Shopping Clean: On Buying Real Food

In one of my previous posts, I shared with you my horror of learning about what I was actually putting onto my family’s plates: processed human hair. Gross!

Now that I have removed the offending “not-food” from my pantry, I have to ensure that when I shop, I shop clean and buy real food.

Now, I don’t know what your shopping routine is like, but mine is highly unpredictable, which can make it stressful at times. No, I’m not talking about impulse buys of ice-cream  at the grocery store (although I am definitely guilty of those!); I am talking about corralling preschoolers in a grocery store during the late afternoon when everyone’s energy levels are all over the place (Read: All I want is a nap) while I attempt to get through a grocery list quick enough to be able to have enough ingredients on hand to make something healthy and yummy for my family to eat. Some days this experience is amazing – my kids act like little angels, help me find items off my shopping list, take turns pushing the cart, and ask me to buy broccoli (for reals). And some days … well, let’s just say some very nice strangers come over to me to give me very kind words of encouragement (Thank you grocery store angels!).

In any case, I need some kind of quick and dirty way of figuring out whether an item is real food or just a poser, and I need to be able to figure it out while keeping preschoolers entertained and somewhere near my cart. This means I need to be able to evaluate a food in less than 15 seconds. To do that, I have developed a mental cheat sheet to help cut down on time. I’ve been working on this over the past few weeks and have found that over time, it has become easier and more automatic to choose foods that don’t have artificial preservatives, colors, additives, and flavors in them. Here are my tips in no particular order:

  1. Shop at places where it is easy to find clean food. I have found that I can drastically cut the amount of time I spend selecting food if I shop at places where clean, minimally processed food is abundant. For example, I have found that independent bakeries, natural foods stores, and farmer’s markets often (but not always!) have pre-made food that is fresh, made from real ingredients, and tastes really good.
  2. Restructure your grocery list so that the bulk of your food is unprocessed. For example, instead of buying a frozen chicken teriyaki dinner entree, buy chicken, fresh veggies (pre-cut if you want to spend extra to save on prep time), and a sauce (or make your own!). You’ll still have to read the ingredient label on the sauce, but at least you will know the chicken and veggies are fresh and unprocessed (plus you have more freedom over deciding which veggies and cuts of meat go into your food). Unprocessed foods that require little or no label reading include all the following:
    • Fresh fruits and veggies
    • Fresh cuts of meat
    • Dairy (milk and eggs).
    • Dried or milled foods (whole grains, dried fruits, beans, legumes)
  3. Read no more than 5-10 food labels during each grocery store trip. Yes, you will need to read labels to find out which foods are the real deal and which are posers. However, there is no reason to force yourself to read all of them in one trip. Decide which dishes you will “clean” ahead of time (Your favorite casserole? Stir fry? Pasta?) and then read labels for that type of food during that particular grocery store trip. The good news is that once you have found a clean substitute, you won’t need to read the labels again. The new brand will become your “go-to” brand (and who knows, it might taste better too!).
  4. Spend less than 15 seconds looking at a label. I don’t read food labels, I scan them looking for problematic ingredients. Here are some tricks I have to speed up reading labels:
    • Are there any ingredients I cannot visualize? …coconut milk…carrageenan… (“WTF does carrageenan look like?). Stop. Food goes back on the shelf.
    • Are there any ingredients my toddler cannot pronounce? …milk…calcium propionate…(“Pro-PIE-on-ate? PRO-pee-on-ate?”) All I know is I am not eating it.
    • Are there any acronyms in the food list? …chicken … PDMS… (“Is that like PMS???”) Doesn’t sound like a food. Out it goes!
    • Are there too many ingredients in this label for what it is? I know from cooking that pasta sauce has a handful of ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic/onions, and spices. If the label of the basic pasta sauce I am looking at has 2-3 times as many ingredients, it goes back on the shelf.
    • Is sugar one of the top 3 ingredients? I love sugar, but sugar should not be the star when it comes to my plate. For much of human history, refined sugar was not used in food plus it’s consumption been linked to health problems. Do yourself a favor and avoid foods that have sugar towards the top of the ingredient list (which means it makes up the bulk of what you are eating). My one exception: Treats or condiments that are supposed to be sugary (like cookies or jams).
    • If 15 seconds have passed and I am still reading the ingredients label, the food goes back on the shelf.
  5. Avoid Poser Foods. Want to drink milk that isn’t from a cow or goat? Want to eat cheese that is low (or no) fat or meat that isn’t from animals? Poser foods like these often have additives in them to make them have the consistency, aroma, or appearance of whatever real food they are imitating but with a lot less nutritional substance. If you really want the taste and texture of milk without buying the real thing, be prepared to spend a good chunk of time reading the labels of competing brands. Or spend that time googling a DIY recipe for it. Your homemade version might taste better than the store-bought one (or it might not), but at least you will know what went in it (and possibly have a funny story to tell about your epic cooking failure if your version doesn’t turn out so well).
  6. Buy items that don’t have packaging. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, meats, beans, etc. are exactly what they are and don’t come in packages. In addition to knowing you are buying a real whole food, you will also save time not having to read labels or un-package food. Plus, you can feel good knowing that you are reducing your waste by purchasing food that doesn’t have any packaging that needs to be recycled or left in a landfill to rot over the next several decades.

How to Have Fun Doing Repetitive Tasks

Have you ever felt like Sisyphus, doing the same task over. and over. and over again with no end in sight? Dishes get cleaned. Then they get dirty. Then they get cleaned again. Then they get dirty. Same goes for the floor, the countertops, the clothes. You get it.I get it. We all get it.

Well, the good news is that there *is* a way to make repetitive tasks seem not quite so boring, soul-sucking, or repetitive. I’ve spent the past few years finding ways to make tasks feel less repetitive and more (dare I say it?) *fun*. Yes, yes, I really did just say fun.

Before I get into my tried and true ways to enjoy yourself while doing chores, there are two very important ground rules that you must enforce when it comes to making chores fun:

  1. The person who is doing the chore gets to determine the most enjoyable way to do it.
  2. If anyone dares to make fun of someone else’s enjoyable way of doing the chore, the person doing the chore gets to stop doing the chore and pass the baton (or mop, dishrag, or sponge) to the critic. This will ensure a peaceful, clean, and fun chore-doing household.

Now, without further ado, here is how to make repetitive tasks fun:

Get jammin – Crank up the volume to your favorite tunes and really let loose. This is the time when you shelve your inner critic and sing and dance and most importantly, feel, like you are the most talented candidate on the next American Idol. Pick some energizing songs , and if the mood strikes you, change the lyrics to lighten your mood (“Nasty! Nasty grime. Don’t mean a thing….”).

Get guilty – Indulge your guilty side and give yourself permission to watch something fun on TV while you do the laundry or chop veggies. Maybe you really want to watch an HGTV show or Monday Night Football but feel somewhat guilty doing so. Well, allow yourself to watch that show only while you are folding the laundry. No laundry no show. This might just make laundry day one of your favorite days of the week.

Get competitive – Are you ever so slightly Type A? Turn your drudgery into a competition. Time yourself – Can you beat your own record? Compete with friends, spouses, or kids – winner gets something cool (First pick of chores the next week? Favorite dessert? Control over the weekend family activity?)

Get philosophical – Stream a podcast, Ted Talk, or audio book or just contemplate life. Either way you’ll feel smarter at the end of the chore. Not bad for time spent scrubbing the shower.

Get sporty – Did you know there are people who have found ways to turn vacuuming into an aerobic workout? Seriously. Put on your gym shoes and your headband and start doing some squats or lunges while you pick up toys and move furniture. Turn vacuuming into a cardio activity. When you’re done, you’ll get to check two items off your list: Chores and Exercise.

Get real – Enjoy the present and use your senses to turn a tedious experience into something sensational. Can you feel the warm sun on your skin while you weed? Can you hear a bird singing? Is the water you sip every few minutes a nice, cool relief? Focus on the details and you may be surprised by how much there is to experience.

Get problem-solving – Doing something “boring” interestingly often leads to an “Aha!” moment. So, next time you have a complicated problem to mull over, save it for when you are doing a chore. You’ll have time to think about many, many different ways to solve it. And, if you don’t solve it then, maybe by the time you take a shower the answer will come to you. Did I mention vacuuming is a great chore for this?

Get talking – Have someone to talk to? Maybe a relative who you haven’t been in touch with for a while or a “Chatty Kathy” who always seems to call you at the wrong time? Take the initiative, put on your ear buds, and call them when you have brain power and time to spare. Kathy will never know you are cleaning the toilets while you chat with her (just don’t drop your phone in or flush!).

Get repetitive -If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Make a punch card for yourself. Every X times you vacuum the house, you earn something “free.” For example, maybe every 4th time you vacuum, you treat yourself to a $4 latte.  You could even “level up” by making the reward better for the harder/less pleasant chores (scrub showers 4 times, get a manicure).

Get flexible – Manage your chores so that you do them on a time and day where you can be the most efficient and have the most fun. For example, some people like to have a MEGA LAUNDRY DAY where they wash, dry, and fold all their laundry. Other people like to do a load every other day. Figure out which one you like (and which method will actually result in getting the dried clothes back into the dresser), then stick with that plan. If the plan gets boring, switch it up!

Get thankful – Sure, this sounds like something your mother would say, but really, how lucky are you that you have all these conveniences? Dishes to eat off of (no sand in your dinner – hooray!). Clean clothes to wear (now you won’t smell like B.O)! A dog or cat that you get to cuddle. Take the time to look at your mess-creating things and really relearn to appreciate everything you have. And if you cannot bring yourself to appreciate your stuff, give other people the chance to. Bring your unloved items to Goodwill or the Salvation Army or have a yard sale and turn them into cash.  Then, you’ll never have to clean them up again. Now, that is something to be thankful for!

The New Kind of Appointment You Need to Keep

Have you ever noticed how when you have an appointment with someone important, usually a doctor who has a 2-month waitlist and charges you $75 to cancel an appointment, you always keep the appointment even when the unexpected creeps up?

This happened to me the other day. I had a new-patient appointment with a doctor who has a very long waitlist, and the afternoon beforehand, my boss says, “Hey, I know your calendar says you’re busy, but we need to move our client meeting to <exactly when the appointment was>.” While slightly panicking on the inside, on the outside I calmly said, “Oh gee, I have a really important appointment then that I do not think I can move, let me see if I can reschedule it.” Then I called my super popular, busy doctor and of course she could reschedule my appointment … for two months from now. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like waiting 4 months for a doctor’s appointment, so I went back to my boss and said “Hey Boss, I would love to make the client meeting but I have an appointment that I unfortunately cannot move; could we meet with the client at a different time?” Then as if by magic, my boss found another time to meet. Wow! Disaster averted.

Now, I should point out here that I am the kind of person the boss-man and boss-woman love – when asked to stay late or rearrange my schedule (which sometimes involves semi-superhuman skill when it comes to coordinating picking up my kids, running errands, making dinner, and running a household), I say “Sure, no problem.” And I pat myself on the back for being such a good “team player.” Barf.

Because of this, I feel rushed and have very little “me” time (aka “breathing room”). And that is no bueno.

Well, this particular incident got me thinking: If I can acknowledge the importance of keeping an appointment with a doctor I have never seen before and push back (nicely) when other forces attempt to intrude, why can’t I do the same for myself?

Specifically, I am going to argue here that we should treat our free time with the same respect and commitment that we reserve for our doctor’s appointments. Now before you say something snarky like “Well, I don’t have two wait 2 months to hang out with myself,” answer this question honestly: When is the last time you guiltlessly enjoyed an hour or two of time to yourself doing something that you find meaningful?

With the exception of right now, the last time I really guiltlessly enjoyed time to myself was about 3 weeks ago when I splurged on a pedicure (and it was glorious). This outing was exceptionally refreshing because I actually let myself enjoy it. Usually, I find some kind of excuse as to why I don’t have time for free time (“Oh, gosh, I would love to spend time relaxing now that the kids are in bed but I really need to iron their underwear right now.”) and so I don’t make free time a priority. Or when I do have “free time,” I spend it checking something off of my to do list (“Yes, installing kitchen cabinet latches is super fun!” “Yes, I will remain on hold while you look up my insurance policy!”).

In short, I am the kind of person who needs to schedule appointments with myself so that I can be a “well-balanced” person who is not totally burned out. Burned out isn’t healthy.

So, I challenge you to schedule your own Dr. ME Appointments. Here are the guidelines for making these appointments successful:

  • Pick a block of time that is equivalent to how long you would actually spend going to a doctor’s appointment. I find this is usually 1.5 hours long.
  • Determine how you will spend your time. Will you go on a nature walk? Paint a picture? Get a manicure? Write poetry? Take a circus arts class? Choose an activity that you will be able to immerse yourself into and wholly enjoy.
  • Take out your calendar and schedule the appointment. Make sure you pick a time that you will not be tempted to move. You can even write “Dr. ME Appointment” to remind yourself that this appointment is just as important for your well-being as a real doctor’s appointment (albeit in a slightly different way).
  • Mentally check out when it is time for your appointment: no cellphones or multitasking allowed at the doctor’s office; none allowed at your appointment. This time is for focusing on what you are there for: taking care of yourself.
  • Charge yourself a “No Show” fee ($50) if you do not make your doctor’s appointment or you are more than 15 minutes late. Then, reschedule your appointment for a “time when the doctor can see you” and use your no show fee to do something fun (because if you really had to miss your appointment then something really serious must have been going on because you respect yourself and your time). Just don’t make yourself wait two months for that next appointment.
  • Schedule follow up visits with yourself so that you can ensure you remain a pleasant person to be around. We want to change the adjectives we use to describe ourselves from “stressed,” “tired,” and “burned out” to “relaxed,” “rejuvenated,” and “fulfilled.”

So go ahead, open your iCalendar, and create that appointment just for you.