Real Food – Review

I sure was excited to have a bag of peanut butter m&m’s for our road-trip that started July 1!  In the month of June, our family tried as best as we could to stay away from processed food.  We did quite well.  We made a few concessions on our camping trip, but overall we ate a ton of “real” food.   We (mostly my wife) made much of it ourselves, and we ate a ton of fruits and vegetables.  We won’t be quite as hard-core moving forward but we will retain a lot of the principles and “rules” from last month moving forward.  Here are some random thoughts on the month:

  • I’m not sure if it was connected to our month-long project or not, but at one point on our trip north this week, my 3 year old son exclaimed that the blueberries we were eating were better than his Mike and Ike’s!
  • We learned early on that much of the bread and bagels we normally bought at the grocery store really didn’t qualify for non-processed.  That meant we needed to make our own.  We skipped the bagels and just went with bread for the month.  The kids definitely missed bagels.  Store bought bread just doesn’t taste the same after a month of having freshly baked home-made bread.
  • Our kids missed their morning cereals.  We made our own granola, but they were a bit bored with that and oatmeal by the end of the month.
  • I didn’t miss “sweets” nearly as much as I thought I would.  It helped that fresh, locally picked fruit was readily available.  This wouldn’t have been the case as much if we did it January.
  • I had a harder time getting enough calories.  I was riding (bike) quite a bit, and found myself constantly hungry.  Many of the  snacks that I would normally eat (like granola bars, crackers, cereal, etc) were processed foods, and I struggled with finding substitutes that filled me up.  On the plus side of this… I lost about 10 pounds.
  • Eating this way takes more planning!  We also had to go to the store more often, because much of what we were buying was fresh.
Overall, this was a fantastic month.  We learned a ton, tried new foods, and are on a path to eating healthier as a family.


Change the Momentum

A little before summer, I set a goal to bike 1500 miles for 2012.  The goal is for the  whole year, but most of the mileage needs to happen in the summer when my wife is home from work and I have the opportunity to ride almost daily.

I started off the summer well, getting up to 150 miles pretty quickly.  Then the weather got nice, and my focus shifted to a few projects I had been planning around the house.  And just like that, I got into a bad rut.  As each day went by that I wasn’t making any progress, I felt less and less like biking.  I lost my momentum.

And then it hit me… The goal really isn’t about the miles, it’s about biking as much as possible.  I set a goal because I love to ride and it also keeps me fit.  I was paying more attention to my progress than I was to riding.  The only thing that was going to change my momentum, though, was to get my butt out there and ride… which is what I did this week.

If I’ve learned anything from the fist six months of the embrace / refrain project, it’s that momentum can be a pretty big deal.  Whether it’s with solitude, exercise, eating well, or whatever;  positive momentum can make everything easier.  Negative momentum does just the opposite, and can even make you want to quit.  The thing is… it often just takes a few small steps or a shift in mindset to change your momentum.  Your progress might not change overnight, but once you get that positive momentum, it will come in time.   You just have to get out there and ride!




A Vacation Mindset

Once we get set up and settled in, I really love camping with the family.  There are opportunities to go on countless adventures with the kids, and also moments when you just get to sit, relax, and enjoy the breeze.  I often wonder why I struggle at home to really relax in that way.  I have a nice back yard with great deck and everything I need to find moments to take a deep breath and just enjoy life.  Yet I don’t often do just that.  In part, that is why vacations are a great thing.  You get to go and find the space to just be in the present moment and enjoy time together away from it all.  When I am able to strip away the normal distractions and busy-ness of life, I am much more able to live in each and every moment, not always looking forward to or waiting impatiently for what is next.

Except…. I don’t need vacation to live that way.  Of course it helps to physically get away, but I want to be able to grab ahold of that vacation mindset right in the middle of normal, everyday life.  This, of course, is a skill.  It takes practice to live in the present moment, and not let all of the potential anxieties of life keep you from being present with the people right in front of you.  Hmmm.  That could potentially be my next embrace:  To practice being present in the moment.  There may be no tangible way to measure it, but it seems like a good practice nonetheless.


Ingenuity:  the quality of being cleverly inventive or resourceful.

Awhile back, I was heading to the hardware store and forgot that my friend Dan was parked in our driveway.  I was talking or paying attention to the kids… well, I’m not sure what the heck I was doing.   Whatever it was, I backed into the side of his car.  There where some nice scratches, but the main damage was a broken driver-side mirror.  Once the “I’m an idiot” shot of adrenaline wore off, we started trying to figure out how we were going to solve this little problem.  The car was older, so the scratches were not a huge deal, we just needed to fix the mirror.  I figured I was going to find a used mirror and just replace it, but we also needed something to get us by until that point.  We thought about using some duct tape and some super glue… but there was no way it would hold for more than a day or so.  We investigated the possibility of some sort of bracket, but there was nothing that seemed like it would work.  We were sunk for a few minutes.

And then… there was moment of ingenuity.  It almost bordered on genius.  Dan suggested that we use zip ties.  About a half hour later, that mirror was almost as snug as before I backed into Dan’s car.  So much so… that we never even replaced the mirror (Dan’s car died a few months later).

A moment of ingenuity took a somewhat unfortunate incident, and turned into a highlight and a great memory.


Camping Food

Our family is heading out on a short camping trip today.  As we have been in the process of packing, some of our “normal” camping food turns out to be a bit problematic.  Hot dogs, marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars, store bought granola bars, etc… all these seem to fall pretty squarely into the processed foods category we are trying to avoid.  For the sake of ease, and for our kids, we made a few concessions.  Not a lot, but a few.

We have also encountered a bit of a storage problem.  One great thing about a lot of processed foods, is that many of them don’t need to be kept cool.  As we have loaded up on fresh veggies and fruits, much of it needs to be refrigerated or put in a cooler.  Our dorm-size refrigerator and medium size cooler are bulging at the seams!  We will probably have to take a second cooler for this 4 day trip.  If we are still practicing “real food” in July when we go for 7 days, we might have to search out a local farmers market to hit mid-week.  Now that I think about it though… that is probably a great thing to do anyway!

Clarifying “Processed”

All attempts will be made to stay away from processed food.  The only processed food we will be eating is the kind we process on our own.

At the pub the other night, I was telling a friend about our month of “real food”.  I told him that we are tying our best to stay away processed food.  He replied that one of the hardest parts about that would be flour.  Hmmm.  Although we knew flour is processed, we didn’t think about whole-wheat flour as something we were going to stay away from.  There are certainly various levels of processed.  When I got home, I figured I had better clarify what types of processed foods we are trying to stay away from.  Here are the “processed” parameters that we came up with:

  • Stay away from high fructose corn syrup!
  • Anything with more than 5 ingredients is probably processed to a fairly high degree.  This is an interesting one, as it takes out most bread products that we have found at the store.  We are making our own bread for most of this month (trying to stay away from white flour).
  • Even if there are less than 5 ingredients, if you have no idea what one or more of them are, that’s a bad sign.  The classic example here is monosodium glutamate (MSG).  Turns out, I don’t really know what that is.  We were at the store just today and one the items on our list was peanuts, but most of them had MSG as one of the ingredients.  My wife finally found kettle roasted peanuts in the produce section that didn’t have MSG.

That should help as we move forward.  We’ll see if we have to make any more modifications as the month goes on.

Lofty Goals – May in Review

Apparently, I tend to set goals that are a bit beyond my reach. I started this blog in the middle of last December.  In the four and a half months before May, I had posted 31 times. Then in May, I set out to post everyday.  I would have doubled the blogs post count had I succeeded! In retrospect, it would have been more realistic to shoot for every other day.  I ended up posting 19 times in 31 days.  Some thoughts on my month of blogging:

  • I didn’t reach the main goal, but I actually feel like it was a very successful month.
  • I really enjoyed blogging on a regular basis.
  • I struggled to think of content at times, but embracing daily blogging forced me to write about new and different things.
  • Knowing that I was going to be writing on a regular basis caused me to pay a little more attention to all that was going on around me.

Overall, it was a great exercise.  I’ll slow down the pace a bit, but I’ll still be trying to post 3-4 times a week from this point forward.  Hmmm… is that goal too lofty?

Real Food… First Shopping Trip

Farmers markets are still a couple of days away here in Hudsonville, so I had to do our main shopping at the grocery store today.  I stayed mostly at the edges, where all the fresh food is.  I had a few things toward the center that I was thinking about getting, but the ingredient list was a bit too long for me to decipher…  which basically means something in there is processed.  Notably missing from the shopping cart where cereal, granola bars, chips, and bread products (we’ll be making our own breads this month).

We planned our meals for the week ahead today as well.  At first, it was a bit challenging, but after looking at some helpful blogs we ended up with a pretty good menu.

Starting it off right…

My month of eating real food started off at the perfect place this morning:  The Real Food Cafe.  It’s my favorite breakfast spot in Grand Rapids (MI), and it was a great way to start off the month.  It was a bit earlier than I prefer, but the conversation, food, and coffee were fantastic as usual.

Time to get to the parameters of the month.  We are going to keep this pretty basic, and we’ll tackle any issues (is this food allowed?) as they come up.

  • The focus is on eating “real” food.  That means food my great grandmother would have recognized as food.  This actually could be our only rule… as it rules out a ton of stuff!
  • All attempts will be made to stay away from processed food.  The only processed food we will be eating is the kind we process on our own.
  • NO FAST FOOD.  Thankfully, we don’t eat much fast food anyway.  We will definitely be staying clear of it this month.
  • Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables!
  • Local meats are good, mostly as a side dish instead of the main dish.
  • Anything in our house is fair game.  No, we didn’t go stock up on junk, quite the opposite actually.  We do have a few things around that wouldn’t fit on the list…. but instead of wasting them, we’ll finish them off and be done with it for the rest of the month.
  • How we eat is important.  We are going to try to relax, slow down, and enjoy as many meals as possible together as a family (and with friends).

Well, I think that about sums it up.  Anything I missed?