Eating Clean and Living Green


In defense of “Clean” Eating…
July 2, 2012, 10:20 pm
Filed under: background and research, clean eating, green living

This is my attempt to better equip all of us in attempting to explain why we pursue and follow the clean eating lifestyle, especially when sharing with those about whom we care most.  I’m sure we’ve all been faced with the situation of trying to explain our choices to one or more friends, family, colleagues, etc. who know nothing or very little about “truly” clean eating.  So, here’s my version of how to reach out.

Let’s make it simple and start with a definition:

a·pol·o·get·ics – noun

  1. a defensive method of argument
  2. the branch of theology concerned with the defense or proof of Christianity

Although our family believes in the power of Christ and that we are called to care wholly for ourselves, others and the world God gave us – I need more room to cover that one! – I’m going to focus on definition number one for the sake of defending the clean eating lifestyle.

1. Share your story – I find it most effective to start any clean eating discussion by explaining your side of the story.  Obviously, with clean eating, this typically happens over food. (Thank Captain Obvious for that one!) Get started with your own personal motives.  What influenced you personally to shift from “conventional” food to clean eating lifestyle?  What changes have you experienced (weight loss, clearer skin, reduced medications)? How difficult was the transition?  Let’s be honest, none of us are perfect.  Our family still has it’s setbacks. Who doesn’t love those gooey, delicious box brownies with heaping ice cream!  but let’s get back on point.

For our family, it started as we investigated natural, un-medicated birth stories and the profound impact the drugs could potentially have on our first child.  Over time, it morphed as we sought to be intentional parents to examine what we put in front of our children.  Yes, it was overwhelming at times. No, we didn’t fully know the direction we were headed.  Keep in mind, we see it as a constant process to be ever mindful of how we “actively” live our lives.  The first step was coming to a decision to make up our own minds and reassess the foundation of what we believed REAL food to be and dig deeper beyond the creative marketing facade of food conglomerates.  Taking what our eyes and minds are “fed” daily through marketing gimmicks at face value in order to find the underlying truth to how and what food should be.  That’s why we refer to it as a “lifestyle”, not a diet or the latest fad.  We have decided as a family to make this a permanent change!

2. Present facts and evidence – Now, the common response you’ll probably get after telling your side is the “well, that’s all good for you but not really for me” bit.  Here’s where the 1-2 punch comes in.  Drive it home by referring them to articles, facts, evidence that shows them how “conventional” food affects their body and behavior.  For starters, here’s a handy one on coke (or soda, if you prefer the term) or on Smoking.  By introducing actual evidence and hard numbers, it becomes more difficult for your audience to directly dismiss.  Who doesn’t want lower cholesterol?  What do you mean I can lose 10 pounds without working out?

Yes, numbers can be fudged.  Yes, clinical study results can be subjective based on who or what cause is supporting the study.  That’s why it’s important to analyze the resource before offering it as evidence.  Do so with care!

3. It’s a pyramid – No, I’m not promoting the government’s extinct food pyramid here.  I’m referring to the Egyptian pyramids!  We all know that they weren’t built in a day.  It took significant time and small individual building blocks to create a masterpiece.  As with any major life change, the initial shift can seem like a major tidal wave to swallow for the newbie.  Present your audience with introductory small steps they can take (SEE BELOW!).  Reinforce the point that it’s about incremental forward movement to reach a life-altering fantastic goal!  We all learn to crawl before we can walk.  (Okay, okay, enough cliches!)

Truth be told, we (as Americans) live such hectic and frenzied lives that it’s no wonder we expect immediate results.    I once heard it said that the only thing Americans fear is inconvenience.  Ponder that for a minute!  It rings true in more than just our fast, faster, give it to me NOW food!  But it’s very important to remember that TRUE change takes time and effort.   In committing actual effort to make the eating lifestyle change, the results WILL come.

Here’s a few quick tips and guides to get started on this new awesome adventure to living a better life..

4. Top 3 rebuttals

  • MONEY -“Buying organic costs significantly more!” “I’ll blow my grocery budget!”  While it is true that buying organic is more expensive (Here’s why it costs more!), not everything needs to be organic!  It’s about making smarter choices to incorporate more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while cutting back on the amount of meat, dairy and unhealthy fats that constitute a significant amount of the average household grocery budget!  Instead of buying two bags of Baked Lay’s potato chips, you can buy a 10# bag of potatoes and a watermelon for the same price.
  • Nothing wrong with me now – This is often the response of someone disillusioned by the creative marketing mentioned above. Typically, the hard numbers and facts you present should help diffuse this one.
  • Don’t know how to start – see the tips in #3 above!

Congratulations, you made it through my long winded, wordy prose.  I hope I didn’t cause too many casualties along the way!  In all sincerity, life-altering changes are real, even today.  The best encouragement you can offer is to accept an authentic, non-accusatory attitude.  Isn’t that the best part of life, knowing you’re not alone and someone is there who deeply cares for your well-being!



Fired up…again!
March 11, 2012, 2:55 pm
Filed under: background and research, clean eating, green living, weekly meal log

Sometimes I get asked how we keep up with this way of eating day in and day out. I first have to be honest and say that we have absolutely slipped and made poor choices (and paid severely for them the next day or two after), but what gets us back on track and encourages us to stay there is all of the research we’ve done and continue to do. I just don’t know how anyone could read the information that’s out there and not get fed up or angry enough to make a change. You can’t unlearn this stuff. More on that in a minute.

Breakfasts
*Rolled oats made with organic almond milk and topped with banana, peanut butter, and chia seeds
*Omelets made with organic bacon, cheese, and bell peppers
*Whole-wheat pancakes from our homemade baking mix with 100% maple syrup

Lousy picture, but a delicious omelet made with organic thick-sliced bacon, cheddar cheese, and bell peppers

Daddy's becoming quite skilled at pancake design!

Lunches and Snacks
*Diced raw veggies (carrots, bell peppers, and edamame)
*Neufchatel cheese spread on homemade, real whole-wheat bread p.539*
*Homemade, plain yogurt with raisins
*Homemade granola bars with dried cranberries mixed in
*Clementines, bananas, rice cakes with jam, and organic, unseasoned popcorn from bulk kernels were our snacks

Dinners
*Pasta with smoky roasted sweet potatoes and bacon p.255*. David and I went nuts over this dish. Such a delicious smoky flavor!
*Chipotle quinoa with corn and black beans p.310*. The combination of flavors and textures in this was really neat. It’d be good served in a tortilla too. I made ours a little too spicy by adding in too much adobo sauce, but I’ll know for next time.
*Asian veggie stir fry with brown rice
*Trough dinner—one night, I forgot to thaw rice and didn’t have time to dice the veggies for the Cassoulet, so the girls got a trough of plain cheerios, dried fruit, and bananas. Obviously not the most balanced dinner, but everything was whole foods!

Delicious pasta dish with sweet potatoes and bacon

Not wanting to pose, but she chowed down on this dish

Daddy couldn't shovel fast enough

This chipotle quinoa was pretty spicy, but the textures and flavors were an amazing blend of yum!

Lots to chop/dice/mince for the Cassoulet

Cassoulet in progress. Let me tell you, this has topped our girls' list of favorites, believe it or not.

I ate out with my parents and brother at a Mongolian stir fry restaurant. Pretty tasty!

Desserts
*I have a Starbucks card that I’ve registered and am working up to being a Gold card member. Yay! So the occasional brewed treat has been my dessert.

Upcoming eating clean, living green goals:
1. Try a new vegetable/fruit/grain every week for a while—this coming week, we’re trying beet sandwiches and kale chips.
2. Remove dairy from our diet to see the health effects—included in the articles below are several on the gap between dairy’s perceived health benefits and the actual benefits. It’s our feeling right now that cons outweigh the pros. Today was day 1 of dairy-free eating.
3. Once our dish detergent runs out, make our own. I’ve seen a few good recipes for it. Our Great Value box is still holding strong. Maybe another week or two before we make our own.
4. Use more reusable containers—especially glass ones. Waiting for coupons on items or a good sale to stock up on glass containers because they’re expensive!

Articles and Videos of interest
For our kids
Pink slime on school lunch trays School lunches have got to be healthier for kids. This is getting ridiculous
Jamie Oliver talking about our food system and kids He’s of the well-known “Food Revolution.”
Robyn O’Brien’s TED Talk She’s a mom of 4 kids who became a food activist after realizing the additives in the food she fed her children caused one of them to have an allergic reaction. She asks, “How can a child be allergic to food?” If food isn’t actually food at all.

More reasons to stop drinking soda NOW!
What happens to your body when you drink a Coke
8 ways soda fizzles your health
Why soda is bad for you

Some of our research on dairy so far. For the time being, we’re cutting out all cheese, yogurt, and animal milk. Almond milk is our substitute.
Is [animal] milk good for our children?
Don’t drink your milk
Harvard declares dairy NOT part of a healthy diet

*recipes taken from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook.”



Homemade goldfish, anyone?
January 23, 2012, 3:32 pm
Filed under: background and research, clean eating, weekly meal log

I think from now on, I’m just going to do detailed day-to-day info on our breakfasts and dinners, then just list snacks and lunches at the bottom. I was feeling a bit too repetitive.

A tip to feeling more full and truly enjoying what you’re eating: when you eat, just eat. No multitasking allowed. This has made a tremendous difference for me. I used to eat in front of the computer or while trying to feed the girls too, and I’d finish my food without even realizing how quickly I’d been eating. Not anymore!

Sunday/Monday/Tuesday
Breakfast: oatmeal with natural peanut butter and banana slices
Dinner:
Whole wheat rotini pasta with wilted kale and homemade tomato sauce p.194*, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese with some fresh roasted red pepper foccacia bread from Earth Fare.

Whole wheat rotini pasta with homemade tomato sauce, kale, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Wednesday/Thursday/Friday
Breakfast: America’s favorite breakfast
Dinner:
Beans and Greens burritos p.503* with modified pico de galla p.47*. In an effort to save time, I threw all ingredients in the blender and blended it up into a thick salsa. Delish—and would work well as a chip dip!

Stuffing for beans and greens burritos. Added the beans after this shot.

Homemade salsa in the works

What the sink looks like after making dinner while two kiddos are pawing at my heels

Saturday
Breakfast: Whole-wheat pancakes made from our homemade baking mix smothered in marionberry jam
Dinner:
Brown rice and vegetable stir fry. I thawed a couple of bags of brown rice from the freezer that I cooked on Sunday and mixed in the leftover chopped vegetables for the week (I chopped up too many this week, and we weren’t able to munch through them all at lunch) plus leftover kale (wilted into the stir fry) and some mushrooms we forgot to put on the pizza. I seasoned it with some soy sauce and olive oil and topped it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese because, well, it’s amazing on anything.

Clean out the pantry stir fry with mushrooms, kale, brown rice, and chopped up bell pepper and carrots

Lunches, snacks, and desserts
Started lunch off each day with a big pile of raw veggies (added edamame to the mix this week), followed by sauteed zucchini and squash, ants on a log, and Anjou pear.

Snacks were homemade granola, brown bag popcorn p.38*, and for the girls—organic cheese sticks from Earth Fare. I had a great coupon that made them a little more reasonable. For a twist on the popcorn, I got butter and oil hot in a big skillet and melted in sugar to the mix before adding the kernels. Once they were all popped, I tossed the lot with salt and cinnamon. Cinnamon-sugar popcorn with a touch of saltiness—amazing!

On Wednesday, Abigail and I made homemade, whole-wheat goldfish crackers from scratch. I came across the idea on Pintrest, and opted to make them whole wheat as I had no other flour on hand. I made the cracker cutter out of a piece of aluminum can shaped into a fish and secured with tape. They turned out pretty yummy—even made little eyes for the fish with a toothpick. The recipe made 200+ fishies! They turned out to be pretty dense, but that’s worked out well as we can each eat fewer (read: 5 for the girls, 10 for me and David) and be satisfied vs. needing 30-50 Pepperridge Farm goldfish.

Cutting out whole-wheat cheddar goldfish

My baking assistant

Enjoying the fishy bounty at lunch with homemade granola

I even made her an "A" cracker

I forgot to buy another carton of Earth Fare strawberry ice cream, so we made whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies one night with Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips (used the recipe on the bag for the cookies, and just substituted whole-wheat flour for all-purpose), and any other night I needed a sweet fix, I had a spoonful of Justin’s organic chocolate peanut butter. Mm!

Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Changes we can see and feel so far:
1. My face is clearing up. I never had really bad acne or anything, but I’ve always seemed to have some amount of breakout on my face, and now, I’m pretty much cleared up.
2. I’m sleeping better. This couldn’t have come soon enough! I had no idea how poorly I had been sleeping until I started getting good sleep. Loving this!

Upcoming eating clean, living green goals:
1. Try a new vegetable/fruit every week for a while—next week, we’ll be trying roasted broccoli (I’ve only ever had it smothered in cheese)
2. Once our dish detergent and laundry detergent run out, make our own (I’ve seen a few good recipes for both)—they’re both almost all gone, and I’ve got plans to make laundry detergent with a pal next week. We’re splitting a 10-gallon recipe, and the 5 gallons I get out of it should last 9-12 months (for around $10). Can’t wait to share details!
3. Use more reusable containers—especially glass ones. I bought more plastic containers this week for our popcorn, and we’re starting to save up money to purchase glass containers in the future.

Interesting articles and quotes I came across this week:
Little difference between children’s cereal and Chips Ahoy cookies
I grew up eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Frosted Flakes because, well, didn’t everyone? Seeing articles like this makes me feel good about my girls eating organic unfrosted mini wheats. They love ’em, too!
3 surprising reasons to give up soda
We don’t really drink soda, but occasionally, I indulge in a can. Never again! If you drink soda, stop. Save yourself the money and shed those soda calories.
Feed your baby real food
I wish I’d read this article before having kids. Abigail ate loads of rice cereal because we were told that was the best first food. Madilyn had almost none because we heard rumors about it being bad, and it was just easier to give her real food. This article backs that up.

Michael Pollan quotes:
“Anything fat-free that should have fat—Fat-free cheese is not cheese. It’s imitation cheese.”
This concept took a while to really sink into my brain. After growing up thinking that “fat-free” is the way to go, I’m now realizing that if I buy a food in a fat-free version when it should actually, naturally have fat, I’m buying a chemically created imitation food. No bueno! We now eat and drink (milk) full-fat everything. It’s so liberating!

A new rule for eating: “Don’t eat any foods you see advertised on TV. 95% of the foods advertised on TV are highly processed foods.”
It makes me sad that healthy options aren’t advertised much at all, but it makes sense. The folks producing fresh foods don’t have the budgets that Coke and Nabisco and Kraft, etc have to spend on ads. Right now, I think about 95% of what’s in our kitchen has not been advertised for on TV. I think we’re doing pretty good on the whole get-away-from-processed-foods bit!

*recipes taken from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook.”



We all ate Brussels sprouts and liked it
January 21, 2012, 9:56 pm
Filed under: background and research, clean eating, weekly meal log

I’m on a roll this evening and have a pot of black beans and a pot of rice cooking and just finished popping another 1/2C of popping corn (yielding a light and crunchy 10+ C of popcorn glory), and while the beans and grains are simmering downstairs, I have some time to write about this week’s foodie adventures.

Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday
Breakfast: America’s favorite breakfast (Kath Eats Real Food)
Lunch: Neufchatel sandwiches with zucchini and squash, raw veggies, pretzels, ants on a log
Snack: homemade granola
Dinner: Baked Rigatoni with Brussels sprouts, figs, and blue cheese p.221* (we used whole wheat rotini noodles and Gorgonzola cheese crumbles). This family had never eaten Brussels sprouts (or figs, for that matter) before, and this dish was a total hit!
Dessert: 1/2C Earth Fare strawberry ice cream w/Justin’s organic chocolate peanut butter on top

Don't knock it until you try it. Amazing flavors and textures!

Thursday/Friday
Breakfast: strawberry, banana and spinach (1C of spinach for each of us) smoothies w/chia seeds (great for thickening smoothies, too!)
Lunch: raw veggies, sauteed squash and zucchini, ants on a log
Snack: homemade granola and brown bag popcorn p.38*
Dinner: vegetable soup and corn bread (both made by my mom!)
Dessert: 1/2 C Earth Fare strawberry ice cream

Saturday
Breakfast: whole wheat pancakes (made from our homemade baking mix) with marionberry jam
Lunch: raw veggies, sauteed squash and zucchini over brown rice (pulled down from the freezer), raisins
Snack: homemade granola
Dinner: Homemade pizza comprised of: no-work mostly whole wheat pizza dough + rosemary p.533*, All-purpose tomato sauce p.194*, freshly grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, sliced green bell pepper, fresh parsley, and uncured pepperoni
Dessert: None. Our stomachs were too packed.

Tomato sauce in progress

The finished product. Be still, my beating heart...

Changes we can see and feel so far, food-wise:
1. David and I talked this week about how we both feel like Neo from The Matrix. It’s like our minds have been “freed” in a sense, and we’re seeing the reality of our food system in America. And just like Neo, we want to find a way to tell everyone else about it, but people are so set in their world view and understanding of things that it’s really difficult to do. It’s just too much to take in for a lot of people that the food system in America is horribly broken. And if you haven’t seen that 1999 movie, you should. It’s great.
2. I weighed at the YMCA yesterday just out of curiosity. Let’s say the scale made me happy. I’ll update at the end of the month. And yesterday was my first workout of the month. Can you say sore?!
3. You know how David and I are more energized on this new diet? So are the girls. Yikes. I’m happy they’re healthy, but whoa. Slow down!

Upcoming eating clean, living green goals:
1. Try a new vegetable/fruit every week for a while—this coming week, we’re eating Anjou pears. Not too exotic, but new for us.
2. Once our dish detergent and laundry detergent run out, make our own (I’ve seen a few good recipes for both)
3. Use more reusable containers—especially glass ones. Can you freeze food in any sort of airtight container?

Interesting articles I came across this week:
1. America’s unchanged obesity rates
2. Additional tips for feeding your family whole foods on a budget

*recipes taken from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook.”



So, how do you do it?
January 15, 2012, 2:05 pm
Filed under: background and research, clean eating, meal plans

This is a question that’s been posed to me a couple of times from the few folks that know we’ve made the switch. So in an effort to be as helpful as possible, here’s some info:

How much does it cost?

I’ve had a couple of folks comment to me about how expensive eating whole foods must be, and they wanted to know how much we spend. So far, our average shopping trips (one to Earth Fare and one to Wal-Mart) for the week total $75. Before switching to this way of eating, we spent around the same price. And remember that’s for two adults, a 2.5 year old who eats everything we do (just smaller portions), and a nearly one-year-old who is just getting into the whole eating schtick.

Here’s a great article I ran across this week on the topic of cost.

What do you spend the most money on?

Definitely the produce. For example, today, I’m making a rigatoni casserole with Brussels sprouts, blue cheese, and figs. Keep in mind that I’m doubling the recipe (so two 13″x9″ pans), but the figs were $7, Brussels sprouts were $11, and the blue cheese was $5. Everything is fresh and whole foods, though, so definitely worth it. Plus, it’ll make dinner for the four of us for four nights. With all the other ingredients involved in the recipe, we calculated that it will cost $2 per person at each dinner. Try to get such a delicious and nourishing meal anywhere else for that same cost!

How do you find time to plan meals and chop all those veggies?

I’m type-A, so it’s all about organization for me.

Friday night, I print out my Meal planning grid. It accounts for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and dessert for every day. I keep back-week plans to see what I might want to revisit for the next week that we really liked or what we want to take a break from or whatever. It helps us avoid falling into a rut. It takes around an hour to plan out every meal and snack for our week, but it’s pretty fun. I only want to cook dinner three times a week, so that turns into a game of sorts to see what recipes in Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook I could stretch for several nights—without any need for side dishes.

While I’m planning meals, I’m making my shopping list as well. I have five categories: cold, produce, dry goods (i.e. whole wheat flour or pasta), wet goods (bulk honey or olive oil), and random (toiletries, etc). Saturday morning, I go to Wal-mart alone to get as much of our list as possible. They carry a lot of the same brands as Earth Fare for a lower price; you just have to be willing to dig around a bit. For example, Wal-Mart carries organic tofu for nearly $1 less than Earth Fare, but it’s buried in the produce section near the greens.

After the girls wake up from their afternoon nap, we all go to Earth Fare to round out the list. They usually have samples throughout the store, so the girls get to indulge a bit while cruising in the cart. I want them to have pleasant memories of the grocery store and look forward to going (hence why I go to Wal-mart alone—not a pleasant experience most times).

I’m on Earth Fare’s email list, and every week, they have some sort of free merchandise deal (usually produce or meat) if you spend $10, so I incorporate that into our meal plan to save a bit more money. The first week of January, it was spend $10 and get a 1/2 pound of organic shrimp for free. The second week, it was spend $10, get a free pound of organic pinata apples. This past week, the deal was $10 off a $25 purchase, and because of that, our Brussels sprouts were nearly FREE. Yay!

So we get home Saturday evening, unload the groceries, and have our “clean out the pantry” dinner. Basically, it’s just rice (pulled out of the freezer as noted below) plus whatever greens and veggies we have left over from the week, stir fried together in olive oil and soy sauce. Delish!

Sunday morning before we head to church at 11am, I boil a huge pot of brown rice (takes around an hour) and chop up all the veggies we’ll need for the whole week. This morning, that meant peeling and slicing 15 carrots, 4 bell peppers, a yellow squash, and a zucchini. I had everything chopped and the cutting board washed before the rice finished. Once the rice is cooked, I divvy it up into 2-cup portions in freezer bags and freeze them flat. For every cup of uncooked brown rice, you get about 3 cups of cooked. I’ll take it!

How do you deal with cravings?

I still have them. Just last week, I remember having a rough day with the girls, and once David and I got them into bed, I said, “Hun, I really just want some break and bake cookies. Like now. AHH!” That’s how we used to cope with stress: eat ourselves into a sugar coma. Instead, David opted to make cookies from what we already had and used whole-wheat flour and pecans for added health benefits. Obviously, cookies aren’t good for you, but whole-wheat pecan snickerdoodles made from scratch are a whole lot better than the packaged variety. Plus, we portioned them out into separate containers, so we weren’t facing a huge bowl full of cookies to eat through—just a baggie with 4 in it (they were really small).

Sounds like it’s not too bad. I want to try the switch. Tips?

Do your research. We started really digging into this last summer—as in over six months ago. We made slight changes to our way of eating (making our own whole-wheat baking mix instead of buying Bisquick, making our own granola bars, getting away from drink mixes, etc), but didn’t make the “big” switch until January 1.

You’ve got to know why you want to change in order for this to work. Anytime I feel weak, I can think back to all of the articles I’ve read and documentaries and videos I’ve watched. “This isn’t a diet!” I tell myself. “It’s a whole new way of life.” You can’t approach this like, “Ok, I’ll do this until I’ve lost ___ pounds, then back off a bit.” This is all or nothing. But you can do it!

Here are some resources you may find helpful in starting, and feel free to comment with questions. I’m no expert, but I will do my best to help out.

Some of our research:
1. Documentary Food, Inc (this is fascinating and lit a fire under us)
2. Mark Bittman’s What’s Wrong with the Food we Eat (and anything about/by him)
3. Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters
4. Michael Pollan on Bill Mayer’s show (anything by/about him)
5. Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food
6. 10 Foods you thought were healthy
7. The Dirty Dozen foods with high pesticide residue
8. Why Skim Milk isn’t as Healthy as you May Think
9. Harvard Declares Dairy NOT Part of a Healthy Diet

Once you start going to sites like those, you’ll stumble upon many, many other articles and videos…let me know if you want help finding more!

Cooking/practical items
1. Staples for a healthy kitchen pantry
2. The Food Matters Cookbook
3. Meal inspiration blog (Kath is a registered dietician and eats whole foods. She logs photos of everything she eats every day)
4. A Little Fancy (Sarah is my friend who helped me kick start this dietary change and maintains a food blog)



Day 1: Thoughts on eating filthy, and why I started this blog
January 1, 2012, 9:20 pm
Filed under: background and research, clean eating, green living

Let me start off by saying that up until this past year, my family has been your typical American family when it comes to eating: kicking off our days with cereal and juice; eating sandwiches with chips for lunch; snacking on random salty treats; making the same 10 dinners over and over (dinners that were varying combinations of butter, “cream of ____” soups, Ritz crackers, butter, chicken/beef/pork, and if you can stand it, more butter) with rolls on the side; ordering pizzas with bread sticks and soda; and making break and bake cookies.

On any given week, my grocery cart was loaded with cans and boxes and bags of processed “food” filled with all kinds of stuff I can’t pronounce, but to be honest, I never really read the labels. I knew that if something didn’t go bad for three years, it probably had some wonky stuff in it, but I guess I preferred to live in ignorance.

To make myself feel better about the food choices I was making for my family, I’d throw a “green” side with dinner (peas or green beans—or if I was feeling adventurous, frozen mixed veggies) or put some banana on our breakfast cereal.

We do have a gym membership and use it regularly. I’ve run six half marathons in respectable times (all around the 2-hr mark with one under) and even ran a full one a few years back, so in the eyes of my friends, I am fit.

Honestly, I thought I was fit. But all of that training and running was for the purpose of maintaining unhealthy eating habits. I discovered that fact when my two young daughters caught colds, preventing me from dropping them off at the gym’s child care for 5 weeks as we passed said colds around and around. In that time, I gained 12 pounds. Twelve pounds in just over a month. I’m usually around 135, so 12 pounds makes a significant difference in my appearance, the fit of clothes, the ease of going up stairs, etc. The truth hit me like a ton of bricks.

I should also mention that under the umbrella of “unhealthy eating habits” for me, personally, falls bingeing. My emotions are intensely intertwined with food so that when I’m elated about something, I want to reward myself with food. When I’m depressed or angry or upset, I want to console myself with food. When I’m irritated that there’s nothing to do, I want to eat to pass the time. And I’m talking entire packages of cookie dough in one sitting (I’ve been known to polish off an entire package in the five minutes it takes to get from the store to home) or a whole large bag of cheese puffs, for example. It’s intense and disgusting.

And yes, I feel horrible after. I feel horrible during, honestly. But I just have never been able to rope in my self-control in that area. If I didn’t work out as crazily as I do, I’d likely be bordering on obese, but I’ve been able to keep that dirty little bingeing secret in the closet because of my workouts. To see me walking down the street, you’d never guess I eat like that—at least once or twice every week.

I had researched healthy eating before. Multiple times. Haven’t we all? I made and broke my new years resolutions consistently. I tried mid-year resolutions. Even mid-week ones. Kept failing.

I first started seeking a healthier lifestyle when my first daughter, Abigail was born because I didn’t want her to grow up with the same habits I’ve been fighting for years. I stopped eating anything with sugar for 5 months, then made up for lost time. I even tried a switch to vegetarianism for a few weeks after watching Food, Inc on NetFlix (yes, weeks—I hadn’t done the research necessary and was crazy hungry day after day, lacking protein) before finding out I was pregnant with Madilyn (now nearly one year old). The girls eat far healthier than me and my husband, so there’s that, but I want our family all on the same page—no more hiding from the kids to eat a cookie.

After the 12-pound weight gain, I started researching again, but with more urgency. I called my friend, Sarah, who I knew had shifted with her husband, Edwin, to a healthier and cleaner way of living and had been living that way for two years. She does yoga and spin classes for fun, not to maintain or lose weight. She loves cooking (but hasn’t always). She’s one of the most positive and vibrant people I know.

So, on the day after Christmas, Sarah and I met for coffee, and I threw every fear and hesitancy and question at her for more than two hours. Surprisingly, she was able to silence them all easily while I took notes. I eventually just let her talk while I silently sat, dumbfounded, trying to process her words.

S: “Vegetables are the shining stars at lunch, snack time, and dinner.”

Me: (I think about how on earth I can branch beyond peas and green beans and about how bland veggies are.)

S: “Some of my favorite seasonings: smoked paprika, sriracha, cumin, curry powder, and ginger.”

Me: (So that’s what makes veggies exciting. Hm. I use cinnamon, salt, and pepper—unless it’s pie time, then some pumpkin pie spice. I’ve got a lot to learn.)

S: “For lunch, I start with raw veggies, then leftovers from the night before, then some Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit. It takes me about 30 minutes to eat.”

Me: (I’m finished in 7 minutes, probably, and am over stuffed. How can it take so long to eat so little?)

S: “In the first year, Edwin lost 60 pounds.”

Me: (Wow.)

S: “Check out Food Matters by Mark Bittman. Get his Food Matters cookbook.”

Me: (Right away!)

That was a week ago, and since then, I got the Bittman books (check out his TED talk on YouTube to get a sense of what he’s all about; he’s a food writer and columnist for the NYTimes), planned a dramatically different meal plan for this first week in 2012, and went shopping at a new-to-me grocery store with Sarah leading the way (it was so nice to have a guide in a new store. I didn’t feel so lost!)

That brings me to today: January 1, 2012. A day of goals and resolutions. I have a different set of those this year:

I want to work out because I enjoy it, not because I have to. I want to eat food that makes me feel good physically and emotionally. I want my family to get totally away from processed foods. I want my family to eat in a way that’s kinder to the environment—and start to live our lives in a greener way too.

It all starts with what we choose to eat.

So, day 1.

Today, we all ate fruit, yogurt, and spinach smoothies for breakfast; raw veggies (red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, carrots, and sugar snap peas), greek yogurt with raisins, and pretzels for lunch—and yes, it took us all forever to eat; and Asian tofu chili for dinner. And you know what? It all tasted great. And all four of us finished every bite.

And get this: tonight was the first time ever my two-year-old said “Mommy, this is good!” without being prompted. She seriously said that with a mouth full of tofu and black beans. Yes!

So this blog will be a chronicle of our family’s journey to a cleaner way of eating and a greener way of living—one day at a time. It will also serve as a bit of accountability. We’re not quitting this time! I hope it will be an encouragement to you too.