#TBT – Revisiting the Clean 15

We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us all about how everything we eat, put on our bodies or clean our homes with should only be organic and non-GMO.  In an ideal world with unlimited funds, I totally agree!  However, nearly all of us live in a reality where that just isn’t feasible.  Each of us must decide what is the most important to our family and be realistic in knowing what we can afford.  Most people are aware of the Dirty Dozen, the list of produce that is most contaminated, but not everyone knows about the Clean 15, a list of the least contaminated produce. It makes sense to buy conventionally raised items from the Clean 15, and spend the extra money for organic on things on the Dirty Dozen (or don’t buy at all).  To read the previous post, click here.

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Making Changes – Choosing Healthy Foods

Making healthy choices when choosing what food to buy doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  If you approach it that way, chances are you will quickly throw up your hands and give up.  My own journey to making healthy choices has been over a period of years, and has included falling off the wagon more than once.

Start from where you are and take one step at a time, giving yourself time to get that change down pat before you move on to the next one.  For example, if you eat most of your meals out, start cooking at least one meal a week at home.  If you don’t know how to cook, find someone you know who does and ask them to help you learn.  Invest in a good cookbook (try The Kitchen Counter Cooking School or  100 Days of Real Food).  If you can’t afford one, look at your local library – they have lots.  Ask friends to share quick and easy recipes, check the archives in our blog, or look online.  Two recipes from our archives I would recommend for beginners are Clam Spaghetti and Quick and Easy Burritos.  Many of our other recipes are quick, easy and require only very basic cooking skills.

If you are already preparing many of your meals at home, perhaps the first step might be to add a vegetable or fruit serving at every opportunity. If your family doesn’t like veggies, try fixing them in new ways (example – raw, steamed, with sauces or glazes, roasted). It is great if you can afford to buy all organic ingredients, but very few of us can.  If you are on a tight budget, know that it is more important to incorporate any kind of vegetables and fruit in your meals than it is to avoid them because you can’t afford to buy the best. Do the best you can with what you have or can afford. Check out the Dirty Dozen (items to only buy organic if you can) and just as important, the Clean 15 (items that aren’t important to choose organic). A great resource on making changes incrementally is the mini-pledge program on Lisa Leake’s blog, 100 Days of Real Foods.  She also has lots of “real food” tips and recipes.  
One of the most effective ways to manage to cook most meals at home is to Menu Plan. This is also the best way to save money, because you should be buying only what you know you will use, and you can avoid extra runs to the store (and impulse buys).  I use a simple Excel spreadsheet and don’t plan my breakfasts because they are always pretty much the same.  I make a note of anything special I may have going on that day, and plan a simple meal if I have a busy day.  I like to plan a week at a time, but my daughter and daughter-in-law prefer to do a month at a time, and plan only their dinners. On my menu plan (see picture below), the notes in red in the center column are days that I watch one of my grandkids or other special things I have planned. The notes in red in the right-hand column are reminders to do something beforehand, and the ones in black are ingredients that I need to buy for the meals planned for that day.

Look at what you have on hand, check the current sale ads, adjust your menu plan if needed, and then use your plan to list everything you are going to need, and don’t be tempted to buy anything that is not on your list (if you are planning for a month, you will need to plan to make another grocery run or two for perishable items).  Make it work for you – plan to eat out on a specific day, have a kid’s choice day (and let them help you fix the meal), only plan two or three meals a week. Have a plan to use up leftovers, either by repurposing them into a completely new dish (example – Fried Rice), making one dinner a week a leftover buffet, or eating them for lunches. Statistics show that Americans throw away 25% of all the food they buy – those dollars can either come straight off your food budget, be used to buy more or better food, or splurge on a night out.  

Spend Wisely & Eat Healthy with the Clean 15

As big a bummer as my last post was about the Dirty Dozen and the myriad of ways modern agriculture and food packaging are trying to kill us, the upside is there is another (happy!) list . While we avoid produce from the Dirty Dozen if we can’t get it organic, we go flipping crazy buying the stuff from the Clean 15 and gorge ourselves silly on them, guilt free. Buying these conventionally grown foods (and saving some serious cash) makes me feel like I’m getting away with something, and apparently I am devious enough by nature that this is a big plus in my book.

How I feel when I channel my inner-Rachael and save money.

The Clean 15
These conventionally-grown foods contain the absolute least amount of pesticide/herbicide residue on the market, and I have no guilt about feeding these things to my family (and baby).

1. Avocados – (*Swoon!*) I buy these by the bag at Costco. Great first food for baby, and it freezes well enough that Augustine would eat it as a snack, even if it was a little strange looking. Guacamole is perfect for when you have a slew of these become ripe all at once.

2. Sweet Corn – Alas, our low-carb-paleo lifestyle puts a hamper on this one more than I’d like.
3. Pineapple
4. Cabbage
5. Sweet Peas
6. Onions – Thank goodness, because literally every meal I cook starts with this tasty fella.
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes – A family favorite! Beware, if your toddler eats too many he WILL get jungle rot in his diaper. Ask me how I know.

How to cut a mango without swearing.
And apparently really impress your coworkers in the break room at lunch. 

9. Papaya – This guy skeeves everybody out but me.
10. Kiwi
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit 
13. Cantaloupe
14. Cauliflower – A low-carb girl’s best friend!!! It is mind-blowing what you can do with a boring head of cauliflower, especially when you consider it only has like 2 calories. Pizza crust, rice, “potato” soup… we eat this about 3x per week, with absolutely no grumbles from my 10 year old.

Cauliflower + Food Processor = Rice

15. Sweet potatoes – We LOVE sweet potatoes and eat them in any form. We will be featuring one of our favorites, an amazing and simple baked cinnamon sweet potato bites recipe on our next freezer meal cooking session.
(16). Mushrooms 

So as you can see, trying to make healthy and well-informed decisions does not always have to be expensive/depressing/time consuming. And if you’re like me, you can feel like you’re sticking one to the man in the process!

Lowdown on the Dirty Dozen

I have insomnia. The type that causes me to lay awake for hours thinking and obsessing about all the horrible things that ever have happened to me, are currently happening, or what could happen if I were to go on vacation to the Amazon and fall off a small canoe while traveling down the Nile and there were hippos and leeches and piranhas and even worse, giant man-eating crocodiles, and one of them decided I looked tasty and I was frantically swimming swimming swimming trying to get away and I turn around and all I see in the murky water is a gaping pink maw coming at me AND THEN IT’S 2 A.M. AND I’M LAYING IN BED WITH MY HEART POUNDING AND I’M SWEATING AND GENERALLY NEVER GOING TO FALL ASLEEP EVER AGAIN. True story.

Freaking. Terrifying.

My point is, I do not have the talent that my husband has for easy and blissful sleep anywhere, any time. I know, because I spend a goodly amount of time laying next to him listening to him breathe as I contemplate his demise. Night time is an opportune time for me to explore all my shortcomings and ways that I can do better for my family. One way that I pacify these voices without either making myself crazy or completely breaking the bank is to follow the guidelines of the Dirty Dozen.

As much as I would love to only buy free range, organic, non-GMO, fair trade foods grown and produced by tree-loving hippies and farmers who sing their flocks to sleep each night, I just can’t justify the cost. I want to eat healthy, but even more than that I want to spare my children and their rapidly growing bodies the hazards of constant pesticide and herbicide exposure. Things like this are seared into my psyche, and I agree with it wholeheartedly:

I get around this by choosing my battles, and spending extra money for organic when it comes to the things in my fridge and pantry that pack the most poison. The dirty dozen outlines the top 12 contenders in order from the highest pesticide concentration to the lowest. The things on this list we simply do without if we cannot get them organic.

Dirty Dozen
1. Apples (Trader Joe’s is my favorite place for organic apples)
2. Strawberries (I’ve lost hours of my life thinking about how many I’ve picked and eaten pregnant with Ayden. He’s so smart now, he probably could have cured cancer if I hadn’t marinated him in pesticides for 9 months.)
3. Blueberries (Costco has a big bag of organic frozen mixed berries that are my toddler’s favorite dessert)
4. Celery (good riddance)
5. Peaches (I haven’t had a fresh peach in years. *sob*)
6. Spinach (Costco has 1 lb. organic baby spinach for $4.53!)
7. Bell Peppers
8. Nectarines
9. Cucumbers
10. Cherry Tomatoes
11. Snap Peas
12. Potatoes (This tuber sucks up all the pesticides in the soil)

We’ve found making informed choices about organic produce an easier undertaking when its boiled down into a nice tidy list like this. Even better, there’s yet another list out there of produce that has the least amount of pesticide contamination, but I will cover that in another post. I try not to sweat the occasional lapse when eating out, but I figure our day-to-day intake is minimal so we can take a hit.

In addition to following these lists fairly closely in our home, we also buy only organic milk (Trader Joe’s is one of the cheapest places I’ve found). We are in high hopes that this will spare our pre-teen son from sprouting breasts or our (hopefully) future daughter from starting her period at 9 years old from all the hormones most dairy cows are given. We also avoid canned goods and bottled drinks as much as possible, due to the often high BPA contents of these items. I thought I was being completely paranoid until I discovered that the university hospital where I work is currently undertaking a fetal BPA and phthalate exposure study and measuring babies’ genatalia after birth. Greeeeeeeeat. I’m not a total nazi about this, as we’ve been known to use the occassional can of refried beans, and I’m not going to stop my thirsty child from drinking a bottle of water when he’s running around in our 90 degree weather if that’s the only thing available. But, I’m certainly not going to buy him bottled water to drink at home when we have a wonderful water filter at the kitchen sink.

Not a big fan of this look in a fetus.

Five years ago we started this process by making the commitment to buy only organic milk, which felt huge and unbearably expensive at the time. Over the years we have slowly adopted other lifestyle modifications, and I can only imagine that ten years from now we might well be living like naked recluses in the rain forest in an attempt to escape the chemical exposures of everyday life. Each family has to decide for themselves what is important to them, and taking that first little step is by far the most important one.

Us 10 years from now…scared of everything!