Monday, July 8, 2013

Feeding Your Brain AND Body: Our Family's Journey

**This is a guest post by a VERY special guest poster...Tracy Rodriguez!!! I am hoping she will accept a very low paying position as a regular commentator on nutrition and clean eating here at WiseLearners! Welcome Tracy!

Feeding our children well is so important for the development of their bodies and brains. When I say "well", I don't mean what taste good. What I mean is food packed with nutrition and healthy fats. I use to think I fed my family well. The boxes of food said things like "whole grain", "all natural", "fat free", "multigrain" and a whole host of other labels that are misleading. It turns out that I wasn't feeding my family well at all because I wasn't feeding them actual food. I'd like to share with you a little about how we went from eating processed products to real food. 

A large portion of our meals were made up of something from a box or bag. Cereal for breakfast (it's heart healthy, right?) with low-fat milk , cream of tomato soup (canned of course, made with that low-fat milk) and grilled cheese sandwiches (the kids helped by unwrapping the cheese) for lunch. Dinner was often served with a salad covered in low-fat dressing and a side of flavored rice from a box. Snacks were made up of products like granola bars, cereal bars and packaged cookies. I'm at a point now in my nutrition journey where I can't even call these products food. They are highly processed, chemical food wannabees that don't add to the health of my family, but actually diminish their health.

I changed the way I feed my family in June of 2012. We started off by eliminating gluten (wheat). I started here because our oldest daughter and I had been sick for several years and all of the research on our symptoms pointed at gluten as the culprit. The research led me to blogs like Mark's Daily Apple and Whole9. I cleaned out the pantry, fridge and freezer on June 13th and removed anything with gluten in it. We had several boxes of food that we gave to the food bank! My fridge and pantry were empty. I admit, I started doubting myself and thinking I'd just made a huge mistake. 

We are a one income family and I'd just gotten rid of most of our groceries! I knew for our family though, if we were going to change our eating lifestyle, it was better to do it this way rather than little by little. I had talked to my kids beforehand about how I had learned that it was the food I was buying that was making me and their older sister sick. I explained that our home should be a safe place for all of us, and that included the food that was in it. They understood that immediately and bought into it because they know that family looks out for each other. I assured them that I would find yummy substitutes for baked goodies that didn't make anybody sick when they ate them. 

I was feeling so much better within a few days of cutting out wheat! This was enough motivation for me to keep studying, researching recipes and racking my brain for meal ideas that my whole family would eat. In August, I read It Starts With Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. I recommend this book to everybody I talk to about nutrition and how I feed my family. The book explains how the food we eat affects us, physically and psychologically, in an easy to understand way. The information is backed by the latest scientific research, has delicious recipes and includes help with meal planning.  

Angel and I decided to do a Whole30 in September, after reading It Starts With FoodWe each had our own reasons for taking on a Whole30. I was still having a few health issues and I had a feeling that they were food related, plus I wanted to take our family's  "clean" eating a step further. Angel had a sugar demon that he wanted to conquer and he wanted to support me in my Whole30.  Doing the Whole30 meant cleaning out the fridge and pantry again. 

This time I was looking for ingredients such as dairy, soy (which I found in my canned tuna!), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sugar. The kids ate Whole30 at home that month, but were still eating school lunches. (I know there is not anything healthy about school lunches. Baby steps...) September finished and Angel and I felt fantastic! I discovered I am also sensitive to dairy and he kicked his sugar demon to the curb. We decided to keep the foods that we had cut out during the Whole30 out of the house and stick to a diet of unprocessed whole foods. 

Paleo or Primal would most closely describe our lifestyle. We do enjoy the occasional non-Paleo/Primal food here at home (oats, legumes, rice and corn for example), but it's still healthier than how we use to eat. I'm pretty strict about a few ingredients...gluten (wheat), MSG, soy, HFCS, partially hydrogenated oils, dyes, caramel coloring and fake sugars. If a product has even one of these ingredients, I won't buy it for my family. There are other ingredients that I don't want my family eating, but the ones I listed pretty much covers enough to where basically all processed foods are a no-go for our family. 

Our kids have adapted well and they know that at home we eat as healthy as we can. We don't stress over what they eat when we go to birthday parties or "food-centered" gatherings and events. We know that at home our kids are eating very well, so an occasional gluten filled hot dog bun holding a soy laced hot dog, smeared with HFCS ketchup is not something we stress over at this point in our clean eating journey. 

In the last year, we have gone from a good portion of our meals and snacks being made up of processed foods with a long list of ingredients (sometimes unpronounceable!) that didn't enhance our health (and actually made us sick), to a lifestyle of real whole foods that improve our health. We eat real food- meats, lots of veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy fats 95% of the time. I am still researching and learning about food and how to best feed my family. Our journey into clean eating is far from done. In my next post, I will share how simply changing what I feed my family has impacted our physical, emotional and mental health, in ways I never imagined.