Have you ever noticed when you learn a new word you start hearing that word everywhere? When I first started paying attention to our food I also started to notice (in a good way, not in the annoying way it used to seem) how often my kids and husband would ask me what they could eat. How many times a day do you hear, “Can I have a snack?”, “What’s for dinner?”, “What can I eat?”, “I’m hungry!”. It finally occurred to me that as CEO of food in our house I have the opportunity to make changes that affect us throughout the day and, actually, throughout our lives. Sounds great, but no one said being CEO was easy! I started with a few ground rules that basically resulted in our pantry and refrigerator being completely emptied of almost all of the food — not a popular decision in my house! And the biggest revelation at this point was that my 3 year old was addicted to goldfish crackers. He quickly started exhibiting his withdrawal symptoms by rolling around on the floor kicking and crying, and I quickly started searching for a “gateway snack” that would get the kids excited for our transition to Real Food. Nothing works better than chocolate chip cookies and I was thrilled to discover a recipe on nanaclareskitchen that fit into our new eating plan. My version of this recipe is below, but first here are the top four Real Food Rules that we’re trying to follow.
1) If you can’t get the words out, don’t put the food in.
When I started reading ingredient labels I was shocked at how something that appears healthy (and even says so on the front of the package!) is full of words that can’t be pronounced.
Rather than taking days to look up all these unfamiliar ingredients – (like I did, and I’ll be posting my list soon!) — follow these two simple rules of thumb: if you can’t pronounce or recognize an ingredient, or if you wouldn’t normally cook with it (how often do you add a dash of “mixed tocopherols”?) don’t buy it! This rule of thumb helps us to avoid all the junk like preservatives and artificial flavors and colors.
2) Choose whole grain over anything else. This pretty much covers all flour, breads, cereals, pie crusts, tortillas, rice and crackers.
So far, no one in my family has even mentioned that we no longer have things like white bread or saltines in the house which to me means they haven’t even noticed! The biggest change for us– or what I thought would be the biggest change,but I guess was just for me!– was switching to whole grain bread. It can be pretty difficult to find bread in the grocery store that follows both Rule 1 and Rule 2. A lot of it has whole grain flour, but that’s in addition to enriched white flour or just wheat flour (which doesn’t mean whole grain). Also, its surprising how many other ingredients are in the breads available at the grocery store. Fortunately, some stores stock some local bakery breads and those are usually made with real food. When shopping, be sure that the first ingredient listed has “whole” before it. If it doesn’t say “whole” it isn’t a whole grain. Also, look for a short ingredient list with words that you know! Luckily we have an amazing place in New Hampshire called Me&Ollies that bakes their own bread and does it with REAL ingredients.
A great benefit that I’ve noticed since switching to whole grains is that it fills us up and helps us to stay full longer (which is very helpful in reducing the yells of “mom I’m hungry!”) One reason it does this is that it has a lot more fiber than white flour. I compared a 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour to 1/2 cup of white and the results were 6.4 grams fiber for whole wheat vs. only 1.3 for white! Whole grain (also called whole wheat) uses all of the wheat berry (which has 3 parts: bran, germ, endosperm), whereas white flour uses only one part, the endosperm, which is basically just starch. As a result, white flour is missing a lot of the nutrients that are found in whole grain.
3. Avoid pesticides and GMOs.
This sounds like a no-brainer– it’s not as if I want to eat these things or give them to my kids! The problem is that it can be difficult to know when we’re eating them. The easy answer is to buy organic, although I know that isn’t always the most economical answer. Fortunately I discovered that most items in the produce department (fruits, veggies) are very rarely GMO, so at least in that department I only worry about pesticides. This can still be expensive if buying everything organic, but thanks to the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) I have a cheat sheet on what produce items are most contaminated with pesticides — they call these the “Dirty Dozen” — and which are least contaminated, the “Clean Fifteen”. They’ve actually researched 51 different items and ranked them from worst (1) to best (51), so I just split the list in half and anything ranked 1 – 26 I buy organic and from 27 – 51 I buy regular. I’ll be uploading the list soon! When buying dairy, meat and poultry we try to always buy organic or buy from the farmer’s market and ask the farmer how the animal was raised.
4. Scrap the sugar (But not the sweets!) For me, this might be the hardest of all the rules. Before we began this journey I can’t remember when I had gone a day without chocolate. I pretty much always had a plate of brownies around (and lots of back up Duncan Hines in the pantry!) and would grab a chunk here and there throughout the day. I started each morning with sugar in my coffee and felt proud for choosing what I thought was a “healthy, natural” choice over the artificial sweeteners. My Peach Cobbler recipe was my husband’s favorite. I always had a York Peppermint Patty in my purse (a fat free food!). Oh, I could go on and on reminiscing about my lovely sugar days. So, this rule has been the one that really left me feeling a little bit deprived in the beginning (and a little bit grouchy without my chocolate!). The silver lining is that there are real, truly natural (not refined like white sugar), options that turn out to make some pretty awesome dishes. Thank goodness for honey and maple syrup. There are also two more bonuses, the first is that by following the first three rules I noticed that removing the majority of sugar from our diet was, well, a piece of cake. There’s so much sugar hidden in almost all processed foods that by removing those I removed a huge chunk of our sugar intake. The other bonus is that after about a week I started to notice that my energy levels were more constant and my sugar cravings started to disappear. But, to be honest, they’re not gone completely which brings me to the recipe that has replaced the brownies in our house, Chocolate Chip Cookies!
As I mentioned above, I first made this recipe as a “gateway treat” for my kids to try to entice them into liking our new diet by giving them a sweet taste of this new, real food. The thing that keeps this from being a 100% real food is that it contains chocolate chips. However, there are only 6 grams of sugar in 1 tablespoon of semi-sweet chips and I’ve figured out that each cookie has less than 1/2 a tablespoon of chips, so this helps me to justify keeping this recipe around (as long as I can keep myself from eating too many cookies!)
- 1.5 cups whole white wheat flour
- ½ t baking soda
- ¼ t baking powder
- ½ t salt
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup butter
- 1 egg
- 1 t vanilla
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- ½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. In a second bowl cream the butter and honey and add the egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir to combine. Stir the chocolate chips and nuts into batter. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 9-12 minutes. Enjoy!