October Unprocessed Challenge Reflections: Part 2

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Last week I posted about my reflections on my October Unprocessed Challenge: The good. Now I get into the “not so good” :). There were definitely a few bumps and blips during my October Unprocessed Month. But I told myself before I started the challenge, expect things to go wrong, reflect and move on! Here are some of the major ones I encountered:

1) Social situations: Throughout the month, lots of friends and family supported my choice to go “unprocessed”. A lot of people were curious to know more and I tried to encourage others to really think about what they were eating and small ways they too could cut down on the processed junk. However this month showed me just how hard it is to avoid processed food. Food and social situations go hand-in-hand. Family gatherings, dinners with friends, work meetings, first dates, special celebrations, holidays, they ALL include food. And unless you are cooking all of those things from scratch, it is pretty much a guarantee that processed food will be involved. The thing is, I didn’t want to be “that girl” at a party will all those dietary restrictions. I wanted to eat with everyone else, enjoy the company and not worry about whether the food contained an ingredient I couldn’t pronnouce. So I slipped. For example, I ate chips one night when I was over a friend’s house for a board game night. I had french fries and beer at a Leaf’s game. I ate a nacho dip at a friend’s house for our “family dinner” night. But reflecting back, I know these slips are OK. Because healthy eating is never perfect, and it is important to look at the overall picture vs. nitpicking every hour of every day.

2) Time crunch: The October Unprocessed Challenge made me realize just how damn busy my life is. I work a full-time job, I take on students at my job (therefore doubling my workload), I try to blog, I help my boyfriend with his house renovations, I go to physiotherapy for my knee, I do yoga/workouts 4-5x per week to keep up with my physio, I try and spend time with family/friends and I try to cook everything from scratch. WHEW! When there aren’t enough hours in a day to accomplish everything, you have to start letting things go. Unfortunately sometimes I let scratch cooking go. For example, one week I was so busy and my freezer stash was dwindling, so I had to rely on take-out Sushi and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. It was tough! It made me realize that there are certain things I will never have time for (e.g. making my own vegetable stock or my own almond milk), and that is OK. Again, it all comes down to looking at the big picture.

3) Feeling “preachy”: I have a tough job. I work with clients who not only have a mental illness, but they are disadvantaged in many areas of their lives (e.g. they don’t have proper housing, enough money for food, have concurrent substance use, are very mistrustful of the “system”). Needless to say, it can be very challenging to motivate my clients to make healthier diet choices. Often, the choice isn’t even there (e.g. a client will be living at a group home where all meals are prepared for them). During the month of October when I was trying to choose unprocessed, local and mostly organic, I sometimes let a little bit of judgement creep in. For example, I was meeting with a client who wanted to lose weight, however was consuming several bottles of Coca Cola every day, french fries, burgers, Chinese takeout etc and was refusing to give these foods up. I couldn’t help but think to myself during the interview “OMG, don’t you understand what poison you are putting in your body? Wake up!”. But of course, I had to stop myself. I was being “preachy”, even if it was only in my mind. This client needed to make their own choice, my job is to help support them in making an INFORMED choice, not judge them or force them to change.

 

So looking back, was the challenge worth it? OF COURSE! Despite some of the road blocks, I feel like I gained a better understanding about what my body needs, and how to treat my body right. Moving forward, I am going to continue to choose mostly unprocessed foods. I want to continue cooking, baking and educating when I can about the benefits of choosing less junk. But, I’m still going to enjoy my potato chips on occasion and not feel guilty 🙂

Pressed for time? My top 5 freezer foods

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Le sigh. This week has been unusually busy for me. I’ve been “go go go” since Monday and it’s only Thursday! My goal of blogging 5 days a week went out the window. Hair was in a ponytail every day, I even tried to open my apartment door with my work swipe card.

Being busy and exhausted makes my October Unprocessed month even more challenging. The lure of fast, processed food is EVERYWHERE. Thankfully my freezer stash of homemade, prepared foods has saved my buns on numerous occasions this week. Taking the time to prep and make larger batches of food when you DO have the time is such a great investment. I thought I would share with you all my top 5 meals/foods that I try and keep in my freezer, so I have healthy food fast when I’m in a time crunch.

1) Chili 

Oh chili, how many ways can I say I love you? L’amour? Ich liebe dich? Chili is a great staple meal for the freezer. It is liquid enough to freeze well, it is cheap and filling, there are endless combinations/recipes out there and you can pair it with lots of things in your pantry. Last week I made a vegan chili with vegetables, canned kidney beans and leftover roasted acorn squash. I froze the leftovers and paired them with a 10 minute basmati rice for quick lunches this week. Hearty, nutritious, tasty, filling, easy.

2) Slow cooker soups/stews

This year before my knee surgery I bought a Crockpot for 30$ at Costco. It was the best investment of my life. Freezer Crockpot meals got me through months when I couldn’t stand for more than a few minutes. Now they are getting me through busy work weeks because I can make huge batches at once and freeze in smaller portions. My favourite crockpot meals are beef stew, chicken/turkey soup and potato/leek soup (I blitz the potato/leek soup with an immersion blender before freezing it). My go-to beef stew recipe actually comes from Today’s Parent (haha), I adapt it slightly by taking out the tomatoes and adding a few cups of sliced mushroom (personal preference).

3) Slow cooker meats

Cooking meat tends to take the most investment of my time in the kitchen. I started making meat in my Crockpot because 1) I can buy cheaper cuts and slow cooking helps tenderize, 2) I can do batch cooking while at work 3) Having liquid with the meat helps it freeze better. My 2 favourite meats to do in the Crockpot are shredded chicken and pulled pork. Here are my 2 favourite, tried, tested and true recipes:

4) Frozen vegetables and fruits

Nothing says “easy” like using already washed and chopped produce. I always have the following in my freezer: Frozen organic wild blueberries, mango, banana (chopped and whole), spinach, edamame. Here is what I use them for:

  • Blueberries: Smoothies, in plain greek yogurt (I put them in frozen and they are thawed by lunch!), muffins, compote for pancakes, oatmeal. Endless possibilities!
  • Mango: Smoothies, ice cubes for water, eaten right out of the bag as a snack 🙂
  • Banana: Smoothies (peeled and pre-cut in a Ziploc bag), muffins, pancakes, oatmeal
  • Spinach: Smoothies, added to curries, minestrone soup
  • Edamame: Stir fries, coleslaw, salads

5) Muffins

During my October Unprocessed challenge, I was finding it difficult to abstain from processed snacks. Especially when the 2pm crash hits and I’m craving sugar like a madwoman. My freezer stash of baked oatmeal muffins has saved me countless times, and really hits the spot when I’m craving something sweet. These muffins (and others) freeze so well, and are thawed to the perfect texture by the afternoon. Here is my recipe, adapted through trial and error until I found the one I loved the most. Feel free to adapt it yourself by adding or taking out any ingredients!

Banana chocolate chip baked oatmeal muffins

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons milled flaxseed
  • 1 cup unsweetened milk of choice (I use unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 3 medium bananas, VERY ripe (I use my freezer stash of ripe bananas)
  • 1/4 cup- 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand)

Directions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 375ºF.
  • In a bowl, mash bananas together with a fork until soft.
  • Add the remaining ingredients (except chocolate chips) and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
  • Line a muffin tin with muffin liners (I haven’t tried them without the liners but I suspect they would stick).
  • Add chocolate chips to the muffin mix.
  • Divide batter into muffin tins. Depending on how much you fill, this recipe will yield 12-15 muffins. They won’t rise, so fill them to the top!
  • Bake for 25 minutes on the centre rack. Try to eat once cooled (I know, so hard) as the muffin tends to stick to the liner when hot. ENJOY!

October Unprocessed Challenge: Half way there!

Wow, I have made it 15 days and I’m still here. I’m actually quite surprised, I’m not the best at “sticking” with things 🙂 But I’m hoping to reflect on the first half of the challenge, and point out both the good and not-so-good. If you want to know more about the challenge, please check out the “October Unprocessed Challenge” page. Let’s get the bad over with:

The not-so-good 

1) After tracking what I’ve been eating over the last 15 days, I’ve cheated a few times. But luckily I’ve been able to identify patterns to help me for the next 15. For example, I noticed I usually need something sweet to finish off a meal 🙂 I’m pretty sure that is a habit, as I grew up always having dessert after a meal. I don’t know if that will ever change, but I think I need to start being creative about preparing treats that are healthy, unprocessed AND satisfy my sweet tooth.

2) Social situations are super hard. It is hard to explain to people what the challenge is, what “fits” and what doesn’t and why you are doing it. Most people are supportive, but some don’t understand. And as I’ve said in previous posts, I don’t like being “that girl” who requires special dietary requirements. I’ve only encountered these situations a few times since the challenge started, so I think I’m doing well!

3) Snacks are the hardest things for me to make completely unprocessed. Before the challenge a lot of my go-to snacks were crackers, cereal or protein bars. These were all kiboshed :P. I’m trying to be creative but sometimes it is difficult to find the time to make snacks.

The good

1) I’m eating A LOT more vegetables. In fact, if my plate isn’t overflowing with vegetables I worry that I’m missing out 😛

2) I’m eating less in between meals, or grazing. I used to hit 10am and 2pm with a strong urge of hangry-ness (aka so hungry I was angry) and I find this urge is slowly decreasing. Most likely because I am eating lots of healthy fibre and protein at my meals.

3) I’m getting really creative at meal times and trying new dishes. Buying seasonal produce forces you to get creative, as you never know what ingredients you are going to pick up at the market.

So there it is! Overall I am proud of myself for sticking with the challenge. Hopefully my experience will inspire others to try and include more unprocessed foods into meals and snacks. So far I can see myself continuing this pattern of eating after October is finished. Although I did get a Coffee Crisp today after getting my flu shot, and it is patiently waiting to be eaten on November 1st, muhaha!