Whenever my friends hear of the way my family and I eat, they almost always ask, “How do you do that? What does “eating clean” even mean?” While the definition of eating “clean” varies from person to person, for me it simply means eating real food 90% of the time. I am a realist; I know it is nearly impossible for the modern-day working family to eat real, whole food all of the time. I teach first grade and come home EXHAUSTED most days; I completely understand how daunting the idea of cooking for the family every night can be. But if you set a realistic goal each week, such as starting to cook a whole-food meal at least 3 times a week, you may find that the rest comes easily.
We started eating clean roughly one year ago. We had always eaten healthy, or so I believed; I only bought organic dairy, avoided “Lunchables” for my kiddos’ lunchboxes, and bought whole-grain cereal. I cooked homemade meals almost every night, and we ate together at the dinner table as a family. But then I began to research the way Europeans treated children with ADHD, and stumbled across something called an “ADHD Diet.” (Kuddos to http://www.ourfamilyeats.com/the-6-week-challenge/) I decided to try the challenge, as my own baby has ADHD and I wanted to help her in any non-medication way possible (she is a preschooler.) The first challenge on the ADHD Diet is to remove all artificial colors and flavors from your diet. Basically, become a LABEL-READER. I had always shaken my head at the “label-readers” at the grocery store, and now I was one of them! Yikes. But it was absolutely astonishing to realize how many artificial chemicals manufacturers put in our food; it honestly grossed me out. The next week we removed preservatives, nitrates/nitrites, and MSG. This is when I realized that many of my homemade, “healthy” meals were anything but. Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken were staples in many of my dinners, yet they contained MSG and all sorts of nasty little chemicals. Needless to say, I was a bit horrified. And intimidated. The passed-down recipes I relied on for quick and homemade work night meals were bad for my fam! Did I really have to abandon these recipes and learn to cook a new way? This brought me down for a minute… I had to re-think the entire way I looked at meals, and at food in general. This stuff I had been serving my family was not even food; it was made on an assembly line in a factory with ingredients that are nowhere near naturally-occurring. Honestly, I was bummed and overwhelmed. But then I looked at my precious kiddos fighting each other in the den, and knew that I could figure out a new way to cook to keep them as healthy as possible. Hey, they need to be healthy to beat each other up, right?!
So this is where my family’s story began. I started to cook with only coconut and olive oil, and only used real food as my ingredients. Sodas and sugary “juices” were put on the naughty list. Low-fat and fat-free items were replaced with full fat. Our bacon is now uncured. We drink green smoothies for breakfast most days. I buy mostly organic, especially produce on the “Dirty Dozen” list. I started to follow many vegetarian and paleo bloggers on Instagram and Pinterest (follow Robyn Jones Mitchell and me @rayraymichele on pinterest to see tons of wonderfully clean recipes.) Then, after researching local farms and co-ops, I found Manna Market. And I fell in love! My kids are just as excited to get our “veggie boxes” from the co-op now as they were the first time. =)
So, my answer to the above question is to start small. Do what fits your family best. Eating clean is not a diet, it is a lifestyle. We began this journey by trying to help my daughter’s hyperactivity, but our whole family began to feel so much healthier that we all bought-into this lifestyle-change pronto. I am not an organically-trained Chef de Cuisine. And I am certainly not a wealthy momma that can afford to pay someone to cook for me. But I do make time to prepare delicious and whole food meals for my family at least 5 nights a week. I have even learned to enjoy cooking, and the glass of red wine I drink while doing it. My kids have super healthy (and super yummy I must say) lunches everyday. And with careful thought and planning, you really do not have to spend any more money than you did when you cooked with food on the “naughty list.” Does it take time to prepare a whole food meal? Of course. Is it worth it? You bet. =), Rachel