Sunday, January 13, 2013

Our Real Food Challenge

We participated in our real food challenge in August (Remember my long blogging vacation?).  I looked at my daughter's lunch one day and thought "when did this happen?"  Mostly everything was packaged, processed and I did not feel good about it.  Life had become really busy and organization had obviously slipped.  I had briefly read the 100 Days of Real Food blog before and loved its message.  I knew proposing 100 days to the family was a stretch but the blog also offered a 10 day challenge.  Bingo!  Something to get back on track, regroup and get a little guidance about everyday folks just trying to make the healthiest lifestyle possible.  I reviewed the rules of the challenge and then asked for the family's support for the ten days. 

With the family's support behind me, I set out to prepare.  Truthfully, I thought preparation would be a breeze.  I didn't feel I was a novice at health and fitness and some people have even used the words "you eat so healthy" when I unpack my lunch at work.  My first step was to remove food from the pantry that would be unauthorized during the challenge.  I thought our pantry was stocked pretty healthfully....until I overflowed 2 large grocery bags with items that had to go.  I was shocked. Convenience snacks galore had crept into our pantry.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I let convenience snacks galore back into our pantry and in most cases I was an active participant in their purchase.  Items with the glorious words of "low-fat," "100 calories," "Good Source of Vitamin X, Y, Z," and other "healthy" things filled the shelves.  Upon closer look at the ingredients list, these foods sounded more like a science experiment than something I wanted to be feeding my family.  Out they went. 

Next, I set out to pre-plan ideas for meals each day.  I enjoy cooking, which is a bonus (the cleaning afterwards- not so much).  We did this challenge in August, which also meant that there was plenty of seasonal produce around at the time.  The website has an extensive list of recipes to help with planning if I was stuck for ideas, which was fantastic.  The last thing I prepared was an incentive "sticker" system for each day of completion for our little one with a promised trip to a Chuck E. Cheese's for rides and games when we finished the 10 days.  I know that bribery may be controversial but she enjoyed seeing the stickers accumulate and it gave us an opportunity to talk about the importance of healthy food each day when her sticker was awarded.  Off we went.

Overall, the pledge went really well.  I definitely felt better.  My sweet tooth ached a little at times, which reiterated to me that my indulgence in sweets had become out of balance.  I did not bake my own bread during this time period.  I strongly thought about it as I have dabbled in baking our own bread before, but I settled on purchasing bread that complied with the challenge from When Pigs Fly Bakery instead.  Was it more expensive than most other bread? Yes, but it was delicious and the list of ingredients on the back of the package was much easier on the eyes.

There were two specific recipes that were hits in our house.  The first is the granola cereal that has become a staple around here.  It quickly became a breakfast favorite of our daughter.  I love it with fruit for breakfast or sprinkled on plain greek yogurt for a snack.  It also can make great granola bars, but unfortunately our daughter's school, like many schools, does not allow nuts to be sent in her lunch so making it into bars for lunch snacks was not an option.  I got into a routine of making this recipe about once per week and didn't buy boxed cereal for months.  I even have a container of it sitting in my pantry right now!
The next recipe that was a hit was spaghetti and meatballs. Yummy.  This recipe was particularly a hit for my husband who is definitely looking to eat a hearty meal.  It was easy to put together and perfect with a fresh salad.  It has made more appearances on our table since and I have tweaked the recipe by substituting onions for the carrots and it worked great.

After the 10 days wrapped up, we sent in our feedback to the 100 Days of Real Food website and a few weeks later these green bracelets showed up in the mail, which was another hit for the little one.

I would highly recommend the challenge to anyone looking to bring a more healthy balance to their eating habits.  Do I think that we need to eat as strict as the challenge's rules 100% of the time? No, not all of the time.  There are times when we meet friends and family out at restaurants and I make the healthiest choices I can.  There are occasions when we intentionally set out for a particular indulgence and work to keep it in balance.  My daughter goes to birthday parties and has cake....I have a piece too.  I think the key is keeping a healthy balance, ensure to exercise and make sure that those "indulgences" do not become the norm of everyday living.  Give it a try!  There is nothing to lose- only benefits of eating great food and feeling better!  

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