Monday, April 12, 2010

FOOOOOD!

Since I seem to post a fair amount about our family's adventures with food, a few of you have been asking just what exactly we do. As many of you know, we are pretty particular about what we eat and I try to steer clear of making separate meals for my kids. Here are some general guidelines we follow:

-Avoid canned food and heavily packaged items (like yogurt cups and pre-packaged snacks)
-Try to buy locally produced food and grow some of our own
-Avoid processed food
-No high fructose corn syrup or items with ingredients I can't pronounce
-Purchase as much organic produce as we can afford
-Put the time and effort into making a decent meal for my family
-Stay away from genetically modified food

This isn't really as hard as it looks. It just takes some organization and planning. Admittedly, there are days when I am just too tired but I don't beat myself up over ordering a pizza. Here is how I generally pull it off:

On Friday night or Saturday morning, I make a menu for the week. I try to plan meals that use ingredients that I already have on hand and incorporate items that are on sale.

Saturday, I grocery shop with a list and stick to it. I usually buy most of my fruit and vegetables at Trader Joes because organic is so much cheaper than Whole Foods or Stop and Shop. I get bulk items like rice and such at Whole Foods because the organic is less than any place else. Things like dried beans, I generally purchase from the regular old grocery store since they are faily low in pesticides and I don't think the high price for organic is worth it. I also go to BJs where I can buy one pound bins of organic baby spinach for $4.99. In the summer things get a bit easier because we can walk to our local farmers' market and pick up what we need. Plus, our own garden gives us the basics like lettuce and kale.

Sundays, I prep ingredients for the week. Usually, I get out the food processer and chop my vegetables, shred cheese, or puree beans for hummus or other sandwich spread.

During the week, I look ahead to each meal to make sure I soak my beans or do whatever other prep that I wasn't able to do earlier.

While we don't use a lot of "easy" food, I do rely on my appliances. I make a lot of things in the Crock Pot so while the babies nap in the morning, I can put the ingredients together and have a good meal by dinner time. I use my bread machine to make pizza dough once a week and a couple of whole wheat loves twice a week. If we are running low on yogurt, I make it at night before bed and then it is done in time for breakfast.

So what do I do for snacks? This is a question I get asked a lot by other moms. The simple answer is fruit. I used to buy tons of Annie's cheddar bunnies or goldfish but there's not a whole lot in them and they can really add up on your grocery bill. Now, my girls take a banana or an apple or I cut an orange into wedges. I hardboil eggs and put peanut butter on celery. I cut up cheese cubes. I do still buy dried fruit like raisins and apricots and rice cakes and organic cheerios for the babies.

Here are some other tips:

-Don't assume that if the food requires more work that it is better or cheaper. A pound of shredded mozzarella cheese at Trader Joes is cheaper than the one pound block. Compare unit prices of items.

-If the item is made from corn and soy and they aren't organic, it is almost certainly genetically-modified. Any fresh produce that as a plu number that begins with 8 indicates that the fruit or vegetable came from GM seed. Some people don't care about this but I like nature to produce my food, not scientists.

-Frozen vegetables can be a great alternative if fresh is too expensive. I often buy frozen organic corn, peas, and stir-fry vegetables for a fraction of the price of fresh that is shipped in from California. Of course, the bag gets thrown out but it allows us to eat organically when we otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it.

-When using beans for recipes, double the amount you need. That way you only go through the soaking and cooking once and then you have extra beans for dips, salads, or any other dish. Plus, a Crock Pot is a great way to cook beans. If you're a vegetarian, beans are a great source of protein and if you enjoy fennel seed, add some to your bean dishes. It will...ahem...temper the effects of a legume-based diet.

-Don't feel like you have to be totally rigid. My husband was away all weekend so I took my girls to the bakery for breakfast (which I vowed never to do this year) and we had a pizza picnic for dinner because I couldn't face the clean-up. I still buy a box of cereal now and then or Trader Joe's Green Curry Sauce.

-Think about packaging. A jarred tomato sauce like the organic marinara at Trader Joe's would be much better for you than canned tomatoes with high levels of BPA. I use the marinara as pizza sauce and then I doctor it with vegetables for pasta.

-Hold on to your menus and you'll see themes. I made a note of meals that my family loved and others that were disasters. We were eating homemade pizza once a week so now Friday or Saturday night is always pizza. We also have a baked pasta dish one night and soup another. That way you don't feel like you are menu planning from scratch every week.

That's it for now. Leave a comment if you have any questions. Later this week, I'll share some of my weekly menus.

4 comments:

  1. Glad to see that you and I are on the same page with organic and unprocessed food! People look at us like we are crazy to not provide the usual snacks that other kids are given. =P We do weekly menus too, with each day having a certain theme, i.e. pizza night, soup night, same as you. I look forward to viewing your menu because we need some fresh ideas around here! ;)

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  2. Thanks for the tips! We've recently decided to take a healthier approach to eating and are slowly working through all of the kinks. It definitely takes a lot more forethought and organization...two things I am completely lacking!
    I do have a couple of questions for you:
    Do you take any supplements? Seems like a lot of people recommend taking a fish oil supplement and I haven't decided whether or not it's really necessary.
    Also, I feel like I'm spending a ton of money on trying to eat healthy. There are no Whole Foods or Trader Joes around here (ugh!) so I've been stuck going to our local grocery store's Organic section for much of our stuff. Fortunately, our local farmers' market will be opening soon so that will help out a lot. So, I guess my question is, do you try to stick to a monthly budget? If you don't mind sharing, in your opinion what's a reasonable amount for a family of 4 (well, 3 and a baby)? My old budget was about $350/month and it doesn't seem to be cutting it but, like I said, I'm still trying to work out the kinks : )

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  3. Hey there Jenn,
    I do take cod liver oil (when I remember) in capsule form although Mark and Vivi take the oil straight. (Mark chokes it down; Vivi LOOOOVES it. Strange child.) I also take chelated iron and vitamin C (to help the iron absorb) but that's because I'm still nursing.

    I try to stay under $500 a month for our groceries. It is a challenge too. I've found that making my own bread and yogurt, cutting juice, buying dried beans, and paying attention to unit prices has helped. You're right though-- the regular grocery store is insanely expensive for organic food. Here's a link for produce and pesticide levels: http://www.foodnews.org/walletguide.php If you can't do all organic, this is a great list to help you figure out what's okay to buy conventionally. (I should say that my grocery money includes things like dish soap and toilet paper so it's not all going to food.)

    I'm not sure what is a reasonable amount to spend because I think it depends a lot on where you live and what you have access to. We have a farm that is 5 miles away that we can buy directly from them. We also don't eat meat which cuts a lot of cost too. You might want to check around you and see if there is a food co-op or a community supported agriculture program that would allow you to buy directly from a farm. I think in the end it works out to be much cheaper than the grocery store.

    Hope this helps!

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  4. I'm always envious of those who can get in the routine of meal planning. For some reason I just can't get in a regular habit and, yes, we spend way too much money on food as a result. I think I have this subconscious resistance not only to cooking but spending time on the weekend planning and grocery shopping! Well, I have the next 15 years to perfect! Thanks for the great ideas

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