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  • 5 Easy and Affordable Real Food Changes I’ve Made This Month

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    Easy Real Food Changes - chieffamilyofficer.com

    Ever since I reviewed Lisa Leake’s new book, 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love, I’ve really focused on eating more “real food” – by which I mean, minimally processed food.

    We are not, by any means, an entirely real food family – every day, our family consumes some store-bought snacks, soda, and/or other processed foods. But I am making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of processed foods we eat, and that I keep in the house. Here are five easy real food changes I’ve made since reading Lisa’s book, which take almost no effort at all:

    1. We’ve switched to whole organic milk.

    I’ve always bought organic milk for the boys, but since my youngest turned two, I’ve stuck with 1% milk. As Lisa points out, however, reduced fat milk is much more processed than whole milk. So I’ve switched to whole milk and my kids haven’t said a peep. Fortunately, neither of them has a weight issue, so I’m not concerned about the additional calories.

    Although Lisa recommends non-homogenized milk, since it’s less processed, I haven’t been able to find it at the grocery store so I just buy organic homogenized whole milk. The nice thing about this switch is that a gallon of whole organic milk costs exactly the same as organic reduced fat milk.

    2. I now shred my own cheese.

    As Lisa notes in her book, commercially shredded cheese contains an anti-clumping agent and possibly other additional ingredients that need not be consumed. She recommends buying blocks of cheese and shredding them yourself. It occurred to me that my food processor can shred a block of cheese in just a couple of minutes, so when I needed mozzarella cheese last week, I bought a log and shredded it. {I did buy a part-skim log because the texture is so different from whole milk mozzarella and my kids prefer the less-creamy type. Baby steps!}

    I forgot to do an actual price comparison, but I think the price works out to about the same per pound, at least for part-skim mozzarella.

    3. I’m now using honey wherever possible.

    When I need sweetener, I now use organic raw unfiltered honey and organic maple syrup whenever possible {I prefer Grade B maple syrup because it’s darker and has a stronger taste, and Trader Joe’s stocks a great one}. I do still bake with organic sugar, but I try to substitute organic sucanat as much as possible, since it’s less processed that granulated or brown sugar. {However, I rarely use all sucanat because of its strong taste. I buy 12 1-lb bags at Amazon for just $45.88 with Subscribe & Save}.

    4. I now buy organic eggs.

    This is the one change that’s costing me more money. Organic eggs are at least twice as expensive as the “regular” eggs at Trader Joe’s, but I took the time to read the packaging this past week and discovered that the organic variety clearly states no hormones or antibiotics were administered to the chickens, whereas those claims are not on the “regular” eggs. I haven’t found “pastured” eggs yet, which Lisa recommends {meaning the chickens were allowed to graze outside}, but I’m looking.

    5. I read labels even more intensely than I used to.

    Ever since my son was diagnosed with food allergies, I’ve been a careful reader of ingredient labels. But now I’m not just looking to see whether the product is safe for my child or how “natural” it is. I’m also looking to see how processed it is. Lisa’s “five-ingredient rule” for store-bought foods is a great guideline. In other words, I try to buy foods that contain no more than five ingredients.

    This rule works especially well for pre-packaged snacks, which I do buy a fair amount of since we eat on the go quite a lot of the time, thanks to the boys’ busy schedules. So far, my kids have loved BOOM CHICKA POP Sea Salt Popcorn {contains just popcorn, sunflower oil and sea salt; $24 + free shipping for 24 single serve packs at Amazon – but they’re cheaper in the Halloween section at Target right now!}, and Crispy Green Freeze-Dried Asian Pear {contains just pear!; $17.12 for 12 packs at Amazon when you order through Subscribe & Save or $7.49 for 6 packs at my Whole Foods store}. They also like some of the freeze-dried fruit at Trader Joe’s, which are one or two-ingredient products.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Ambro.

    Food Recalls

    food recalls - chieffamilyofficer.com

    Food manufacturers and distributors initiate food recalls if there is reason to believe that a food may cause consumers to become ill, such as when it’s discovered that food contains an unsafe organism, packaging has been mislabeled, or an allergen has not been disclosed.

    Just today, Kirkland Signature sliced fruit and Dole bagged salads have been recalled. The recalls are limited in quantity and variety, but if you purchased any of the included items, you would definitely want to know about the recall so you can avoid consuming those foods.

    For consumers with food allergies, recalls can be of particular importance since a frequent cause of recalls is the failure to disclose or misidentification of an allergen like peanuts or milk.

    To stay up to date on recent recalls, you can visit the Food Safety web site, or better yet, sign up for email updates to have recall notifications delivered to your inbox.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Supertrooper.

    My First Week of Eating (Mostly) Gluten-Free

    Although I don’t have celiac disease, I’ve long thought that my body doesn’t respond all that well to gluten. I especially noticed feeling sluggish and bloated after eating foods like shredded wheat cereal. But the idea of going gluten-free was overwhelming – I love cookies, cake, bread and pasta, and I didn’t want to live without them.

    But a little over a week ago, I decided to give it a try. I’ve been feeling more sluggish and bloated than usual, and am hoping that going gluten-free will help.

    I haven’t missed wheat products as much as I thought I would – I don’t crave bread, I can live without cookies and cake, and I don’t feel deprived since I can still have gluten-free sweets and chips. It helps that I don’t have to be super diligent about it – it’s not a true allergy or intolerance, so I’m not religiously reading labels for gluten the way I do for peanuts and tree nuts, which we have to be very careful about. Sometimes I forget and eat gluten without thinking – like the vanilla wafer I popped into my mouth the other day when my son declined it.

    A nice side effect is that I’m eating more produce since I can’t eat bread or crackers. Instead of cheese with pita chips, I have cheese with apple slices. Instead of bolognese with pasta, I had bolognese with sauteed eggplant and steamed broccoli. I did find a fabulous gluten-free, nut-free granola brand called Enjoy Life. But I haven’t really been trying to replace gluten so much as trying to eat other foods instead.

    I feel a little bit better, although it’s hard to say whether it’s from avoiding gluten. But it’s only been a week. I’m planning to re-evaluate at the end of the month and if it seems like it is or might be making a difference, I’ll continue going gluten-free through October. In the meantime, if you have any great recipes or ideas to make this experience more fun, I’d love to hear them. Thanks!

    Packaging for Bake Sales

    Bake Sale Packaging

    As I get more involved with the PTA at my son’s school, I find myself baking for every bake sale – and there are a lot of them. (Is this just an elementary school thing? Because I don’t remember bake sales being so common in middle and high school.)

    The trickiest part about contributing to a bake sale is the packaging process. It’s easiest for the sellers and buyers if everything is packaged individually – which is why I’ve stopped making cupcakes for bake sales. It’s virtually impossible to individually package a frosted cupcake without ruining the frosting, at least if you’re doing it frugally. (Although if anyone has any great, inexpensive methods, please share!)

    I’ve taken to using cupcake liners and fold-over sandwich baggies. I bought about 10 packages of clearanced cupcake liners after Easter 2011, so I’ve got plenty. And fold-over sandwich baggies are the cheapest of the disposable plastic baggies. If I’ve got a cardboard tray (like the bottom of a case of water), I’ll use that to transport the goodies. But if not, I use a shirt box like the one pictured above. I’ve just got to get in the habit of asking for one every time I buy something at a retail store that gives them out!

    I tend to make bigger individual servings than I would normally cut – the little cakes you see above are about twice the size of what I would give to one of my children. But since they go for about $1 each, it’s a great return on investment and an easy way to help raise funds for our school. And schools need all the help they can get these days!

    Do you have any bake sale tips?

    January 2012 Pantry Challenge

    I don’t have an overflowing pantry at the moment, as I’ve done a pretty good job using up many of the items that I had on hand. But what I have is an abundance of some random items I don’t use much, and that I’d like to use up. These include:

    Ronzoni Healthy Harvest egg noodles
    Sweetened condensed milk
    Canned cannelli beans

    So . . . I’m joining the Pantry Challenge at Good Cheap Eats, with the goal of using up most, if not all, of the items mentioned.

    The really good thing about this challenge is that I’ll have to make things I normally wouldn’t, and that will help keep my menus fresh.

    Got any (frugal) suggestions for using up these ingredients?

    My School Lunch Strategy

    Tomorrow is the first day of school, and I am feeling a lot better about it than I did last year, when I really didn’t know what I was in for. Packing my son’s snack and lunch is still a big consideration for me, though.

    One thing I learned last year is that my son doesn’t care for the school’s offerings. He’ll gladly eat the breakfast cereal and coffee cake, but has an intense dislike of the other options, including the pizza, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese and so on. I can’t complain, as I like to think he’s got a discerning palate thanks to the food he enjoys at home. The flip side, of course, is that I have to pack him lunch every day.

    This year, I know to pack a small snack because he has only 20 minutes to scarf something down, use the bathroom, and play. And his biggest priority on that list is going to be play, while his teacher’s biggest priority will be the bathroom visit. So my biggest priority – the snack – will have to be something quick and desirable, like an applesauce pouch or cookie. I’m anxious for the weather to cool down so I can do some baking.

    Unfortunately, my son rarely ate any lunch-type things I packed last year – he didn’t like the sandwiches, hot foods were untouched, and no matter how much I experimented, he just didn’t want to eat much. Apparently this is actually normal for some kids.

    So I’m resigned to packing something that looks more like a substantial snack than a lunch. My standbys are cereal-type bars (yay for the Kashi deal at CVS this week!), crackers (especially pre-packaged ones with peanut butter for the protein), single-serve cartons of organic milk, and fruit puree pouches. I serve him a fairly substantial lunch-like snack after school to make up for his lack of “real” food at school, and he eats a good dinner. The fact that he’s healthy and a healthy weight makes it easier for me to accept this regimen, although my acceptance was a long time coming.

    Did I mention I’m looking forward to cooler weather? I’m looking forward to experimenting with little finger foods that I can pack for him that are healthier than what I just described – and that’s as much for me as for him. 🙂