On the Road To a Healthier Lifestyle: Food

On the Road To a Healthier Lifestyle: I’d like to document for myself the path we’re taking toward a healthier lifestyle…life changes we’re making with food, with environmental stewardship, with responsible living…there are so many ways to move slowly in a direction that’s healthier for ourselves and others. This is the first in an occasional series.

Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged when I research the most healthy ways to feed my family. There is just so much to learn and so many different ideas about what is important and what is not. And I’m tempted to compare myself to others and feel like I have such a long way to go.

So I get a little boost when I look at where we’ve come from and where we are now, not just where I want our family be in a few years in regards to our eating habits. Sure, there’s a lot more healthy things we could be doing when it comes to food, but I try to remember that it takes one baby step at a time to walk the road towards a healthier lifestyle. Any step forward is better than no step at all.

Looking back, I can mark the beginning of my thinking more seriously about food to a single book: The Sonoma Diet. The book is actually a diet book, but it embraces the everyday diet of the Mediterranean as a lifelong way of eating. I first read it in 2007 when I wanted to lose my baby weight in a way that didn’t feel restrictive and depressing. At the same time, I had been reminded at a doctor’s appointment that those of us who had gestational diabetes have a huge chance of developing type II diabetes within five years. Definitely not something on my to-do list. I was ready for a change. Luckily Greg is always game for a new challenge. So the road began…

Food Step #1: Whole Grains. It’s been about three years since we’ve regularly had white flour products in the house, ever since I read about their complete lack of nutrition. While reading The Sonoma Diet, I was convinced of the need to eat real whole grains, and I learned how to read labels to decipher which foods really have true whole grains and which ones are masquerading as “whole wheat” or “multigrain” or “wheat flour” but are really made up of processed white flour. The Sonoma Diet really worked as a weight loss tool, but more importantly it changed the way our family eats. Honestly, we still prefer the fluffy white flour tortillas and hamburger buns and pastas, but they’re more of an eat out and do something special kind of thing now. It was probably the hardest step we’ve had to do in our food journey.

Food Step #2: Less Processed/Packaged Foods. I didn’t think we really ate much processed/packaged food anyway, because I love to cook. But when Tyler was diagnosed with nut allergies in December of 2007 I realized just how many boxes and jars and cans I’d come to rely upon in my recipes. When you’re forced to read each and every ingredient in each and every item you eat, you begin to realize that some of that stuff in there isn’t really food. It was a huge pain to shop at first, but in the end Tyler’s allergy resulted in healthier eating for the whole family.

Food Step #3: Fresh Produce in Season. At Costco one day in May 2008, I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I don’t know what exactly drew me to the book, but I love memoirs and with my new interest in healthy eating, I toted it home with my diapers, wipes and cheap Costco photos. Little did I know that it would inspire me to make even more radical changes in our eating. Hello, Farmer’s Market. Goodbye waxy supermarket produce. I became a farmer’s market regular and we began eating only fresh, local, in season produce. These days I make a few exceptions…I try to buy exotic fruits like papayas and pineapples now and then to give the boys a taste for something different. And although we didn’t buy bananas regularly for over a year, I’ve started buying them again. We have to do what works for us.

Food Step #4: The Search For Grass Finished Beef. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I read about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) for the first time. There was so much great information in that book about so many food topics that it was overwhelming. But I was willing to look for grass finished beef as a first step. Instead of being trapped in overcrowded conditions and living off of unnatural grains and who knows what else (well, I know what else now, but I don’t like to think about it), grass finished cows spend their whole lives roaming the hills for a cow’s natural food- grass. Unfortunately, in 2008 grass fed beef was incredibly rare. Nobody sold it. Then one day a one pound chub of 100% grass fed beef appeared at Trader Joe’s! I’ve been buying it ever since.  Then about a year ago I ran into Frank, my beef man, at the farmer’s market and I was able to start buying the beef from the cows that graze on the hills not two minutes from my house! I couldn’t believe it. Now Frank’s are the only cows we eat. Whenever we drive into our canyon, the boys and I call out, “There are our cows!” I love this connection to what we eat. This is where my interest in the slow food movement really began.

Food Step #5: Replacing bad stuff with good stuff. My favorite cake recipe uses Crisco. Spectrum Organic makes a trans-fat free version. Not that I use it every day, but it’s nice to not feel guilty about feeding the kids my poppyseed cake! Also, reading ingredient lists will show you how many things contain high fructose corn syrup…a definite no-no for anyone in danger of developing diabetes! We’ve replaced anything with hfcs with comparable products made with sugar. It would be better to eliminate these foods completely, but could you really live without ketchup, hamburger buns, salad dressings, juices? It’s crazy where you’ll find that stuff. Another switch is to use more heart healthy olive oil and coconut oil in place of other oils and fats. And cereals with less sugar and more fiber can replace the nutrient deficient kinds. And of course we’re trying to get rid of trans fats completely…even when the label says no trans fats, if you see partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list, it’s better to steer clear. But what do I do about packaged cake mixes and their partially hydrogenated oils?! Those boxes sure make life easier and we only eat cake every few months…hmmm…any ideas?

Food Step #6: Humanely slaughtered meats. This is where we are today. I know that everyone has a different path in life and different convictions about many important social issues. I really believe that God places convictions about all different sorts of things in our hearts so that He can use us as a whole to take care of the world. If we would each take steps towards following whatever convictions God has laid upon our hearts, perhaps many of the world’s ills would be lessened, from clean water to evangelism to animal cruelty.

We are not vegetarians, but it’s my personal conviction not to contribute to any cruelty to animals. We know where our beef comes from and where it’s slaughtered. I only became aware of the horrible treatment of animals in slaughterhouses within the past 8 months. I accidentally read an account of the predominant abuse of these animals by the slaughterhouse workers and I haven’t been able to shake the images planted in my mind.  When I came to Greg, shocked, I found that he had taken a whole class in Law School about this exact subject! He is capable of compartmentalizing a lot better than I am, I guess.

From that time on, I have been on a quest to find out where our meat is raised and slaughtered. This has not been an easy task. Actually, it has resulted in us eating a whole lot less meat, which I guess is not a bad thing. Grass fed beef is one of the healthiest meats, so we’re eating that, along with tofu, a lot of seafood, and more egg and vegetable dishes. And pasta. Plenty of whole grain pasta. Because stores aren’t really very forthcoming about where their meat comes from.

I’m not religious about this. I’ve bought pork three or four times from Trader Joe’s (who insists via email that they monitor their pork suppliers…hmmm…) and I’ll still pick up the occassional flank steak there, but our pork consumption is way down, as is our beef (grass fed is definitely expensive!) Since Greg’s allergic to chicken we don’t have to worry too much about that. I do buy the frozen teriyaki chicken I mentioned as well as Ikea’s meatballs and some other convenience foods. I don’t have the perfect solution yet here, but my awareness of the issues is the first step in the right direction.

Next Steps: I’m going to continue to look into humane meat suppliers. I’m researching the benefits of raw milk and looking for affordable suppliers. I have a jar of coconut oil in my pantry and am figuring out how to replace some of our other oils with this healthier option. I try to cook from scratch as often as possible, but we’re not putting the peace of our family in second place…if going out to eat or eating pantry meals keeps us sane on some days, we’re going to do it.  I’m working on easing our family away from breakfast cereal and towards more hearty alternatives. I’m looking into the health benefits of whole milk and real butter versus fat free and low fat products with additives and such. That’s all I’ve been able to handle right now. I’ve dabbled in canning fresh produce in season and I’d love to do it again. For now, I’ve got some fresh organic strawberries freezing as I type. Baby steps, right?

Wherever I am in my journey, I try to keep moving forward. It’s overwhelming to try to build too many habits at one time so I’m content to go slowly in the direction of my goals. We’re willing to pay the extra monetary price to promote our family’s health, but we’re not always willing to pay the price in time or lack of sanity! It’s a slow road. But isn’t that what slow living is all about?

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One thought on “On the Road To a Healthier Lifestyle: Food

  1. About those packaged cake mixes, there are some really simple to make cake recipes out there. I don’t think it would take very much more time to make the cakes from scratch (and the kids would love it, especially if they get to lick the bowl!). But on the other hand, if you really like those packaged cake mixes and you have them only a few times a year, maby you won’t need to get rid of them since everything else you eat is good for you?

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