to control all of the ingredients and how it is cooked, we can decide to bake them rather than fry them, and put less salt on them therefore making them more nutritious. “That’s not a french fry,” she retorts, “that’s a baked potato!” Maybe she’s right, but I still needed to stop and reconsider our goals:

• To think critically about what we are purchasing and consuming
• To eat healthy on a consistent basis
• To eat foods that are high in nutritional value
• To eat for nourishment, not sport
• To be “real” about what we eat as well as what we can commit to as a family

So in searching for our own definition of “unprocessed” or “real” food we decided that we would change the things that we could manage to change and the others we would eat less of. So in addition to cutting out all store-bought cereal, chips, bars, fruit snacks, crackers and the like, we eat less cheese, meats, yogurt, and canned and jarred foods (I don’t can, have a grain mill, or make yogurt and cheese). So what do we eat these days? Check out the next post in this series to find out about the storm we’ve been cooking up in our kitchen. Everyone is getting in on the act (and enjoying it). I’ll also be posting some of our favorite “real” go-to recipes as well.