I am pumped! Over the moon! Super stoked! My workout group has set a goal to eat only unprocessed foods for twenty-one days. As you can imagine, this fills me with happiness – new people are trying out this way of living that I believe is so important for health and happiness. Additionally, October is the month of the Eating Rules’ “October Unprocessed” campaign that is in its fifth year.
Saying no to processed food is IN THE AUTUMN AIR!!
I just want to sing from the roof-tops, I’ve done this! It can be done! It’s worth doing! I have so much to share about the ups, the downs, the all arounds of this commitment. So, in true Lean.Green.Kitchen fashion, I made a list.
My top ten tips for going “unprocessed” or “NPF” (no processed foods).
Are you giving “unprocessed” a try? Start here:
- Make your personal “unprocessed” rules. Everybody has a different definition of unprocessed, so think through what makes sense for where you are at and what you can give to the challenge. Are you going to be able to make every single thing from scratch, or are you okay with buying products with ingredients you have in your kitchen (think marinara sauce, bread, broth, canned beans and vegetables, yogurt for examples). The Eating Rules definition is: Does it pass The Kitchen Test. Could someone with reasonable aptitude in the kitchen make the thing you are buying using ingredients that would reasonably be found in a kitchen? If yes, then proceed. And here’s a heads-up about your personal “unprocessed” rules, they will change over time. It’s a journey.
- Plan ahead. It just really can’t be done without a plan. Menus must be scratched on napkins (or inputted into spreadsheets if you are one of those kinds of people), shopping lists must be figured out and executed. Web-sites must be searched for new recipes. Cookbooks must be dusted off. If you are time-crunched (and who isn’t), it’s pretty imperative that you find a chunk of time somewhere in the week to prep ingredients that will make your week go smoother. Cut-up celery and carrots get dipped into a lot more made-ahead-hummus than heads of celery and bags of carrots with a can of garbanzo beans that’s just waiting to be prepared when you are hungry and rushing.
- Find a Farmers Market or Produce Stand that works for you. Then go. Every week. No fail. Buy lots of fruit and all your favorite veggies. Buy things you can eat raw when you want to buy a snack at a convenience store. Buy things you can cook when you need a last-minute veggie soup for dinner.
- Make a SNACK and TREAT LIST. Write down all the things you can think of that fit into your definition of “unprocessed” and that you would like as a snack or a treat. This list is going to be really important when you are right in the middle of breaking old habits and are feeling overwhelmed and crave-y. Everybody’s list looks different, mine is filled with nut butter/fruit combinations, smoothies, yogurt with granola and berries, veggies and hummus, cut up red bell peppers and cucumbers, stove-popped popcorn, and quick handfuls of cashews. I love blended frozen banana sorbets and fresh fruit with homemade whipped cream for treats. These things must then be available to you at a moments notice… get them on that shopping list!
- Make soup. Every week. A big batch. Eat it all week whenever you don’t know what to eat. It’s easy, tasty, filling, nutrient-rich and quick. Did I say easy? There are a million EASY soup recipes (there are a bunch on this site alone!) out there or you can just put whatever you like in a pot and add broth and simmer with some seasonings and viola… soup! This is your “fast food” for that day when it all just falls apart and you are contemplating driving through somewhere. Heating up your soup is MUCH faster and superior in about a million ways. This is your Plan B.
- Make small changes. If you are currently eating a lot of processed foods and don’t feel super proficient in the kitchen, then don’t decide to make your broth, beans, cheese, yogurt, bread, etc. from scratch. Just make sure you read every label that comes in your house and that you know and approve of everything listed. This might not be the best time to decide you need to give up dairy or cut out coffee. Those may be great NEXT steps for you once you’ve got this step down. I wouldn’t recommend deciding to count/log your calories during this time. It’s so irritating to have to write down ingredient after ingredient of all your home-made food. Give yourself a break and realize that if nutrient-rich food is what you are buying, then that’s what you are eating. Good enough.
- Start off the day right. Make sure you are prepared for awesome morning success. The momentum of nailing it right out of the gates can make the whole day go smoothly. Everyone is very different regarding what they are interested in for breakfast and when they feel best eating it, so you need to experiment around until you find your sweet spot. For kicks, let’s compare what I had for breakfast and what someone rushing through Starbucks had for breakfast. Today I spent ten minutes putting together the following: a matcha tea with honey and coconut cream (the creamy stuff at the top of the coconut milk can) and a one egg scramble with zucchini, spinach and avocado. My Starbucks friend had a pumpkin spice latte and a mass-produced scone. I estimate my breakfast had less than 5g of sugar. My Starbucks friend had 75g (that’s about 1/3 of a cup of sugar). We haven’t even mentioned the laboratory-made chemicals that my SB friend’s body will need to detox. Or the conditions of the cows who produced the dairy in both SB products. So which of us is better prepared with long-term energy and nutrients on board? Who’s immune system is optimized, mental/emotional energy ready, physically prepared to take on the day? Do you agree that people who start off the day with a feeling of success are more likely to make better decisions all day? Set yourself up to be one of those people.
- Tell everyone you know. It can’t be a secret. People will cheer you on, ask you questions, not care, find inspiration, keep you accountable. Don’t lose out on this help by being secretive. And then enjoy it every time they don’t share with you – notice that you aren’t invited to the drive-thru runs, you aren’t offered Halloween candy, no donuts are gifted to you (forcing you to say no thank you). The best situation for your success is to have a few people join you. Form a lunch club that brings lunch to share, invite a few friends to get together and prep crock-pot starters, have a few contacts in your phone that you can text when tired/confused/overwhelmed/hangry and in need of support.
- COOK!! To nourish yourself and your loved ones is the greatest gift you can give. It’s an art. It’s chemistry. It’s love. It’s power. Find a cookbook that you love, and use it. Scroll through a few food blogs that fit your way of life. Invite over friends and family and cook for others. Invite no one over and cook everything for yourself. Fall in love with your favorite pan. Ogle over a new wooden spoon. Get your best chef’s knife sharpened. Learn the definition of mire poix. Learn how to chiffonade basil. Grate your own cheese. Buy high quality salt and keep it in a beautiful jar.
- Enjoy the process! It isn’t easy, but it is so worth it. Eliminating or reducing the amount of processed food you eat can lead you down all sorts of new, healthy paths. Each little step you take leads to another.
My personal testimony is proof that by taking little steps and making little tweaks to your lifestyle choices, in a matter of months you will be in a very different and very positive place. Truly, what I eat now versus what I ate six years ago is night and day different. I’m still taking little steps and making little tweaks. That, to me, is the power and the fun of striving for health and happiness. Onward!
It always helps to have lots of resources when making a change. Here are a few of my go-to places for support and information.
Lean.Green.Kitchen Blog – That’s right, this entire blog is dedicated to this topic! Whether it be the truth about what’s actually in “natural flavors” or how to clean up nacho cheese dip for the Halloween buffet or why I bought a cow, this site is here to share all I’ve learned along my food journey with all who are interested.
Need help? Just ask! This is my FAVORITE TOPIC and I love to share with and support others making this step. Go get ‘em! In fact I’ve written my Six Beginner Steps to Real Food – maybe that’d be a good place to start!