I do my best to be honest with you guys, so have a confession to make. As much as I pride myself on creating home cooked meals from scratch, in the past year I've slowly let processed foods creep back into our diet. Sometimes I wasn't even aware of this happening. In one instance our preferred brand of "natural" peanut butter changed the ingredients and I didn't even notice. What in the past only contained peanuts and salt now has palm oil, which is a type of highly processed vegetable oil. The whole purpose of my purchasing natural peanut butter is that it is supposed to be, well, natural. It isn't supposed to be loaded down with sugar or contain highly processed ingredients.
That was the first offender I noticed. After a not so quick reorganization of my pantry I realized I had been slowly filling it with less than healthy items as I stocked up for winter. We've had some very expensive home repairs this year and because of this I've been cutting corners where I can. Many of the items I've recently purchased were less expensive than my normal brands, but also contain more non-food ingredients. I have to stop cutting corners with food, it's as simple as that. These items I've been stocking up on may be less expensive, but they're not really, not if you think about what these types of food are doing to our health.
My takeaway from this is that I need to make some huge changes to our diet. We're eating a lot more processed food that I ever thought possible. I need to go back to reading the ingredients of every item, every time I go shopping. While they aren't something that frequently change, manufacturers do sometimes make changes to save money during production. It happens, it's up to me to keep an eye on the situation and stop purchasing those items with non-food ingredients. To help facilitate this change I decided I was going to participate in October #Unprocessed, a month-long challenge to eat only foods that have no processed ingredients. Andrew Wilder, who started the challenge in 2009, even has what he calls the kitchen test, to help make the determination of what is really an unprocessed food.
What is the Kitchen Test?
"Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients."
In other words, if you find an ingredient that you'd never be able to make yourself, it is a processed food. Sounds pretty simple to me, but as I've been reading I've discovered that there are many ingredients that I use frequently that don't pass the kitchen test. All-purpose flour, sugar, and chocolate are some of the biggest offenders you'll find in my pantry, but I'm also prone to stocking up on enriched dried pasta, taco shells, tortillas, and various condiments like mayo, BBQ sauce, and ketchup.
My goals for the month
Naturally I expect this to evolve over time, but to start out with I want to double check all of the items that are in my pantry and make sure they pass the kitchen test. I'll give away what items I can, but for the most part I'll be consuming my processed food items in moderation (once October is over) until they are gone. They will then be added to the list of things I don't allow in the house. I do keep a list of those sorts of things, I've just been lazy about updating and following it.
If I were in a position where I could afford to donate my processed food to the food pantry I would, but our grocery budget for our family of 3 is only $300 per month, that doesn't give us a lot of wiggle room. The biggest part of this challenge is that I don't have the ability to increase my grocery budget to make room for healthier options. I have $300 to work with, $50 goes to my parents for our beef, $40 is spent on organic milk for my toddler, which leaves us with $210. It's a tight budget that leaves no room for waste, but we make it work the best we can.
I would also like to come up with a list of deliberate exceptions to the kitchen test. There are a few items, such as baking powder and citric acid that don't pass the kitchen test that I absolutely can not live without. My husband would also stage a revolt if I switched over to brown rice again. Brown rice may be the healthier option, but no one in this house particularly enjoys it. Food is meant to be both nourishing and enjoyable, so I'll happily make this exception. I will keep my exception list small. My goal is 5 items or less, but I'm not sure that is reasonable. We'll find out in 31 days.
I want to explore making less process condiments because they've been an endless source of frustration for me. I'm having an incredibly hard time finding sweet relish and ketchup that isn't full of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). I'm going to attempt to make both of these items and see if I can do so in a cost efficient manner. Currently we minimize the amount of condiments we use, but I find that I really miss them.
I want to determine how much added sugar I consume in a week and work to reduce that amount. I'm sure I still consume an appalling amount of sugar, I have a huge sweet tooth.
Above all else I want to learn from my mistakes. I know I'll have food cravings this month, I may even give in to them at some point, but the key to maintaining a well-balanced diet will be moderation and determination.
How to take part in October #Unprocessed
If you're interested in joining me in October #Unprocessed head over to Eating Rules and take the pledge. As a bonus for signing up you'll be sent an assortment of printable coupons from Bob's Red Mill to help you stock your pantry with unprocessed foods.