I'm sitting here, eating leftover (restaurant) pizza, reflecting on our month of unprocessed eating. We set the goal of a month: April 7 - May 7, but ended up with a month defined by four weeks (Sunday to Sunday). Hubby's sister and her family were in town this weekend, we all wanted to go out to dinner together, her kids really wanted pizza, we had settled on our favorite pizza place as our celebratory end-of-the-month dinner...so hubby and I looked at each other, and decided to call it.
We didn't call it the end of unprocessed, though. We called it the start of "our new way of life."
Hubby and I are both feeling better physically and we've both dropped a few pounds. I feel like my system is cleaner. I feel better thinking about the food we're eating; looking at our shopping cart this past weekend, I said to the kids, "There are only two processed foods in this whole cart!" The kids had fun looking through and identifying...the little girl's favorite cereal and a package of whole wheat tortillas. (I've loved making my own tortillas, and they're delicious; perfect for tacos and fajitas. But I cannot get them uniformly large and round, which makes them really hard for our favorite veggie burritos.) It makes me feel so good to make these choices for my family.
The month has made me reflect on some of our non-cooking food choices. I've finally purchased reusable produce bags, which I've been looking at for a long while (we already use reusable grocery bags). I bought a new set of cleaning cloths to help reduce our use of paper towels (not that we use many anyway; we already use cloth napkins) and chemical cleaners (again, not that we use many).
We've learned that just about everything is processed. It was impossible (at least in terms of the effort we were willing to give) for us to go totally unprocessed. But we got really used to reading ingredient lists, looking for organic (but still reading the ingredient lists since not all organic foods pass the kitchen test!). And if we picked a food that was technically processed (some of the canned tomatoes, for example), we were making a conscious choice, and the foods were as close to unprocessed as we could find, with just the addition of "natural flavors" or "citric acid" (two ingredients which sound innocuous, and which I was surprised to read weren't as good as they sound).
I've become a(n even more) compulsive label-reader, and having read as much as I have, it's impossible for me to buy an item with ingredients I've never heard of when there's a better choice right next to it. And I've gotten familiar with which brands to pick, so shopping isn't taking me quite as long. I have finally jumped on the organic bandwagon, studying the dirty dozen list and being willing to pay more for organic produce. (And feeling very grateful that we are privileged enough to be able to afford to do this!)
This lifestyle takes a lot of planning: not just the meal planning which I was doing already, but the inability to cop out and go out to eat after a long day...needing to have unprocessed meals ready in the freezer for those emergencies. We also noticed the necessity of going to more stores: Costco and Trader Joes for great prices on organic produce, Whole Foods for specialty ingredients, unrefined oils, bulk bins. Plus our normal big grocery store for reasonable prices on anything we can find there. Now that the weather's nice, we'll add the farmer's market to the mix, too.
This is getting more natural...we've gradually added more to the list of unprocessed foods we're buying. Hubby hadn't even considered the processed nature of the flavored coffees he drinks, but when he ran out, he instinctively reached for the plain, fair trade stuff.
The kids have also become good label readers - counting ingredients, asking their grandparents if certain foods are processed, making an informed decision that they want a little processed cereal. The little guy has completely bought into mommy-muffins and mommy-Popsicles again.
We are excited to be able to go out to eat again...it's one of our favorite special treats. But I think we'll be more conscious about what we order. Last night at the pizza place, we ordered a big salad and ate that before the pizza arrived, in the hopes that we'd fill up more on green food. I'm excited to make some goodies with white flour, even though I'm very happy with how adjusted we've gotten to 100% whole wheat tortillas, pizza crusts, rolls, muffins.
Overall, this month has been great. I'm proud of how well we did, even with challenges like the stomach flu, injuries, conferences, and long days. And I'm really hopeful that we can continue to live by the lessons we've learned.