Eating Clean: How to Eliminate Processed Foods as a Family

Today’s episode covers what it means to eliminate processed foods and sugars from your family’s diet. We talk about eating clean, why it’s so hard to get the kids – and sometimes our spouses – on board, and some simple changes you can make that will help you get started.

This 6th season of the MOMables Podcast is all about helping you live a healthier lifestyle as a family.

Topics discussed this episode:

  • What is clean eating?
  • Simple changes to help you eliminate processed foods
  • Best clean foods to eat with your family
  • Foods to avoid when eating clean
  • How to get kids interested in cleaner recipes

This episode is brought to you the Family KickStart Program. This is MOMables’s whole-food program designed for families who want to eliminate processed foods and sugars for 30 days without feeling like they are giving up the recipes families love

More information about the Family KickStart Program here.

I am super excited for this new season of podcasts. My gosh, we are on season six.

This season we are going to talk about all things “healthy” eating as a family. I made air quotes around the word healthy because this means something different for each of us.

What this season is all about is how we eliminate processed foods and added sugars from our family’s diet and incorporate more fresh foods like veggies and fruits into our meals.

I’ve personally done my share of diets and whole food programs in the last decade. I’ve eaten low carb, low fat, keto for about 18 months, grain-free and paleo for seven years. And I’ve done quite a few sugar detoxes and three rounds of the Whole30 programs.

Now that I read it out loud I guess you could say I’ve tried a lot of things. But for the most part, I did these by myself for health reasons. And over time, I noticed that my kids were still eating foods that I was eliminating.

So, over the years, I wondered, how can I get my kids to eat the same way that I eat without making them feel like they’re missing out on their kid-favorite foods?

Well, I created my own program, which many of you are familiar with, the Family Kickstart Program. It was created to reset the way my family ate, again, without feeling like they were giving up on their favorite recipes.

So this season, you’ll learn all of my tips on how you can eat healthier with your family as well. I just know that you’re going to get so much out of this season of podcasts.

image: Mom and son eating healthy food at a table together.

What is Clean Eating?

Yeah, so there are a lot of definitions for clean eating, and a lot of them on the internet really revolve about the foods you can’t eat. So when people want to incorporate more clean recipes, they’re like, “Oh, I can’t have this or that” and there’s a long list.

So for our season of podcasts and our conversations, in short, clean eating involves choosing whole foods, avoiding processed artificial foods and ingredients.

It’s really not a diet, but about a lifestyle of choices. And when you think of it as like making choices it is something that you can do with your family. So clean eating, in short, is whole real food, fresh foods, foods that need to be cooked. And I think that’s really something that we can all agree on.

What are Simple Changes Parents Can Make To Start a Clean Eating Lifestyle?

Everything gets so much healthier when you are getting in your own kitchen and making food yourself. But there are a lot of simple changes you can make to get started.

1: Make food at home

I know, we often eat out of convenience or because quite frankly, we couldn’t get it together to make dinner. We’ve all been there, leaving practice with the kids late and everybody is in the car and they’re hungry and it’s just easier to drive through somewhere.

But in short, making food at home is the best place to start. I know you’re thinking “well okay, so I have screaming kids in the car, and how do I feed them?” That may need a little bit of meal prep so that you can tell your kids Hey guys, we’re literally 10 minutes from home and all I have to do is warm up dinner because it’s already ready.

2. Meal Prep

Meal prep doesn’t have to mean that you spend your entire Sunday making all of the meals for the week.

Meal Prep may mean just making mini-meals throughout the week or grilling extra portions, or cooking extra portions of one food item. So the next day it’s ready to be eaten or you just have to heat and assemble.

I share more tips on how to store and re-use leftovers in your meal preps here.

3. Healthier Snacks

When it comes to eliminating processed and pre-packaged foods, it’s not always mealtimes that are the hardest part. A lot of families eat the most processed foods during the day at snack time.

I know we’re going to talk a lot about snacking in this podcast season because that’s something like it’s our downfall, right?

My kids are hungry or I’m starving and it’s so much easier to grab a bar, and go, Okay, this bar just gave me 15 grams of protein and all these minerals it is almost like taking a multivitamin in a bar, right? So it’s kind of like oh yeah, I can kind of feel good about that, right?

But oftentimes, in order to get those things we’re actually taking in a lot of added sugars. So the quality of the snacks or bars you are eating is super important. Unfortunately, most pre-packaged snack foods are just not good choices, even if they are marketed as “health” foods.

In the Family KickStart program, we literally give you an entire snack list for the 30 days, so that you can be prepared with kid-approved healthy snacks. But you can find Healthy Snack Recipes on my website to get you started too.

So the three simple changes parents can make to start eating clean are:

  1. Plan your meals because you have to plan to eat well and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It just means plan 2 or 3 recipes for the week and then stretch those out for the full week.
  2. Make your own food or make most of the food you are eating by strategically meal prepping your food.
  3. Eliminated packaged foods/snacks. Remember, there’s a difference between real food that’s been conveniently packaged (like a single-serve bag of almonds) and highly processed foods that have long-term shelf stability.

Which Foods are Best when Clean Eating?

This is such an important question because even when we go to the doctor, say like you’re newly diagnosed with a food allergy and the doctor gives you a list of foods you need to avoid.

The internet is full of lists of things you cannot have, right? Immediately this sets your mind to feel deprivation. Like “oh, I’m going to be missing out if I eat clean”.

I know I want to eat clean, but I don’t want to miss out on Pancakes Sunday with my kids, because we love that tradition together. And as a note, there is a way to make healthy or clean pancakes for any dietary style. Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free or dairy-free. You can even make clean pancakes!

Here’s a quick list of recommended foods to focus on enjoying when you are eating clean, with a little bit more information about some of them under the list.

  • Complex or good carbs – examples of this would be if you can eat grains, whole grains or things like rice instead of white bread.
  • Lots of Veggies
  • Lots of Fruit
  • Lean Meat
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Coffee/Tea (unsweetened)

Fruit

In the Family KickStart Program, we do recommend that it’s enjoyed in moderation, especially as an adult because while fruit is really good for you two or three bananas a day can add up.

If you’re running or doing triathlons or lifting heavy, that’s totally okay. But for the average person, two to three servings of fruit per day is best. A serving is different depending on your physique. For my kids, a serving is maybe half a cup, but for my husband, it’s a full cup.

I often get parents who tell me they buy grapes and put them out on the table, and then they’re gone. A bag of grapes is two to three pounds and that should not be gone in 20 minutes or in one serving.

It’s really important to teach our kids what a serving might be. Kids can easily eat a huge serving of grapes or an apple and then a banana and then all the sudden they’re not going to be hungry for dinner.

In our last season of this podcast, we talked about making sure that kids build up a little bit of appetite. This helps make sure that our kids do get most of their nutrition from our the meals that we’re putting together.

Meat

When it comes to meat, whether you eat red meat, pork, chicken, or not there are a lot of benefits from getting the nutrition that animal protein brings.

There are a lot of amino acids and different proteins that plant protein just doesn’t provide. So my vegan and vegetarian friends they make sure that their bodies have a lot of supplements and they’re receiving everything that they need. So that’s really important.

Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and they just have a lot of omega threes and bone building minerals and vitamins. So I really like eggs. At my house, we probably have eggs once a day.

Dairy

Most of us full fat dairy if you’re going to have dairy. I recommend full fat dairy because or at least 2%.

The fat in dairy helps you absorb some of the minerals and vitamins in that milk or dairy products provide, of course in moderation because we really don’t need that much. Finding a good balance is great.

Mostly, like I try to keep it to real food ingredients. Think if all of this box things in a grocery store were eliminated. What would you be left with? Everything that comes either from an animal or from the ground. That is clean eating.

More Things to Enjoy When Eating Clean

I know a lot of the time when clean eating is mentioned people immediately think “I need to eat a salad every day.” And while I do love a good salad for lunch, that’s not the end of the story!

You can have awesome meals like slow cooker vegetable soup or other recipes that a packed with nutrition but are also delicious and fulfilling. The recipes are out there.

For the most part, if it doesn’t require you to add lots of canned or pre-packaged ingredients, it’s probably a pretty clean recipe!

I still remember, when I first came to the United States I went to a friend’s house and they served this creamy pasta dish and it was so delicious.

I asked my friend’s mom “what is this, I want my mom to make this!” and she walked over to the pantry and pulls out a box and said “just mix this with milk”. And I looked at my plate shocked. I told my husband years later, I have got to come up with a clean version of beef stroganoff. And he was like, that’s so random. But that was one of the first packaged meals I’d had that I loved.

All that to say, the key to clean eating as a family is to find those recipes that are family favorites and figure out a way to make them simpler, and without the need of a box.

These days, there are lots of freezer meals you can make. It’s a great shortcut to help you eat more meals at home. Simply double a recipe, and freeze half of it for another night.

There are so many shortcuts to eating clean, it’s easy to forget how doable it is. But finding those shortcuts that work for your family is the best way to succeed at a cleaner lifestyle, and not just a diet.

How Do You Meal Plan Without Feeling Restricted by Clean Ingredients?

In the previous season of this podcast we talked about theme nights and meal planning as a whole family. But here’s the truth. If you struggle to meal plan or creatively tweak recipes to make them healthier, get help. Go find recipes!

One of the reasons I share so many recipes on both of my sites and in my YouTube videos is because I want to encourage you to feel good about the food that you’re serving your family and the food that you’re eating.

A few ways I try to make the meal planning process easier are:

Make Sure Everyone in the family has something they love on the menu

Each week, make sure everyone in the family gets something they love. I have one son who loves pizza, so once a week we have pizza night. Even when we’re doing Family KickStart I incorporate a cleaner version of pizza so he’s still getting his favorite meal.

It’s not about eliminating everything and serving all new foods that only mom likes because they’re “good for you”

Make Healthy Pantry Staples in Bulk

Some foods that seem healthy actually have a lot of hidden sugars. For these items, I’ll make them in bulk at the beginning of the week to have them to last for awhile. A few things I like to keep on hand are:

We are going to talk a lot more about meal planning while clean eating in the next episode but these ideas can get you started.

Stages of Clean Eating

You don’t have to do everything all at once. It’s about taking good steps in a healthier direction and building a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain.

In the early stages just try to eliminate processed foods by cleaning up what you’re taking in.

Then, there’s maintenance mode, meaning you eat a pretty healthy idet but want to tweak a few things.

In this stage, you’ll want to look in your pantry and see what substitutes you can find to clean up some basic ingredients. This is where you might start making that homemade ketchup or experimenting with other ingredient swaps.

For one of my kids, ketchup is practically a vegetable. He loves ketchup and uses it on everything, so this was a high priority to replace in my house because store-bought ketchup has a lot of sugar per tablespoon.

When making these swaps, make sure that the ingredient you are using is as close to its natural state as possible.

Evaluate Your Food

To start eating clean, begin by evaluating what that will look like for your family. Go to the fridge and pantry and see what you could eliminate or buy a slightly better version of, or use a little less.

Evaluating what you are eating now and where you’d like your family to be is an important first step when it comes to eating clean and eliminating processed foods as a family.

When looking around your kitchen today ask yourself “how can we enjoy the things my family already likes to eat in a cleaner way“. With that, you’ll be well on your way to eating clean as a family!

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About MOMables - Laura

Mom to 3 kids, obsessed with coffee, meal planning, and helping you cook fresh meals for your family fast!