When I first heard of “Unprocessed October”, I was very intrigued. Ten years prior this would have seemed like an overwhelming concept – practically unimaginable. But now that our lives and approach to food have changed so much, it means something different. Something obtainable. Possible. Desirable.
Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules decided to challenge Americans to go a full month without eating processed foods. Why? You see, processed foods have become a mainstay in today’s American diet and we eat more industrialized food than any other country. If we ate more organic fruits and vegetables than any other country, that’d be a huge win for the red, white and blue.
But sadly, we’re talking about food that has gone through processes, factories and machinery to get to the grocery shelf. This process can impact the nutritional value of food, and too often results in meals that are higher in sodium, sugar, fat and artificial ingredients and preservatives.
There’s nothing healthy about that. When nutritionists and doctors talk about healthy food choices for kids, they’re not usually referring to processed foods found in the center aisles of the grocery store. It’s just too easy to answer the question: What is for dinner tonight? with the wide variety of convenience food.
So here we are in October, again, and over 4,000 people have committed to go without processed foods this month. Some people take on the challenge to prove they can do it, some are hoping for lifelong habits and changes that can help them get on the road to a healthier future.
Whatever the reason, participating in Unprocessed October is a great thing. Want to know more? Want to participate? Maybe for just one week?
Andrew has defined unprocessed foods with The Kitchen Rule: any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients. I really like this definition!
This means that most food that comes in a can, box or pouch would be defined as processed. Real food like fruit and vegetables from the farm, meat from the butcher case, etc are unprocessed, along with things like coffee, tea, wine, peanut butters – depending on which brands you buy – because they’re using real ingredients that you could also buy and make them in a similar fashion at home.
We’ve come along way in our own home and don’t eat that much processed food. Some weekends we’ll have bacon for breakfast with our eggs, and I find that the sandwich bread we buy at the bakery is significantly better than what I make, and it has whole ingredients so I’m ok with that.
My son’s gluten free cereal is organic and has less than a handful of simple ingredients. We buy pasta that has three ingredients and if I had time, I’d love to make my own! We also pick up juice, almond milk, jelly and crackers or chips. Always with real ingredients.
I wish I could say that I make all of our own bread, pasta, ice cream, juice and jelly but there are other priorities and I trust the brands and growers we buy from. And I just can’t do it all.
The items we struggle to make from scratch but I’d really like to perfect would be
- Spanish rice — it’s been an ongoing frustration!
- Canned beans — we use dry beans too, but don’t always plan ahead for them (here’s a great guide from Simple Bites on cooking with dry beans)
- Chips — we buy Kettle chips which I feel good about
- BBQ sauce – we’ve made homemade before but, to be honest, it felt like a lot of work when there are great tasting sauces at Whole Foods
- Gluten free frozen waffles – when weekend mornings are filled with soccer or church, I make a big batch and freeze them but lately we just haven’t had one of those lazy Saturday mornings
Are you participating in Unprocessed October? What foods would be a challenge for you? What “convenience” foods are you really proud to say that you’ve mastered cooking from scratch?
Here are some ideas to make processed foods that kids commonly enjoy…from scratch!