need help to do fewer processed foods--
Just read --Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us-- (sick! sick! sick!). I realized that I have been letting processed foods take over our diet.
I need to start feeding my family fewer processed foods. I know the basic rules: eat the perimeter of the grocery store, whole grains, so on etc. etc. What I need is help to make the necessary changes.
I'm a working mom with 3 kids under the age of 10. Anyone have a list of good websites to help me make this happen, esp with the 6:00 rush (both of them, morning and night)?
one step is to make a couple of pots of a whole grain each week to have in the fridge and use for breakfast cereals, salads and as the basis for part of dinner. I do the same with dried beans, cheap and nitritious, they are infinitely adaptable.
I buy a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, but my freezer is filled with Costco and trader joe's short cuts. On the weekends I make pickles and preserves, so I am not a total loss.
However, my husband has been steadily ramping up the processed chips, fruits and cookies because he is in charge of getting the kid's lunches ready.
The idea of having a bunch of whole grains, cooked, is a very good one, but. . . I need ways to fix them that my kids will like. A homemade vinaigrette + stuff. . . but what else?
We make salad nicoise about once a week. a potato/kale/kielbasa soup about once a week. take out chicken with homemade veggies once a week.
A reasonable goal to me would be one processed item per meal, at most. (when we get there, then we set higher goals). Also, better kids lunch ideas.
As far as the kids' lunches go, there's no magic way to improve them other than to just say NO to processed crap. If you have time on the weekends, you can make your own crackers, cookies, etc. using whole grains and pre-portion them into baggies that your DH can throw into their lunch boxes. You could also switch to nuts instead of chips for snacky things. Buy plain unsweetened yogurt and add your own fresh fruit to it (along with a little of the sweetener of your choice if the kids won't eat it plain). It's more work, but if you want to avoid junk, you just have to do it!
If your kids like fruits and veggies, they don't need any of that stuff in their lunch. Alongside my son's sandwich or soup, he gets fresh fruits and vegetables: snap peas, bell pepper strips, strawberries, whatever. It's plenty to fill him up. He's never asked why he doesn't get chips and Go-Gurts like so-and-so does. That may change at some point, but not yet.
Also, cut up plenty of fruit and veggies so that you have a few days' worth in the fridge.
Will your kids eat dinner leftovers for lunch? That's what mine usually have, but they are still little (3 and 1) and don't know anything different. Perhaps a fun lunchbox could spice up the leftovers without causing you any extra work. Then just add some fruit/veggies and maybe one treat (this could be a processed item).
Just say no to prepackaged snacks... if the kids must have cheezits, then buy a bulk bag and some snack-sized sandwich baggies and pack it up yourself on the weekend. It's a lot cheaper and you can shrink the portion to the size you consider appropriate (for a young child, 12 cheezits would probably be more than enough, they don't need a 400 calorie bag). Cookies, cake etc can be made in advance and frozen in individual portions to grab and go, and that way you have control over what goes into them.
For lunches look at Bento box lunches. There are tons of ideas online and they lend themselves to using healthier foods.
As for dinners, some labor saving devices can really help. A rice cooker can do lots of things and most new ones come with a delay timer to have the contents ready when you get home. I also use mine to hard boil eggs, make oatmeal and made brownies in it.
Crockpots do some things well. Some things less so. The things they do well (chili, cooking down beans etc.) are worth doing.
I would look at the things you like or want to eat and find a way to do that from scratch efficiently. Bulk cooking & freezing, using an appliance to do most of the work or partial shortcuts can help get you there. I was where you are once. Now I detest most typical processed foods.
Sorry if this has been covered--I only scanned the thread lightly-- but as objectionable as you may find some of these foods, I might be careful about making any food a "forbidden" food. That just increases its appeal. Instead, focus on why this particular food is a food is only a "sometimes" food or that it's a treat or that it's to be eaten in only small quantities after a full meal. That sort of thing. Plus, as soon as you can start introducing homemade cookies that are better than storebought and so on, the more your kids will realize "real" food tastes better than the processed stuff.
I have a basket on the counter, and a small box in each the fridge and the freezer where I put my pre-portioned lunch and snack items.
So, on the counter I might have small single-portion cookies, crackers, nuts, dried fruits, jerky, etc. In the fridge I have yogurt, cheese, dips, hummus, veggies, apple sauce, small portions of leftovers, hard boiled eggs, etc.. I try to keep fruit washed and ready to go.
In the freezer I might have sandwiches, meatballs, muffins, and other single portions ready to go. (I'm now mildly addicted to homemade "uncrustable" sandwiches, an idea I got from this thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9010... Lots of other great ideas in there.)
I try to do these things in batches on the weekend or on a slow weeknight. Definitely enlist your husband's help and your childrens' help. Even my toddler "helps." I put him in one of those "learning towers" and have him help butter the bread, or press down on the sandwich tool or count grapes, etc.
Good luck! Remember, you don't have to overhaul at once. Just keep making small changes, incremental progress and you'll get there. Plus, that gives everyone time to adjust to and develop new habits.
re: The Dairy Queen
This is a great post!!
so many good ideas here and in posts above. If kids are ok w/pasta make good healthy Freezable sauces. Add less water/stock/liquid. Label and freeze. Same with soups (just don't freeze starches like potatoes-noodles, they get mushy).
Make your own concentrated convenience foods - start w/soups and pasta sauces. When needed, defrost, add liquid to taste, cook pasta, rice potatoes, add cut-up veggies and a healthy dip, maybe bread and some fruit for dessert.
Good on youo for jumping into this - you are a hero.
It would probably help to know what your kids usually eat for lunch, so we could make recommendations. If you change things up too much at once, there's likely to be a minor rebellion (pun intended).
But as far as what most kids are given, probably the worst thing is nitrate filled lunch meat, bologna, sliced meats, hot dogs, and the like. Substitute home roasted chicken instead. Or homemade egg salad. Next worst is probably either the salty snacks or processed cheese. You could easily substitute good cheese for the nasty stuff. For snacks, you could try weaning them slowly (start with subbing pretzels for cheetos, then work your way towards healthier choices). Satisfying their sweet tooth with even commercially made yogurt is far better than cookies. You can gradually move them in even better directions as you learn what they will adjust to, and what they absolutely resist.
Then I would recommend instead of making a chicken for dinner, make two, and use the leftover meat for sandwiches for the following days. Not only is it better for them, but its a heckuva lot cheaper than lunch meats.
Use peanut butter for sandwiches, too, because it has a lot of protein and will help them feel full. Home made egg salad is easy enough, and eggs have a lot of protein, too, if eventually you want to try it, you can make your own mayo really easily. Leftover pot roast too. If they like cheese, just give them good organic cheese instead of processed slices.
Once you get them used to the change in the sandwich filler, then you can start working on the bread. If you want to make your own, I saw a 1 hour sandwich bread recipe that I tried once (sorry, don't have the link) that was unspectacular as far as taste goes, but it worked, and the bread still tasted better than Wonder Bread or similar store bought varieties. And it won't have all the preservatives and chemicals that commercially made bread does (even bakery goods have a lot of additives that most home cooks don't use.) Get them used to that, start adding a little wheat or whole grains to it, and gradually get them accustomed to whole grain breads.
By which time they'll be so used to the completely changed diet that they won't even realize you've completely changed their diet. ;D
Hrmm, you say you make pickles and preserves, so it would be a short step to start making sauces and canning them at the weekends too. Even venturing out to canning stewed tomatoes would allow you to make a quick easy pasta whilst controlling the salt and sugar that gets added.
Oatmeal would be great for breakfast and is extremely adaptable. There's lost of slow cooker recipes you can put together before bedtime and if you buy instant then it can be made easily in the morning. You can use fruit and your homemade preserves to flavour them.
A fun idea for chicken dinner would be to buy a whole chicken and break it down. Or buy it pre-broken down for ease. Get your kids to help you make it and you can even get them to decide how they want it to be seasoned that week. Oven chips are super easy too. Here's an Ina Garten recipe that works well;
Baked "chips" (2nd recipe down)
Another plan might be to also try making something from scratch each week. Say you previously bought meatballs pre-made and frozen. This week you'll make them from scratch. Look up recipes, chose a recipe that takes your fancy and try it out.
Finally, good meal planning is a great help to me. I eat very few processed foods these days. I plan out 10 meals for each 2 week period, then build a shopping list from that list. You could do one for suppers if that's the meal you mainly make and your OH can sort the kids lunch one out. Again, you can get the kids to help pick out the meals here too.
Quick healthy breakfasts:
1. Oatmeal. You don't need a slow cooker to make steel cut oatmeal overnight. I've been using this technique with great success:
If you can remember to put up the oats the night before, they are ready when you get up. Make extra because they store and reheat well. You can vary the mix-ins for variety: try berries & honey, dates & coconut, raisins & walnuts, or my son's favorite, butter and brown sugar.
2. Our other main breakfast is peanut/almond butter and jam (or honey) sandwiches. Using whole grain bread, natural peanut/almond butter (no sugar or oils added), and real fruit preserves (or honey). Since you often can't have nuts at school anymore, if you don't have allergies this is a good thing to eat at home.
Both of these breakfasts are filling and nutritious.
If weekdays find you using the processed short cuts, consider buying already cut up and prepped veggies from the produce and salad bar sections of the store to save prep time. Make double recipes of favorite meals and freeze some using space freed up by giving up the prepared stuff in there. :-)
The way I see it, you are going to have to embrace Rachel Ray and a wok, or eat later. And you are also going to have to shop smarter and more often. A full freezer and fridge is no longer an option.
I would move into this change of lifestyle gradually, so everybody can adjust. Try 1 day a week to start. Preferably on a weekend.
Dear Daughter learned that dinner would be either soon, or not for a while. And her exposure to media during meal time was either NPR in the morning or my classical at dinner. Which meant that a certain TV program did not dictate meal times.
Pure hell for a child to grow up in a military dictatorship.
Interestingly enough, Dear Daughter called me a couple weeks ago in great excitement. She had discovered at Walmart that they had complete meals in the freezer section and they were pretty good! (Out of the will. My nieces get the All-Clad.) But not nearly as good as your food, Dad. (Back in the will.) She is working full time and is going back to school so she and her ?Partner, significant other, roomie, boyfriend? whatever is current, have looked at options other than delivery and fast food.
Have fun and good luck.
You know, Rachael Ray gets a lot of shit on these boards, but I really admire what she does. She's not trying to knock everyone over a la Ina Garten, she's showing busy families how to make reasonably healthy meals with both budgetary and time constraints. It's not my kind of cooking, but I'm not a busy family. If you want to criticize someone, take after Sandra Lee or the late Mr. Food.
You could do a lot worse than pick up a couple of her cookbooks and maybe look through her recipes on the Food Network web site.
I also agree that you will need to change shopping patterns. Eating stuff that can't sit on a pantry shelf for months requires some thought, planning, and more trips to the grocery store.
A weekend of cooking things that can be frozen is a great idea. It will keep you from going "crap, I don't have time/am too tired/whatever" when it's just as easy to toss something in the microwave as it is to order pizza.
Shop at farmer's markets as much as possible -- not just because the food is likely fresher and better tasting than the supermarket stuff, but it also puts you closely in tune with the seasons. There's nothing better than seeing that first crop of asparagus to know that spring is finally here, or planning two months worth of meals around the arrival of juicy peaches and ripe, sweet tomatoes. The idea is to stop treating food as a commodity and start treating it as a glorious luxury.
Know when "processed" foods are actually your best alternative. I eat fresh tomatoes three months out of the year when they're in season -- the rest of the year it's the canned variety. Frozen veggies are fine in winter when you're tired of kale and cabbage. Just look for foods that don't have lots of added sugar and salt, or even worse HFCS.
Most important, treat your cooking time -- whether it's researching recipes, shopping, or doing the actual cooking as "me" time. Put on some music, let your mind wander, get into a zone. Cooking can be a chore or it can be a way to take a mini vacation. If you get to the point where it's the latter, it's a win for your family and for you.
If you need a bit of cooking time do what my mom does and have hors' dourves that are easy to set out. Not enough food to spoil an appetite but a little something to stave off whining:
Raw vegetables-celery, carrots, peppers, broccoli,
A tablespoon or two of hummus or Greek yogurt that has been seasoned
Raw undulated almonds or other nut
A little dried fruit
Sliced apple with a little nut butter to dip
A bit of cheese or cottage cheese
Even if your family isn't interested in a large portion of dinner these items are all nutritious. To curb the amount put each kid's portion on a personal plate. If your kid is old enough they can set this up for themselves.
When I get groceries home I try to have enough time and energy to portion things (cut up meat), wash veggies etc. It does really help to have those fresh things ready to go when you need to make a meal. Having lettuce prepped makes a salad that much faster to get to the table for example.
I keep most veggies in containers or glass jars. They seem to stay much fresher/longer that way. This also makes finding what you need faster. I also try to buy veggies that double duty. IE: green onions can go into salads, lunches, stir fry or other dinner. Same with snow peas, mini sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes etc.
Yes - I wanted to add this writer but couldn't remember her name. Jenny Rosenstrach. And her book is also titled
Dinner: a Love Story.
Hands down this is one of the best - honest about how tough and crazy it can be to feed a couple of little ones, work, have a house a job and a family.
This book - get this book (library first - then buy it if it makes sense to you.
It made big sense to me.
Your first and most important step is to GET YOUR HUSBAND ON BOARD! If he is sabotaging your efforts then you are fighting an uphill battle. Do you do all the shopping or do you and your husband do it together or does he do all the shopping? If YOU do all the shopping then don't buy the junk. If YOU and HE do it together or he does it all by himself, then set him down and explain what you are trying to do for the health of your family and tell him that you need his help. No more junk food!
Make it a challenge and fun for the children. Explain what you're trying to do, and ask them which of their favorite non-processed foods would they like in their lunches going forward. In addition for snacks, making natural cookies and brownies for the week is very easy to do in one night.
Another shortcut on weeknights is to have smoothies for dessert or snack. Just takes a blender, some water, ice, and a few pieces of fruit.
I'm a fan of dehydrators too so if you have one, you can easily make fruit rolls from blended berries, natural applesauce, or just about any fruit you desire.
Don't try to take it all on a once. I started doing less processed by adding a green smoothie before or as breakfast. As a result, we've all but eliminated processed cereal. It might make sense to focus on just one meal or snacks until you build an arsenal of things everyone likes.
It strikes me that what you need to do is make your own convenience foods - the reason why the Costco/TJ's stuff is so easy to rely on is because it tastes pretty okay and it's really fast on a night when you're working.
After shopping, wash and prep vegetables for salads, and keep them in a bin - peeled carrots, celery sticks, quartered peppers, washed radishes and mushrooms, etc. Then making a side salad is fast and easy, with little mess.
Get a rice cooker if you don't have one. They're easy to use, produce good results, and it's one less thing to monitor while cooking dinner in a rush. You can do brown rice in it as well, and can mix other grains (like millet, or oats) in with the rice. Adding stock, or the juice from canned tomatos, or diced vegetables, can give you fancier variations.
Do some batch cooking and freeze the results, either for a complete entree, or for the convenience portion of a meal.
- chicken tikka
- chili con carne
- spaghetti sauce
- pulled pork
- chicken cacciatori
- beef bourginon
- chickpea curry
- hearty soups
- beans and rice (freezes beautifully)
- cooked seasoned ground beef or chicken, ready to use for burritos, tacos, or taco rice
- shredded, seasoned beef or chicken for sandwiches, or a quick topping for past or rice
- hamburger patties (or chicken or turkey burgers)
- pre-made pizza crusts for a quick pizza or pizza like dinner. Make them whole wheat if you want - they'll still taste better than the premade ones you buy in the store.
- pre cooked beans or chickpeas
- homemade pesto
- romesco sauce
- tomato sauce
- pre-formed meatballs
You could also roast big chunks of meat on the weekend (pork or beef roast, ham, whole chicken). Slice up the meat into one meal amounts, and drizzle it with pan juices before freezing, which produces a moist, juicy result when reheated.
As far as buying convenience foods - frozen vegetables can be better than fresh, if the fresh is not local or fresh. Ditto for canned tomatoes.
I used to occasionally buy frozen chicken nuggets. I realized, though, that what I really liked was dipping sauces. So now I saute chunks of chicken meat in olive oil until well browned, and serve with honey mustard, spicy mustard, ketchup, tonkatsu sauce, etc to dip in.
For kids lunches some ideas
- homemade hummus or homemade yoghurt based dips with veggies or sliced pitas.
- start with plain yoghurt and add your own fruit/nuts/honey
- homemade granola is easy to make and tastes 100x better than the storebought stuff. I use a mix of 3 cups oats, 1 cup whole millet (nice and crunch), 1 cup nuts, 1/2-1 cup dried fruit, and about 1/2 cup honey or honey and molasses and 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and whatever spices or seasonings (slivered orange or lemon peel, vanilla, cinnamon, almond powder, etc).
When I moved overseas, I was faced with the reality of either spending a lot more on food or largely eliminating processed foods from my diet.
What's helped me the most is taking the time over the weekend to make a large serving of whole grains, roasted veggies, sauces/condiments that can be mixed and matched during the week for different meals. It takes more time one/two days a week - but then the rest of my meals are much more straight forward. If you make a large batch of tomato sauce over the weekend, then you're set to turn it into a base for a meat sauce, a shakshuka, tomato based stew, etc.
Another idea would be to look at Jamie Oliver's 30/15 minute meals. Like Rachel Ray, I think the idea that these meals truly take 30 or 15 minutes is ridiculous - but there are good ideas for how to think a bit differently about meals. I think that sometimes when we get used to using a convenience product, it becomes standard to think of it as a completely acceptable "quick" meal. So often just getting different ideas is really helpful.
I think it is wonderful that you are moving to make such an important change especially considering that you work and have three children under the age of ten. I have discovered a grain that is really good greenwheat freekeh. It can be cooked ahead of time and lasts quite awhile, I use it as a base for salad and add my vegetables on top.
Sometimes you have to be realistic during a period of transition. Set some objectives for yourself, such as how much processed food do you want to eliminate, and how many meals per week do you want completely fresh. Sandi Richard on the FoodNetwork might be of interest to you. She has a cookbook which helps you to plan meals which are fast and healthy.
i don't typically use recipes for savory foods, but batch-cooking will be your best friend. if you're already pickling and preserving on weekends start cooking off some casseroles, soups, stews, big honking hunks of braised meat. a pork shoulder can go in the crockpot with some spices, water and oj. overnight you have 5-6 pounds of fork-tender meat. this can go into tortillas, over rice, under poached eggs. these kinds of foods can all be portioned and frozen so you don't have to eat the same dish 4 nights in a row.
i make an egg-bake thing each week with a dozen eggs, 2 bags of frozen veggies and a bit of cheese. it makes 8 portions that i freeze. you can also make this in muffin tins. nuke or just eat cold. for a group your size, make 2 pans. :)
no shame in frozen veggies. they don't spoil and cook quickly.
i cut and parcook veggies in the beginning of the week -- broccoli, zucchini, snap peas, broccoli slaw, cole slaw mix (don't like raw cabbage.) then they just need warming in a pan and some butter or sauce.
sturdy stuff like celery and daikon got chopped and bagged so just need dressing for salad.
if you have access to decent fish, most will cook in under 10 minutes for a very fast dinner.
the 10-year old is big enough to be helping make bagged lunches for the next day. wraps of cold chicken (that you roasted a big family pack of legs or breast meat in advance), mayo and lettuce. hummus with carrots and celery for dipping. good, junk free lunch meats, like boar's head, on good bread, with grapes or berries for dessert.
lots of parents have good luck making bento boxes for kids and they sell plastic ones just for kids' lunches to-go.
meatballs and meatloaf are a cinch to make and in large quantities. after you make the meatballs, freeze them loose on a sheet pan then bag. this way you can portion out as many you need.
most veggies can be steamed or roasted, then whizzed with chicken stock for soup. portion, freeze. reheat and finish with olive oil, butter, ginger, cream, coconut milk even peanut butter.
think big and don't worry about trying to cook each meal from scratch. you'll go crazy.
take-out pizza a few times a month won't kill you either. :)
I went through my storage of recipes on Pinterest and found some for crackers and other snacky foods you might find helpful... I haven't made most of these but it'll at least give you a start:
Homemade Cheeze-Its http://www.traceysculinaryadventures.... (I've seen other versions of this where they just cut into regular squares, skipping the fancy edging.
Whole Wheat Pita Bread http://www.traceysculinaryadventures.... I've made non-whole wheat before and was surprised at how easy it was... and it's miles better than store-bought. Your kids could help with this too!
Rosemary Crackers http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/04/ro...
Peanut Butter Popcorn http://www.thekitchn.com/fall-snackin...
Pop Tarts http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/0...
Links to 10 different cracker recipes: http://www.thekitchn.com/cheese-herbs...
Thank you all. many of these suggestions are very helpful. I agree that I need to get spouse on board. I asked (told) him that as of now, anything that he buys that is not in a virgin state should be talked about with me. We will see.
I think that getting the boys on board is also key, and the way that will happen is to have delicious meals at home. (Salade Nicoise last night, 10-year-old said "I love love this mom. also that potato soup thing." so we have a few dishes in rotations that work.) I am also being much clearer about rules for eating (i.e sweetened yogurt is not a snack for the evening, sit at the table and eat, fruit first for snacks, so on)
I think the lunches will be much better if we avoid processed meats (after reading the book, I am revved on how bad they are).
I used to make 10 lasagnas on a weekend and freeze them. Any other ideas for bulk freezer meals?
anyone know where to get freekah? Whole Foods, Sprouts-type places?
most of all thanks for the encouragement. I need it.
I don't eat a lot of sandwiches, but my mom does. For the meat, she just makes extra when she's making say, pork chops or chicken for dinner. Then she thinly slices it and uses it for her sandwich meat for the week. It's no extra work on her part to cook the meat, aside from the slicing of it, so it works out well.
+1 - Whenever whole chickens are on sale, we buy and cook them in pairs: 1 for dinner and 1 to slice for sandwiches. The 2nd one cools while we eat the first, and then slicing it up and bagging it is only a few extra minutes during meal clean-up. Bag them in portion sizes instead of in gallon bags and freeze - in addition to being easy access for quick meals (breast for sandwiches, thigh and back meat for lunch salads and dinners), I like to leave them frozen for instant refrigeration - I make a sandwich or salad with the frozen chicken, and by lunchtime it's defrosted but still cold.
Our biggest help was to embrace stir-fry. Not necessarily Asian every night, but a typical night at our house consists of walking in the door, putting water on the boil and turning on the heat on a huge saute pan, and immediately tossing lentils, cous cous, etc in the water and whatever veggies are closest to turning into some olive oil. Then we pick a region: if French, we add rosemary and goat cheese; Italy, tomatoes or oregano; Indian, curry powder or coriander... If we had the foresight to do brown rice or another longer cooking grain ahead of time, we skip the boil and toss the grains from the fridge in at the last minute. Delicious, changes every night, good as leftovers for lunch, and almost never takes longer than 30 mins to get it on the table:
1: pick a grain
2: Saute lots of veggies in olive oil.
3: add pre-prepared meat, goat cheese or ricotta, or nuts for protein
I roast chickens for dinner fairly often. We eat the thighs and legs because they're the best parts, then I chop up the breasts and make a chicken salad with homemade mayo and tons of chopped fresh tarragon, chopped shallots and lemon juice. It will be ok if you cheat and use Hellman's, but if you take the five minutes to make your own mayo it's transcendent.
Freekeh is available at health food stores. Do your best that's all you can do and even if 2/3 of your meals are all from scratch, it is a start and things will progress. Below two blogs that might be of interest to you, be calm and carry on as they say!
check out the Melissa Clark what's for dinner column on nytimes.com. I've made a bunch of those recipes successfully. Usually they are good, simple weeknight recipes that can support lots of variations. I would start by trying to do one additional scratch dinner per week ... Slow and steady is the key!
I think that her column is great in terms of seeing this as a process as opposed to a "fad diet" - and then having things back slide. Instead, having achievable goals and evaluating how stuff is working makes the whole process feel more successful.
In her latest column (I think it's Clark's....), she talks about how she removed all junk snack food from the house and then made 3 different kinds of snacks. She first commented that because of the difference in the food, that she and her kids weren't mindless eating as much. Then after talking to her babysitter where her kids spent one afternoon a week - apparently as soon as the kids showed up to the babysitter's house they immediately asked if there were any chips around. I don't have any huge take aways from that - but still it's an interesting column in regards to using fewer processed foods as a slower process.
So true. Real Simple mag put out a cookbook that I borrowed from the library. Their recipes are short, quick but very flavorful.
Consider roasting vegs in the oven. Cut them small and most will roast pretty quickly. The caramelization should appeal to kids (and adults). Cauliflower, parsnips and carrots are especially good this way.
Don't let the zealots discourage you. You don't have to go 100% vegan, natural, organic or whatever. Every little bit helps.
I rely heavily on my pressure cooker to get meals on the table quickly and easily. One excellent cookbook for this is "Pressure Perfect" by Lorna Sass.
Another way to beat the rush is to make things ahead and leave them in the refrigerator. For example, I try to keep my carb intake down, so breakfast for me is usually some sort of protein, rather than cereal. If I want eggs, I'll take 8 eggs, whip them up in a bowl with a bit of whatever fresh herbs I happen to have around, some salt and pepper, and maybe something like some broccoli florets, or baby spinach, and maybe some feta cheese or swiss cheese, pour into a 9X9 inch pan and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Let cool and cut into quarters. Voila! Breakfast for four days.
The Oatmeal in the Slow Cooker idea works beautifully as well, as mentioned previously. I also plan out my lunches and cook them on Sunday. I'll make a big pot of chili or veggie curry or buy a package of chicken breast tenders and bake them all. Then, I have lunch for at least 3-4 days during the week.
I used to go out behind my condo on Sunday and grill chicken breast for the week, that I would put into Greek salad for that week's lunches. My neighbors thought I was nuts (probably accurately) for standing out there in 6" of snow grilling, but hey.
The breakfast thing was always more problematic for me, as I discovered something over much trial and error -- I absolutely hate baked eggs. I never could figure out why I despised quiche in spite of liking everything that goes into it, but the whole baking thing is it. Fried, scrambled, omelets, over easy -- I'll eat any egg that's been on a stove in a skillet, but put it in the oven and my stomach turns.
Yup. Pressure cookers and/or slow cookers are your friend.
With a pressure cooker, the toughest cut of meat can be falling apart tender in forty minute (two hours in a braise in a normal pot). Potatoes take 7 to be fork tender. Rice also takes 7 minutes. I use my pressure cooker pretty near every day and, if I had to choose between a slow cooker and a pressure cooker, I'd go with the pressure cooker. Which is the choice I had to make since I have a very very small kitchen.
Rather than trying to eliminate all processed foods, I suggest that you (and your husband, if he is doing the shopping) become more active in reading food labels and cutting out the worst offenders. If you've got time to bake your own crackers and cookies, make your own broth and pasta sauce, etc, that's great, but that's a lot of work. Rather than set up what may be an impossible task, start becoming smarter about the prepared foods that you buy. Homemade red sauce for pasta is great and if you've got the time to make it up in batches and freeze, terrific; but, if not, there are jarred sauces that are relatively low in sugar & salt. Same is true of canned broths, which are a terrific pantry item to keep on hand for jump-starting home-cooked meals. Animal crackers, graham crackers, Triscuits, and wheat thins are all relatively ok snack foods to keep on hand.
If you can get your kids to eat raw vegetables, then include "baby" carrots, grape tomatoes, grapes, berries, and other finger-friendly fruits and vegetables in their packed lunches. Invest in some 1/2 cup containers to use in their lunch boxes -- that will keep the softer fruits & veggies from getting smashed.
Do your children have a microwave available at school for heating their lunches? Our son did when he was in school, so he often took home-made leftovers from dinners earlier in the week - stews, pastas, curries, etc.
My take on processed/cured meat is that I'll eat it in moderation, and only when it's good.
So a nice summer sausage or salami in a sandwich, pepperoni on a pizza, cured ham, good bacon, prosciutto, etc, but no bologna, cheap watery processed ham/chicken/turkey slices that are suspiciously regular looking, etc. Basically the same approach I take towards cheese.
I cooked two meals on Sunday - one for Sunday and Tuesday, one for Monday and Wednesday. Sunday meal was usually pot roast or chicken with all the fixings, then Tuesday would be open faced sandwiches with the leftovers. Then I'd make up taco meat (beef or chicken), for burritos one day, and taco salads on Wednesday. Or a pot of chili (with lots of vegetables)- bowls with cornbread one day, over cheese quesadillas another.
We made a big deal about 'appetizers' - vegetables with dip, but made fancy - cucumber slices with a dab of ranch dressing and a sprinkle of chives or paprika, or apple slices with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Really it was just to hold them over til dinner was heated up.