Week Twenty Four No Frozen Meals

Bye-Bye Bagel Bites

Week 24: No Frozen Dinners

Year to Real Challenge

If you’ve read my story, then you know that I have bought more than my share of frozen pizzas. The truth is, I also used to regularly buy Hot Pockets, Bagel Bites, Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese, Fish Sticks, Chicken Nuggets, Eggo Waffles, and more. Even though I still have lots of room for improvement in my diet, I have come a long way since the days that I used to buy those frozen prepared foods. In the past, I could not imagine what would go into my freezer if I didn’t buy those items. Now I can’t bring myself to buy them, yet my freezer is full (of healthy, real foods!).

If you are not there yet, don’t despair. As you pass through the frozen foods aisle, my best advice is to say to yourself, “I don’t buy those anymore,” and walk on by. This is not going to be easy at first, because you are likely to wonder what you will eat/feed the kids instead. If the temptation is too great and you end up with a frozen meal in your hand, take a look at the ingredient list, remind yourself that real food is far superior to eating all of those chemicals, and put it back in the freezer case. Gambling with your health and the health of your children is just not worth the convenience of a frozen dinner. If you are worried that now you have nothing to serve for dinner, go grab a dozen organic eggs and some organic greens and call it a day. Little by little, start collecting simple, real food meal ideas you can make in a pinch using foods you typically have on hand. You WILL figure it out (and it will be so much easier if those processed foods are not in your freezer to lead you astray!).

When I stopped buying frozen dinners, I had to learn to plan ahead for those times when I knew I was going to need a quick meal (which at certain times of the year feels like every day!). I am still pretty bad at the planning ahead part, but I have remained committed to my pledge to not put those “un-real” frozen items into my shopping cart. Somehow, we manage to find SOMETHING real to eat among the (real) foods available in the house, and now (most of us) don’t even miss the Bagel Bites, etc. In preparation for five days when I would be out of town, I did leave the kids a few frozen meals with “not-TOO-bad” ingredients that I had purchased at Trader Joe’s (but even there you need to read the ingredients lists carefully – some items are better than others). Hopefully it goes without saying that these types of meals should be the occasional exception, and not the rule.

You may have noticed that preparation (ugh) is a common theme among Real Foodies. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more of a “it’s-4-o’clock-so-I’d-better-start-figuring-out-what-to-make-for-dinner” kind of gal, but having a plan and preparing ahead of time definitely makes it easier to stick to a real food lifestyle. There are so many resources on-line for simple recipes, meal planning, using a crock pot, preparing freezer meals in bulk, and prepping foods before the start of the week. Find something that works for you, and give it a try. I’m still working on this as well, so I’d love to hear your ideas for steering clear of frozen food entrees and keeping it real! Let’s take this Year to Real Challenge seriously and support one another as we say good-bye to those beloved Bagel Bites and continue taking steps in the direction of real food.

Copy of Week Twenty Three No Farmed Fish

Go Wild with Fish??

Week Twenty-Three: No Farmed Fish

Year to Real Challenge

Haven’t you always heard that we should be eating more fish? That’s what I thought, anyway. But as I started reading and researching, I once again became confused about the health benefits – and potential risks – of eating certain kinds of fish.

Fish is a lean source of protein, high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins and minerals – all really, really good things for our bodies, which we should indeed be eating. Yes, wild fish from pristine waters (as nature intended) would be an excellent choice from a nutritional standpoint. Sadly, polluted waters have caused our fish supply to be tainted with harmful substances, including cancer-causing PCBs and mercury. AND, many of the fish sold in American grocery stores are “farmed fish” instead of wild-caught.

So what’s the difference between farmed and wild fish, and does it matter? If you are at all familiar with CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) where animals such as cows and pigs are mass produced in filthy, confined, conditions where they eat unnatural commercial feed (usually GMO corn and soy, along with who-knows-what-kind-of by-products), many fish farms (also known as aquacultures) are similar, except that they are in the water.

From a nutritional standpoint, many farmed fish have less protein, fewer healthy omega-3s, and more inflammation-causing omega-6s due to their commercial diet, and they have higher levels of toxins. Additionally, farmed fish are fed antibiotics and pesticides, which can be problematic for both the ecosystem and for us as consumers. Waste products from fish farms, including feed, pesticides, drugs, feces, and dead fish, contaminate our waters and harm coral reefs. Larger farmed fish, such as tuna and salmon, require more feed than what they produce, resulting in an inefficient food source and over-fishing of tiny prey fish. When farmed fish escape (which apparently happens pretty often), they disrupt natural ecosystems and adversely affect the gene pool. Furthermore, most seafood sold in the US is imported, and there is inadequate testing and regulation regarding how these products were raised, manufactured, and transported.

Yes, there are some types of fish farms that are cleaner, healthier, and more eco-friendly (kudos to them!), but chances are, the fish at our grocery stores and restaurants are coming from the less attractive examples.

For all of the reasons listed above, I think it’s better to choose wild-caught fish over farmed fish. However, there are several cautions about wild-caught fish as well.

One of the reasons fish farms were started was to combat over-fishing of our waters due to the increasing demand of consumers, and this remains an issue. Also, larger wild fish, such as tuna, may contain high levels of mercury and other toxins, since they are high up on the food chain.

And… get this: the label “wild” in a store or restaurant does not necessarily mean it was wild-caught! Some “wild” fish may actually come from fish farms. AND, according to “fish fraud studies” done by Consumer Reports and Oceana, the name of the fish on the menu or store label is quite often not the fish we are actually getting! The more I read, the murkier the waters become…

In the midst of all of this confusing information, here are a few facts that I’m going to remember when buying fish:

  • Stay away from Atlantic salmon, because Atlantic salmon is always farmed.
  • Look for wild-caught Alaskan salmon or sockeye salmon. These two varieties are never farmed, and the Alaskan waters are much cleaner than other oceans. Be careful, though. Salmon labelled “wild” is not necessarily the same as “wild Alaskan.” The term “wild” is often misused.
  • Genetically engineered salmon is under consideration for human consumption, so beware.
  • Smaller fish that are further down on the food chain, such as sardines and anchovies, will contain fewer toxins (e.g., mercury) than larger fish that are nearer to the top of the food chain.
  • Similarly, fish that have a shorter life span, such as salmon, will likely have fewer toxins than fish, such as marlin, that have lived for many years.
  • Imported seafood is not well-regulated, so look at labels (or ask your waiter) to identify the seafood’s Country of Origin. Choose US seafood over imported.
  • Pollution is everywhere, but some waters are significantly worse than others. In order of cleanest to least clean waters: Arctic/Alaskan, Pacific, North American Atlantic, European Atlantic. Usually, freshwater fish are pretty clean.

If you are not so sure you want to be eating any kind of fish regularly, keep in mind that walnuts, flax, and hemp are also good sources of omega-3s. Or, if you want to eat fish but are concerned about the mercury content, you could also look into taking a chlorella supplement to help remove those toxins from your body.

As for me, I plan to “go wild” (as opposed to farmed) when choosing fish. But contrary to my earlier beliefs, I’m not going to “go wild” in terms of how frequently I eat it. Right now, I’ve got wild-caught Alaskan salmon on the menu once every other week.

Here are a few great resources to investigate as we continue learning about the best kinds of fish to add to our diets:

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector





Week Twenty Two Eat for Health

Choose Nutritious Foods

Week Twenty-Two: Eat for Health

Year to Real Challenge

A couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of buying several boxes of Belgian cookies called “Waffle Crisps” from Aldi. They are thin and crispy with a delicious buttery flavor, and the only ingredients are flour, sugar, butter, egg, salt, and baking soda (which is an impressively short, real food list for a packaged cookie!). The problem is that they are especially tasty with a cup of coffee or tea, and I discovered that I would much prefer eating a few of them for breakfast instead of something more nutritious, like eggs. And yes, I did have them (the cookies, not the eggs) for breakfast…on more than one occasion.

This little setback on the path to healthy eating got me thinking about my food choices and why I eat the foods I eat. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Like the waffle crisp cookies, I often eat something because I like the taste or because it’s what I “feel like” eating.
  • Similarly, some foods (namely CHOCOLATE) seem to call my name at times, and I find it hard to resist the cravings.
  • Sometimes I eat it simply because it’s there. I have caught myself nibbling on something that’s sitting on the table, even though I don’t particularly like it or feel like eating it.
  • I don’t do this as much anymore, but in the past I might choose to buy a food product because it was on sale or I had a great coupon.
  • I might choose to make a particular side dish because it “goes with” a certain meal.
  • If I’m really, really hungry, I might eat something because it’s the fastest and easiest choice.
  • Other times, my food choices are dictated by the abundance of a certain food in my fridge – and not wanting it to go to waste – such as kale from the CSA or strawberries from our garden (as in last week, when strawberries were part of my family’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert!). Or, conversely, I might eat something because it’s all we have at the moment.

I’m not saying these reasons are good or bad, BUT I do think I need to add another reason to the list:

In an effort to do better than ‘cookies for breakfast,’ I’m going to Eat for Health.

I’m going to try to be even more conscious of choosing foods and planning meals according to nutritional content. Sure, I do that to some extent already, but I am going to be even more mindful of eating for nutrition.

When I make a meal or reach for a snack, I will ask myself,

“Are these foods going to supply my body with nutrients I need?”

“Are there better choices?”

“Is there anything lacking from my diet that I should add in?”

“Is there anything I should eliminate due to lack of nutritive value or potentially harmful ingredients?”

Other reasons for eating – including those listed above – will still apply at times, but I am hoping to put “Eating for Health” at the top of my list. Will you consider joining me?







Week Twenty-One Beans and Legumes

Let’s Eat Legumes!

Week Twenty-One: Beans and Legumes

Year to Real Challenge

You know how it can get kind of confusing when you are trying to figure out what’s healthy to eat and what’s not? For example, some people say dairy is good, and some say dairy is bad. Some promote a diet rich in protein from meat sources, while others are convinced that a plant-based diet is the way to optimal health. And so on. There’s lots of “advice” out there, and often the recommendations are contradictory.

As I was preparing for this week’s challenge, I was surprised to find that the same holds true when it comes to eating beans and legumes. I had always heard that beans are good for you, and I’ve found research that supports this. BUT… apparently some schools of nutritional thought advise against eating beans! I must admit: the more I read about beans, the more confused I got.

In situations like these, I always evaluate the food in question by asking myself, “Is it REAL FOOD that will nourish my body?” In the case of beans and legumes, I believe the answer is YES, and so this week’s challenge is to occasionally add them to our diets (with a few cautions, which we’ll get to in a minute).

“Legumes” include: all kinds of beans (black, navy, pinto, kidney, white, lima, garbanzo, others), peas, lentils, and peanuts.

Here are some of things that are GOOD about legumes:

  • High in Protein
  • Low in Fat
  • Nutrient Dense
  • Good Source of Fiber
  • Help Reduce Bad Cholesterol
  • Help Lower Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure
  • Help Protect Against Colon Cancer and Diabetes
  • Environmentally-Friendly Alternative to Meat
  • Inexpensive

The most economical way to buy beans is dry. However, this requires planning ahead to properly soak them before cooking. The purpose of soaking is to reduce cooking time and to remove some of the phytic acid. By reducing the phytic acid, our bodies are better able to digest the beans, and more of the nutrients in the beans are available to our bodies.

Some real food enthusiasts have mentioned cooking a pot of beans on the weekend and storing them in the fridge for use during the week. The prepared beans can also be frozen. I’m embarrassed to admit that I am still not a good “food/meal prep-er,” so I can’t say I have ever done this. But for you, my Rookie friends, I am going to pledge to soak and cook a pot of beans this week, following the method described here. I’ll let you know how it goes!

In the meantime, for those of us who might be buying canned beans, let’s be sure to buy organic ones that specify that the lining of the can does not contain the harmful chemical BPA.

One legume in particular that I try to avoid is soy. In recent years, soybeans and soy products were touted as the next great health food. However, most of the research I have read indicates that soy can work in the body as an endocrine disruptor, meaning that it messes with the body’s normal hormone functions, leading to various health problems. Furthermore, almost all of the soy in the US is from GMO crops. Small amounts of fermented soy may be ok, but I’ll let you do your own research on that if that’s something of interest to you.

If you have an autoimmune disease or digestive disorder, please check with your doctor or nutritionist about whether or not beans should be a regular part of your diet. Beans and legumes might aggravate certain disorders, especially if the beans are not prepared properly. In fact, some advocates of beans (who may or may not have any digestive health concerns) say they won’t eat beans in restaurants because they can’t be guaranteed that the beans have been properly soaked, boiled, and cooked – who knew??

Now we are left with the question: how often should we eat beans? This is tricky, because some nutritional experts suggest eating beans daily, while others say not at all. I’m going to take the middle ground and aim to include beans in my meals a couple of times a week. Please consider joining this week’s challenge as we continue leaving processed foods behind in favor of REAL FOOD!

I look forward to hearing about your favorite ways to eat beans and legumes as part of your real food meals!

Week Twenty Avocado Mushroom

Eat Avocados and Mushrooms

Week Twenty: Avocados and Mushrooms

Year to Real Challenge

Let’s piggy-back on last week’s challenge to “Eat More Fruits and Vegetables” by intentionally adding two specific items to our diets: avocados and mushrooms.

Both of these foods are so healthy that I wanted to make sure we didn’t overlook them. Until recently, avocados and mushrooms only occasionally made it into my shopping cart. After learning about their health benefits, I hope you’ll agree that they deserve their own featured challenge and a regular appearance as part of our meals.

Avocados are high in nutrients, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Eating them may help lower bad cholesterol levels, increase good cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, improve eye and heart health, prevent some cancers, and relieve symptoms of arthritis. When combined with other fruits and vegetables (as in a salad), avocados actually help the body absorb more antioxidants than it would have from eating the same salad without the avocado. So, we get the added nutrition of the avocado, PLUS some bonus absorption of nutrients from the other fruits and vegetables as well!

Even though we often group mushrooms with other salad vegetables, they are technically not from plants and are instead classified as fungi. Like avocados, they contain a powerhouse of nutrients that boost our immune system and help our bodies fight disease. Most impressive to me is the mushroom’s anti-cancer effects. According to Dr. Fuhrman in his research-supported book, Super Immunity, “frequent consumption of mushrooms can decrease the incidence of breast cancer by up to 60 to 70 percent!” I will not attempt to explain the science behind how mushrooms make their magic happen, but they do amazing things like preventing tumors from growing, preventing inflammation, and preventing fat cells from expanding. Wow! Be careful, though. Some mushrooms found in the wild can be poisonous, so make sure you are well-educated on the subject if you decide to go foraging in the woods to pick your own. Mushrooms do absorb whatever is in the surrounding soil, so organic is a good choice for mushrooms whenever possible.

There are countless delicious ways to incorporate these two foods into our meals and snacks. In addition to putting it on salad, avocado is great on sandwiches or in smoothies or in guacamole. Mushrooms can be added to omelets, quiche, pizza, pasta sauce, and salads, and they can also be the featured food items in recipes for stuffed mushrooms or grilled portabellas, to name a few. We don’t need to be fancy, though…let’s just be mindful of finding some way to include avocados and mushrooms as a regular part of our diets.

I’d love to hear your favorite ways to eat avocados and mushrooms!