THE JOURNEY BEGINS
As a former teacher of nutrition, I’ve always taken pride in knowing how to keep my family healthy. I knew the food pyramid (plate…whatever), the basic functions of the body and could explain the role of nutrients. Or so I thought. The past year since my daughter’s cancer diagnosis has been insanely humbling. At times, I felt like I knew NOTHING. I questioned everything I’ve ever learned and literally felt as though I had to go back to square one.
I got SUCH mixed messages. The hospital nutritionist gave me the basics (which I already knew) but then the patient area on the oncology floor was full of junk (soda, sugary juices, pre-made mac and cheese, ice cream). Some nurses and oncologists would encourage getting her to “eat whatever she would” but others warned us about giving her too many sweets. I.was.lost.
Trying to wrap my head around my baby’s cancer, learning to navigate all the meds she’d be taking, figuring out what to feed her…all while struggling to do simple things like taking care of my other children, paying bills, doing laundry, getting myself out of bed in the morning. Talk about over-load.
Soon, the numbness wore off and my common sense set-in. I also began researching and connecting with others. I owe SO MUCH to Season Johnson. I’ll be talking more about my extreme and unending adoration for her in the future…but for now…let’s go back to me. 😉
Overall…I’ve RE-learned that eating healthy is really not rocket science! We all know that what we put in our bodies contribute to it’s composition and can nudge it in one direction or another. When we want to wake up in the morning, we drink coffee…when we want to lose weight, we cut calories…when we’re sick, we reach for chicken soup and vitamin c. We “get” that what we put in our bodies makes a difference. We also “get” (if we let ourselves think about it) that FOOD should NOT be able to sit around for weeks, months, years without going bad. We innately know that real, simple, close-to-nature food is best for our bodies.
But we often don’t want to be reminded of that. It’s SO.MUCH.EASIER to grab what’s easiest, fastest, cheapest. In addition…while we may “get it”, making changes is HARD and learning HOW all this works can be overwhelming. So we tend to give up and take on the ignorance is bliss mentality…trust me…I’ve SO been there. But as Dani’s initial treatment took it’s toll (fever, extreme constipation, lethargy) and I began to gain some knowledge and energy, it fueled my fire and change my mentality to… ignorance is NO EXCUSE.
And here’s the other thing…eating healthy does NOT have to taste like crap! We’ve all experienced it, right? Food devoid of flavor…like munching on cardboard. Trust me when I say, that would NOT fly in our house. My kids are Picky (notice the capital “P”) and also…I LOVE FOOD. If it tastes gross, I don’t care how nutritious it is..I’ll find another route.
I’m definitely not the authority on this stuff but I’m asked all the time how we manage to incorporate what we’ve learned into real life. So today’s post is dedicated that. What we know, how we know it, and some (hopefully) easy suggestions that have helped our whole family make different…BETTER choices.
THE NUTS…AND BOLTS
I’ll start by sharing a quick, abbreviated list of my rules of thumb. If you find yourself with some time to research the WHY behind it all, click on the links for some of my fave internet resources.
- Choose organic when possible. At LEAST follow dirty dozen and clean 15+ lists.
- Avoid GMOs.
- Invest in organic, pasture raised, grass fed AND finished meats.
- EAT FAT! Organic and raw sources are preferred. Focus on MORE omega 3 (egg yolk, meats, butter, cheese) and LESS omega 6 (veggie oils).
- Cut back on (or completely OUT) refined carbohydrates/grains.
- Learn to love fermented foods (pickles, sour kraut, keifer).
- Eat/drink GOOD raw dairy when you can (if not, lightly pasturized/non-homoginized will have to do but consume in moderation. We use Crystal Ball Farms.)
- Steer CLEAR of soy (except organic, fermented).
- Sweeten with stevia, grade B maple syrup, coconut sugar, raw manuka honey (read up on the awesomeness of raw manuka honey here…immune support, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer).
- Steer clear of agave, refined sugars, and especially artificial sweeteners.
- Give yourself TIME to establish new habits. Research says it can take a minimum of 21 days to do so. So keep it up. You’re likely not going to change your family’s eating habits overnight. But stick with it, keep trying, make baby steps. Doing SOMETHING is better than doing NOTHING!
I’m often asked, “what do you do for snacks”. Good question.
For some reason, its really easy to turn a blind eye to snacking. Like, “because it’s only once in awhile and not a part of a balanced meal it doesn’t really count”, type-a-thing. At least that was MY issue for awhile. And I didn’t realize it until I took a good hard look at our diet overall. It doesn’t mean the sugary stuff doesn’t exist at our house at all. We do indulge from time to time. And things change – especially for Dani when she’s on certain medications. But we do the best we can and it’s way better than where we were before.
So in response to the struggle that so many of us have as we try to retrain our brain to reach for something healthier…I’ve put together a list of some of our go-to’s. They range from easiest (laziest 🙂 ) to the most labor-intensive.
Not the best, I know…but let’s be real. Busy lives will at some point call for some packaged snacks. This is by NO MEANS the majority of what we let our kids eat…especially Dani…but depending on where you’re starting this journey, this could be a huge step up…so bravo! Eventually you’ll move on down the page. 🙂
Here’s where you need to be especially diligent about reading labels as most packaged foods obviously contain extra stuff. Watch especially for trans or hydrogenated fats and soy derivatives, which are really hard to avoid here. We try to go with ones made from organic, all-natural, non-GMO ingredients. Here are some of our faves…
Fig Bars – These Nature’s Bakery bars have replaced the popular name-brand breakfast bars we used to buy by in bulk. WAY fewer ingredients (always a good sign) and non-GMO.
Plantain Chips – Have you tried these? Yum. My kiddos agree.
Fruit Leather – Best to make your own…but I rarely have time to do that.
Pro-Bugs Yogurt/Kiefer Drink – My kids call it Monster Milk because of the bug/monster on the front. More of a drink…but it’s made of kiefer so it’s thick like a smoothie. Upside is the fat and probiotic. Downside is that it has added sugar…but definitely better than many of the other “healthy yogurt drinks” in stores for kiddos.
Dried Fruit – Not my fave option but it works in a pinch. The lack of water can be hard on the digestive system so enjoy in moderation. In many cases, extra stuff has been added to help preserve it or make it taste better…things like sugar, dextrose, waxes and oils…so pay attention to what you’re buying.
Epic/Tanka Bars – A meat bar. Sounds sooooo de-lish, right? But they’re good. Trust me.
Coconut Chips – DAAAANG! Seriously…”Dang”. It’s the name of my fave brand AND what I wanna blurt out when munching on a snack that I seriously thought I hated. I’m not a coconut person. Not in love with it in any form. Except this one. Find them. Love them.
Corn Tortilla Chips – Yeah, we like “chippies” (Dani’s term) but in extreme moderation. Avoid the conventional, big-name-brands at the supermarket and opt for ones that at the VERY LEAST contain ingredients you can pronounce. As usual, we also try for organic and non-GMO. If you’re feeling lazy (like me, most of the time), dip in pre-made organic salsa or guacamole…but making your own is best if you can swing it.
Better options that still don’t require a lot of prep:
Refer to the “rules of thumb” above when choosing fresh, healthy foods. Don’t be afraid to branch out a bit and try not to let your tastes dictate what you buy for your family. For example…I absolutely HATE celery and in turn, my kids had never, ever tasted it before. I finally started buying it. Not their fave by any means, but they’re starting to come around a bit (not me, fyi…still gross).
Apples – Do you know that the average conventionally grown apple sits around for 12-18 months before it’s sold to you? How does it stay so “nice looking”? Lots of ways…none of which you want your body exposed to. We’re talking pesticides, waxes, and chemicals to name a few. GET FRESH, ORGANIC APPLES and just cut out the bumps and bruises. We often even cut up and pack for later – just add a little organic lemon juice to keep from browning. My kiddos usually beg for something to dip their apples in…we like almond/sun butter or a dip I whip up sometimes that includes cream cheese and a little raw honey.
Berries – Organic FOR SURE. Whatever is in-season will be cheapest (although in Wisconsin, that limits us to like…a few days. 🙂 )
Cheese – Not a surprise coming from Wisconsin that we love us some CHEESE! String, cottage, cream, sliced…Cassidy even just piles the shredded stuff in her mouth (a trick she learned from Daddy). Raw cheese IS legal in these parts!
Jerky/Meat Sticks/Summer Sausage – If you don’t have the time or interest in making your own (like suddenly-domesticated hubby does…read below), go ahead and buy pre-made…just be sure the meat is properly sourced. Most of what I see at large stores/supermarkets don’t make the cut. Health food stores will be your best bet.
Nuts (NOT peanuts…which is actually NOT a nut…it’s a legume…did you know that?) – Nuts should really be SOAKED and DRY ROASTED to be the most nutritious. Again, there’s some planning involved but it’s really not that labor intensive! Directions are here. We make up a couple batches a month and store them in mason jars. Note: research suggests that you CAN go overboard on nuts…even soaked/roasted ones. Enjoy in moderation!
Veggies – I gotta mention veggies because the hubby and I like to munch on them. But my kids SERIOUSLY WON’T TOUCH HARDLY ANY OF THEM unless I’ve somehow added or hidden them in a dish. I’ve tried offering dip, making those damn smiley faces on their plate, everything. Still working on it. Annoying.
Pickles – Yummy AND fermented…bonus. ALWAYS check your labels though. Many of them actually contain additives like artificial coloring. Why would food coloring be needed to make pickles green? Food for thought. We LOVE bread and butter ones…but they do contain some sugar. I gotta learn to make my own…who wants to teach me?
Popcorn – We love family movie night. But it certainly wouldn’t be complete without popcorn. Please tell me you’re no longer making it in the microwave. We’re NOT. Besides the fact that we’re working to lower our use of the microwave in general (EMF exposure), there are also a multitude of toxins on the inside of microwave popcorn bags. In addition, the ingredient list is…well…let’s just say you’re eating a lot more than popcorn. Get organic popcorn and an air popper…top with whatever you like. Despite making it the exact same way each and every time, Sawyer will still always double check, “Mom, did you add butter and sea salt?” Ummmm…who wouldn’t?! Bag up any leftovers to take with on the go.
Olives – Dani loves olives…she could eat them for days. Nice and fatty PLUS the phytonutrients they contain have been shown to assist in all sorts of things like inflammation, digestion and even cancer prevention.
Requires a little extra effort:
Making snacks to keep around the house does require some planning and effort. But on the plus side, you control the ingredients and in almost every case, they’re WAY cheaper than the pre-packaged counterparts.
Muffins – We like using a mini muffin tin so the kiddos can grab for a little snack. We’ve found some amazing grain free options that my kids scarf down, if you can believe that. Some amazing recipes by some amazing chefs are here and here. My kids don’t love coconut flour so I try to find recipes with almond, tapioca, or arrowroot flour if I can and I typically use butter in place of coconut oil and whole dairy milk in place of coconut milk.
Gummies – Believe it or not, these are actually pretty quick and easy to make. Get the BPA-free silicone molds from Amazon…super cute designs. Wanna know my kids’ faves? Of course you do. Sawyer digs the robots. Cassidy prefers any bug or animal shape. Dani doesn’t really care as long as it’s yummy. (Andie and Lizzie…wanna weigh in on this?) This recipe is a good one. I’ve been known to add chia seeds and whole, pureed fruit as well.
Jerky – This has become Mark’s “thing”. I have some pretty disgusting looking pics to prove it. I’ll spare you. (And don’t even get me started on his homemade brats…they’re delicious but the preparation process is…hmmmmmm…how should I say this…I’ll go with “not appealing” and leave it at that.) Finally a use for all that venison that just sat getting freezer burn in years past! He’s also tried bacon jerky which is an AWESOME quick breakfast on the go. Lots of recipes online. We like this one.
Smoothies and Smoothie Pops – I make smoothies a lot…easy way to hide ingredients. Recently, I thought to myself “Hey, self! Why don’t you make extra and freeze them for a quick, healthy snack”. I’m such a genius, I know. 🙂 My fave recipe is organic goat’s milk kiefer, a few spoonfuls of organic whole milk yogurt, coconut water, frozen organic fruit, and an avocado (I don’t measure…sorry. 🙂 ). I add some elderberry juice for immunity support if anyone is coming down with the sickies. Haven’t been able to add greens because my kids are SO.DANG.PICKY…working on it. Smoothie-making is always a major covert operation at our house…if my kids knew what was in there, they’d revolt. I’ll break it to them gently someday. Do your research to be sure your molds are safe. Many can contain chemicals like BPA. Here’s a link to LOTS of options.
Dips – Buying packaged is easy but often they’re full of yuck. Depending on what they’re made of, using dips can be a good way to boost flavor AND add some nutrition to the “chippies” we love so dearly. Making your own is actually pretty easy and you can control the ingredients. For chips and veggies…faves are guacamole, salsa, tabouli (totally found a GREAT grain-free tabouli option…try it here). For fruit, I use a hand mixer to blend organic cream cheese and a little raw manuka honey…organic yogurt is also a great option.
So there you have it. Not necessarily a complete list…but one I hope is helpful on some level. Now…I’ll ask for YOUR two-cents (or more, if you have it). What are YOUR healthy go-to snacks? Post, comment, and share below. We’re always looking for more to add to the arsenal…and you never know who else you might help too!
Happy (and healthy) snacking, everyone!