Rant and Rule

Grocery shopping is becoming more and more of a challenge.  Just trying to find a box of cereal can take me up to ten minutes.  Why?  Because the shelves are crammed with a zillion different brands and types.  I need to read each box I might buy for the ingredient list.  The criteria:  I have to be able to pronounce the list, the list has to be short, preferably less than five items long, and the first ingredient has to be a whole grain.  I don’t want it to be fortified or “enriched” because that means all the natural nutrition has been stripped and removed in the processing of the actual food used.  Our family has managed to find a handful of cereals we like; our favorites have just one ingredient on the label, be it wheat or oats.  There are days when it still takes ten minutes to find cereal because I cannot see the ones we like in the deep, deep forest of brightly labeled boxes of sugar disguised as healthful food.

I duck in and out of the center aisles for the paper goods we use, and the pet food, but mostly I stick to the perimeter of the store.  Dairy, fish, meat and produce— the groceries that spoil if I don’t use them pretty quickly— the foods I have to actually cook— that’s my list.  It can be tempting to buy a “cheater chicken”, as I call them.  Those are the chickens the store has cooked and wrapped in thick layers of plastic wrap, keeping warm under red lights in a heated case.  When I am feeling busy or just plain old lazy, I stand there looking at those chickens, considering buying one.  But then I start to wonder how long it’s been sitting there under those lights, and if those chickens were at their expiration date and had to be cooked.  I think about all that hot plastic leaching chemicals into food I will serve my family and wind up walking right on by.

I am stunned every week by the variety of juices and bottled water drinks that each take up a complete aisle (which I skip entirely) and at this point find myself amused by the crazy entrees in the freezer section.  I do buy some frozen fruit and vegetables, especially raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, spinach, and peas.  They are so much less expensive when fresh ones are out of season, and frozen fruits and vegetables retain their nutrients better than the fresh ones, when factoring in the shipping time and shelf time before they reach my kitchen.  We love frozen fruit in smoothies, muffins, and cereal.  The vegetables work well in soups and stews, and there’s no need to wash them or cut them up.  They save money and time.  I love that!

The rest of the frozen aisle is mind boggling.  Entire boxes and bags of meals stand icy and waiting in bright packages in their cases, ready to be heated and eaten .  Many do not contain vegetables, and few are made with whole grains.  That leaves fat, mystery meat, sugar, and stripped carbohydrates, which our mouths crave and our bodies aren’t sure what to do with.  Even the vegetarian foods are highly processed.   Preservatives and additives, many derived from processed corn and corn by-products, are listed on the labels.  How can I tell what they are?  What is hydrolyzed corn protein, anyway?  I’m certain I cannot grow it in my garden!

Eating real food might seem silly, or at least like a lot of work, when there are all those foods prepared and waiting for us.  We work hard all day as it is.  Why buy whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder,vegetables, fruits, etc., and figure out how to cook with them when Mrs. Paul, Stouffer’s, Tyson, Jim Perdue, and Aunt Jemima have done it all for us?  What could be bad about a frozen lasagna, or a box of waffles?  What’s wrong with chicken nuggets?

Have you eaten a chicken nugget lately?  What does the chicken look like under that beige coating?  Does it look like the chicken your mom used to roast on Sundays when you were a kid?  Is the meat tender and juicy?  The last time I examined one, a friend was feeding them to her little kids.  I did  not recognize chicken in there anywhere.

Fitness tip:  Eat real food.

This is not new information.  It’s a hot topic right now in the news, and in books and magazines.   Even the president’s wife is getting in on it, making it her “cause”, although she is focused on feeding children healthful food.  I wonder why she is so intent on children.  When is the last time your child did the grocery shopping, or decided what the school cafeteria serves for lunch?  Perhaps she is using our children as a catalyst to trigger our guilt response, in case we forgot that we make the decisions about what our children eat.  We feed them.  We set the table for dinner.  We shop, stock the fridge and pantry, and set the menu.  If we aren’t eating real food, why would our kids?

I have been told that children won’t eat real food, and maybe some of them won’t, at least not while you are watching them, and certainly not if they don’t see you and I eating it.  If they get hungry enough, they will.  If they see real food— vegetables, grains, fruits, whatever we cook for them— often enough, they will, because it becomes familiar.  Remember how your child cried on the first day of school, or the first time with a new babysitter?  And then, most likely, that child couldn’t wait to get to school quick enough after the first week, or cried when the sitter left?  New foods, experiences, and people are strange, and only become familiar in time.  (My kids didn’t cry going to school— they were glad to get out of the house for a while, but also glad to come home at the end of the day… but I’ve witnessed other kids…)

Dr. Oz and Michael Pollan,  a couple of famous experts in the areas of food and health, speak and write about eating real food.  They cover the benefits of a nutritionally sound diet.  They both address the effects of a Western diet and processed foods in regard to childhood and adult obesity, Type II Diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and overall health.  Although I respect both of these men and listen to and read what they teach, none of the information is new to me.  I am a vegetables, fruits, and whole grains-eating-person.  It’s how my Nana and Grandma fed me, how Mom fed me, and how I feed my family.  I think I like what Dr. Oz and Michael Pollan preach because they both confirm what I have always known.  Eating real food tastes good and makes me feel good.  It helps me stay healthy.  My energy is high; my body feels best when I eat real food.

There are exceptions, of course.  Few of us have the time to turn out a perfectly nutritionally balanced three-meal-a-day plan every day for ourselves and our families.  We expect an occasional treat.  Maybe we go out to a restaurant once in a while, or bring in a pizza on Friday nights.  I’m not looking to eliminate the exception.  When I say eat real food, I mean buy and prepare the foods that provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and all the anti-oxidants in the rainbow of foods available at the regular old grocery store.  The brighter and fresher, the better.  Steam them, roast them, blanch them, or eat them raw (except for the eggs and meat)  if you like.  Know what you are eating.  Eat real food.

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10 Comments on “Rant and Rule”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Elizabeth, I shop similar to you! Why is it the healthier we eat, the more expensive it is?

    • I don’t think it’s really more expensive. What about what we have saved and will save with insurance co-pays for doctor visits, prescriptions and bypass surgeries? And a bag of potato chips costs something like $3.50, while a 5 lb bag of potatoes runs a little less in price. Power bar? $1.50. Serving of steel cut oats? About 25 cents. I think we are actually saving money. I have not tried the other kind of shopping, the frozen dinner, chips, soda, and cold cuts list to compare, because I wouldn’t make it out to the parking lot. I’d be standing in the customer service line all afternoon returning my cartful!

  2. Pat Says:

    I think You forgot to mention that “real” food tasts MUCH better:>)

  3. Pat Says:

    PS and in thelong run it’s cheaper because you see the doctor much less and the kids have fewer allergies-

  4. Elizabeth Watson Says:

    Hey Elizabeth, good rant! I am right there with you. Except for my…um, addiction to chocolate…:-[

    I too am frustrated with the huge number of useless products presented at most food markets. Cereals are a good example of the problem. I like having cooked rice for breakfast. Even rice & beans would be good and I think we had that one time at breakfast.

  5. pinkvegan Says:

    Hi there!
    What are your favourite brands of cereal or do you buy bulk?

    • Hi Back! Our favorite brands of cereal are: Country Choice Organic Irish Style Oats, Uncle Sam, Trader Joe’s Shredded Wheat, and Nature’s Path Organic Heritage Flakes. We add in frozen raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, dried tart cherries, chopped walnuts, pecans, chia seeds, wheat germ, or molasses, in any combination, depending on our hunger level…We have also been known to eat brown rice dressed up like cereal. Yummmm! We have become quite fond of plain, unsweetened almond milk on our cereal, too.
      Thanks for reading!

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