Don’t go into this guns blazing!

As I dissect everything we eat and how can I make sure that I remove as much processing as I possibly can, I do find some things are beyond my reach as a working mom.  And I am ok with that.  There is so much you can do and if you go into this with guns blazing, you are going to lose that battle.  You can’t start this lifestyle change at a 100%.  You need to work your way up.  Trust me it will be a lot less painful and you will get into a groove much faster.  Like I said, I started with one thing, butter and I worked my way up.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to achieve the elusive 100%, but you have to be realistic.  You will quickly find that almost everything around you is processed.  Even things you didn’t think could possibly be processed are.  Everything has some type of preservative, emulsifier, natural flavor or …. So this is no small task and it is even worse if you are working full time and have a family.  The key is to set for yourself attainable goals.  As you reach your goal, you set the next one.  Start with the things you consume often.

An easy way in which I was able to cut out about 50% of our processing right off the bat without too much trouble or extra work was to limit takeout to one meal a week.  We chose Friday night, because who wants to cook or prepare anything on Friday night.  We also decided no more ready made meals, period.  So what is an easy alternative for those easy to heat up lasagnas and eggplant parmesans?  Slow cooked or casserole meals.  On the weekend spend a couple of hours making a hearty stew, or braised chicken that you can use in different ways.  Roast veggies and keep them in a bag in the freezer to use with Pasta and make fresh pesto and freeze in small portioned containers so that you can easily bring out and thaw and use with pasta.  Make a huge batch of brown rice and freeze in quart bags.  Soups are excellent way to make meals.  This is the case for creamy soups which are most likely pureed.  Some of the soups that I have made in large quantities and have frozen in portioned containers have been cream of mushroom (hold the cream for the freezing, add it when you reheat and ready to serve), root vegetable soup, potato soup and the list goes on and on.  A quick soup and salad dinner with a couple of pieces of homemade toast is a gourmet meal that will rival any high end restaurant.  So essentially, I started making our own ready made meals and that got us half of the way there, with just a little effort.  Oh, and stop buying those bags of salad.  Trust me, you do have 10 minutes to cut up some fresh veggies and greens.

Once you get this down, you can then start concentrating on sourcing your food as this will take quite a bit of research.  If you are very busy, make it into a family project.  After all you are making this change for your family so get them involved.  I know you will have resistance.  My husband was very supportive, but he also brought me down to earth once in a while and at times, he was skeptical or thought I might be going overboard, but as you and your family start seeing the fruits of your labor, you will build enthusiasm and it will become second nature.

If you have small children, this research would be a fun school project for them.  Use every resource you have at home to make life easier for you, and this includes your family.  Look at them as your own labor force and assistants.  If you have teenagers, maybe the incentive would be if you can save us money on finding the perfect meat source, you get a percentage of those savings for a period of time.  If all else fails, bribes work.

If I had to choose one thing that I found to be difficult, but very highly rewarding, it would be sourcing our food.  And when that milestone was achieved, it felt as if you have reached the peak of a mountain and now looking down at the breathtaking view in awe.  It is quite a feeling. Again, it took me over two years to reach the point I am at now, and I still have many things I need to try and have yet to explore.  You also have to understand your saturation point and know when to say it is ok if I don’t bake bread this week and we have to buy bread.  It is not the end of the world.  Trust me you won’t revert back. What you make will be so far superior, you will crave it and can’t be away from it for too long.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not always rosy and easy.  I have come to terms with the fact that it will be very difficult to make my own pasta on a regular basis.  But the alternative is to source the best type of pasta with the least processing I could find.  Being originally from the Middle East, pita is an integral part of my food.  But with limitations on how many pitas fit on the rack in the oven and the labor involved in rolling each pita, it was just not feasible to make pita on a regular basis at home. And I am ok with that.

So what do I do with the failures?  I don’t consider them failures, as I build on my experience and try to see if there is an easier way to accomplish this task and even if I don’t find that way, I try to find the next best thing.  Don’t go into this thinking that everything store bought is evil.  You have to read the labels and try to find the product with the least number of ingredients and definitely one that does not contain preservatives, artificial flavors or additives, and make certain you steer clear of the so called “natural flavor”; There is nothing natural about “natural flavor”.  You also need to understand that your family will not want to entirely give up their Soda, Cheetos, candy, cereal, candy bars, and etc.  So don’t get wrapped up in trying to force this lifestyle down your family’s throat. But what you can control is how much of this stuff is consumed inside the house.  My daughter loves Cheetos and I will buy her Cheetos every once in a while.  She also loves McDonalds fries and yes, I will swing her by for a happy meal every once in a blue moon.

My ultimate goal has always been to be 50-50 and I would consider this success.  The fact that our family has supassed that and we are in the 85% territory, has been a dream come true.  If you don’t go over board and take it one step at a time, you will find it easier to live unprocessed.

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