How to Avoid Processed Foods

As most of you know, I’m a mom of boys and that keeps me pretty busy. In addition to that, I write for this blog and I am a contributor to the Vegan Housewives blog, which is such an honor. As a mother, it is hard to make time to cook healthy meals and especially snacks. Even if you’re not a mom and you work full time, you probably have the same problem. We live in a culture where everything is “go, go go” we barely have time to run our errands, much less to stop, sit and just be.

I go back and forth between giving my kids convenience foods for snacks and going overboard on making them not eat anything processed. My conscience beats me up every time they’re eating something processed. I decided there has to be a balance. I found that there definitely is. I decided to share my tips and tricks to avoiding processed foods and on the occasion that you can’t avoid it–some ideas for healthier options.

One thing I noticed, is that when I’m making lunch for everyone I usually want to cut corners. I don’t want to sit there and chop up fruits and veggies. Lunch was definitely the one meal a day that I noticed my kids were getting mostly processed foods. I found that if I had already chopped up fruits and veggies in my refrigerator I was more likely to give that to them than crackers or chips. After I do a grocery store run or a Farmer’s Market run, I chop up my fruits and veggies and put them in air tight containers (BPA-free plastic or glass ones of course!)

Here I am chopping up my onions. A fun cooking tip: By breathing through your mouth and wearing big glasses you can stop yourself from crying while cutting onions. I cut up 3 large onions I got from my sister’s garden and I didn’t even shed a tear.

To recap, storing veggies and fruit chopped up means you’re more likely to use them in a hurry.

I also like to make my own snack foods. I make muffins in large batches as well as my mother-in-law’s infamous “Protein Balls” (really they should have a better name). I find by keeping a large amount on hand, the kids can grab them if they’re hungry. I control the ingredients that go into them so I know they’re organic, vegan and preservative free.

Protein Ball recipe:

1 cup oats

1/2 cup raisins or dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup ground flaxseed

1/3 cup agave nectar

1 tsp pure vanilla

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and then roll them into a small ball (like cookie dough before you bake them) then put them in an air tight container and let them set in the fridge. After an hour or so they’re set. They remind me of the filling inside a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. I usually triple the recipe and make a huge batch because my kids go through these like crazy.

Usually 2 nights a week I dedicate to my baking night, my sweet husband will stand with me in the kitchen and we spend quality time together while baking, cutting up veggies and fruit, talking and sometimes we read books together while cooking. I actually look forward to those nights. If he has an event he has to be at one night, I’ll make that my baking night and turn on some music and bake the night away.

We all have those weeks where we are exhausted! The kids have a bunch of events, we have a full schedule and baking nights did not happen that week. Been there! We have to pick something up at the store real quick, so what do we do? READ LABELS, “natural” doesn’t mean anything, it could be filled with chemicals and considered “natural” by FDA “standards”. Look for organic labels, read the ingredients to see if you can pronounce the ingredients, if you can’t, don’t buy it! Some of my favorite snacks I get for the kids are Clif Z Bars (vegan, organic and totally delicious, plus you can buy them in bulk at Costco) and Clif Z Ropes (fruit ropes that are 100% fruit). Look for whole grains, organic labels and foods with few ingredients. While these are not processed I think we over look some things like whole fruits that are easy to eat without being peeled or cut up such as apples and grapes. Organic baby carrots, raisins, peanuts (for kids over the age of 3).

What are some of your tips to avoid processed foods for your family?