a peek inside the fishbowl

25 Oct, 2010

Know More Do More: Can you give one processed food the heave ho

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Know More Do More|Recipes and Food

First, yes, that was my family in the Citizen on Saturday.

I have been watching the comments on the story, mostly because news sites attract all kinds of yahoos and I am curious to see what they’d say. There’s only one comment over there right now, and it’s about carbohydrates. I guess I didn’t make myself very clear. The point of the sugar fast was to gain some awareness about the added sugars in the foods we eat. I never said we’d be cutting out foods that have naturally occurring sugars – fruit and regular milk and bread. I wasn’t going to make my kids do South Beach in the name of good health.

Also, I recently received an email from someone who has virtually eliminated her family’s intake of refined sugars, and has been doing so since last NOVEMBER. So really, in the grand scheme of things, this was no biggie. :)

Anyway, let’s move on.

I’ve stumbled off the KMDM bandwagon. There I said it. I’m feeling mild burnout setting in. I’m as passionate about all of this as ever but I feel like it’s slowly taking over my brain. HELP ME.

Last week I drew a tip about pedometers, and giving one to the whole family so we can count our steps and compare. I think I might still do it, but last week I just wasn’t able to pull it together.

The sugar fast has got me thinking even more about the foods we eat. I’m wondering, (1) if you wanted to wean your family off processed foods, where would be the best place to begin? And (2) if you could remove or switch out ONE processed food, which one could it be?

We’re not perfect in the processed foods department. We eat our fair share, notably, cereal, bread, chips, orange juice (YES, it’s processed, even though it says 100% juice on the label), etc. etc.

I have major weak spots too. I’ve mentioned this before: I love the taste of fake cheese. Cheezies, cheesy tortilla chip dip, cheeze whiz on celery – OMG, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Which is why I don’t buy it.

I know a lot of folks out there want to reduce the amount of processed foods they eat too. Question is: where to begin? It can be so overwhelming, and I don’t think going cold turkey is the answer.

Here are (what I think) are ten foods you can easily cut out (or replace with other things) and help reduce the amount of processed foods you’re eating. I would love to hear if you have anything to add here.

1) Margarine
This has become our the food we’ve totally ditched. We ran out of margarine a couple months ago and never bought it again. I realized I was just buying it because it’s easy to spread. It’s got all kinds of oils in there that I don’t need to be eating. You know what grosses me out? Hydrogenated oil. It’s basically oil made into a solid form. Picture it on your thighs (*shudder*) or enveloping your heart. If you want something spreadable for your toast in the morning, get thee a butter bell, or substitute a different spread, like olive oil or …

2) Peanut butter
We made the switch to natural peanut butter during our sugar fast and I haven’t bothered to replace it. Natural peanut butter is really good. It’s worth trying.

3) Hamburger Helper –or any other pre-packaged rice/noodle-based side dishes. Find a couple of recipes that use real rice and add your own seasonings. They really don’t take long to make, I swear.

4) Shake n’ Bake-style chicken coating and taco seasoning.
It’s so easy to make your own (here’s a great recipe). It’s delicious and much better for you. Here’s Stefania’s yummy recipe for taco seasoning too. Until now I’ve just been dumping salsa in with the meat while it’s browning, but this looks better.)

5) Microwave popcorn.
Do you know what they put in that stuff? Just buy the regular dry corn kernels and make it on the stove or in a hot-air popper.  (I have a post about it here, read the comments for some great ideas. Clearly you all had a lot to say about popcorn!)

6) Hot chocolate/chocolate milk mixes. 
They often contain ingredients that have been hydrogenated. It’s just as easy to make your own! (Or how about a hot vanilla instead?) (Recipe here.) What I’ve been doing lately is stirring 1 1/2 tsp of cocoa with an equal amount of sugar and milk to make a paste. I warm 1 cup of milk and add to the paste, along with a splash of vanilla. It’s fantastic.

7) Cookies.
These might be harder to replace, especially if you’re not a baker and you have a thing for Oreos. BUT it is possible to find cookies that don’t have HFCS (which in Canada is referred to on labels as “glucose/fructose” … just be prepared to spend some time in the grocery aisle.)

8) Chicken nuggets – there’s no reason to be eating these. If you saw the episode of Food Revolution when Jamie Oliver made them for kids you will know what I’m talking about. I know it’s fast and convenient and you’re pressed for time, but they are easy to make your own. And it’s worth it. Your kids are worth it. (A huge list of chicken nugget recipes posted here.)

9) Tinned meats and children’s canned pastas (Beefaroni type stuff). So easy to boil up some pasta and add your own sauce. Right?

10) What else would you add that’s easy to replace? I want to hear your ideas!

Are you willing to get rid of ONE processed food? If so, what is it?

The activity for this coming week is the one I couldn’t pull off last week:

Borrow pedometers from the library or public health unit and see who takes the most steps. Children should take approximately 11,000 to 13,000 steps per day.

Wish me luck!

This post is part of the Know More Do More initiative which was spearheaded by the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network. KMDM is about empowering parents and inspiring them to take charge of their children’s health by taking easy steps to increase activity levels and improve eating habits. I’m one of two champion families who has been asked to take this challenge. You can join too. Check out the official website for more information. If you’re blogging about your participation, please let me know so we can cheer each other on! You can read all of my past weekly challenges here.

26 Responses to "Know More Do More: Can you give one processed food the heave ho"

1 | julie

October 25th, 2010 at 10:05 am


frozen french fries. mmm. salty fried potato goodness. I used to eat them from the freezer, not even bothering to cook them.
Now I make fresh sweet potato fries in the same amount of time it takes to cook the frozen ones. Tossed with a bit of olive oil and cumin baked at 400ish, much better for us.

2 | Betsy Mae

October 25th, 2010 at 1:42 pm


We used to eat LOADS of mircrowave popcorn until it occurred to me that it wasn’t actually healthy. I prefer the air popped stuff anyway,

Salad dressing is a good one, it’s inexpensive and simple to make and tastes better homemade.

Pancakes are another really easy thing to make from scratch yet people buy the mixes or frozen ones all the time….hmmm although I’m realizing that most of what goes into pancakes is processed isn’t it. hmmm.

Soup, especially broth which you discovered not so long ago is easy peasy to make. Homeade soup is so easy that even people who don’t like cooking can easily make a basic soup from scratch that will taste better than anything out of a can.

3 | Melanie

October 25th, 2010 at 1:52 pm


I only eat 2 things on that list, margarine and peanut butter…probably cause I don’t have kids : ) but you’ve inspired me to give those up and find alternatives!
maybe i’ll give up frozen fries, too…or potato chips.
ps. i read the Citizen article on Sat. but comments weren’t enabled then. EXCELLENT job to you and your family!!!

4 | Ginger

October 25th, 2010 at 2:14 pm


I am so happy that most of those things on that list I have already given up or found alternatives to! Yea! A step in the right direction. I have always been a reader of labels but lately I have been reading them even more. I am finding hydrogenated oil in EVERYTHING…or at least in things I didn’t think I would find it in. I was shocked when I heard a news story that said just because the label said 0 trans fats didn’t mean that was necessarily true. That is when I started scouring labels again. The boys get a cereal bar some mornings and I found that the store brand had partially hydrogenated oil in it and the name brand didn’t. I now pay more for the name brand but I feel better about giving it to the boys. Yes it has HFCS in it…but baby steps around here!

I am going to check out some of those chicken nuggets recipes. I will admit I have been lazy about this. I saw that episode you are talking about and every time I heat them up for Dean I feel sick about it. But they are one of the very few foods I can get him to eat and I haven’t taken the time to make them myself. But I am going to make that my goal because he does matter and I really don’t mind making them…I just have to figure it out and do it!

I could go on, but this comment is quite long enough! :)

5 | Valerie

October 25th, 2010 at 2:23 pm


Thanks to your previous posts, we’ve already made some switches like the peanut butter and giving up (most) canned soups. I’m more aware of sodium than ever before and it’s freaking me out how much there is in things!

We make fries the way Julie does, though just with regular potatoes. And we don’t use much white sugar but do use honey & maple syrup (and brown sugar in our coffee, oops).

Little steps… :)

6 | Valerie

October 25th, 2010 at 2:28 pm


I didn’t realize the dreaded HFCS that I’ve read about is glucose/fructose here – I just thought we had less of it. Yuck – now I have something else to think about. :~/

7 | Darcy

October 25th, 2010 at 2:46 pm


Sugar Question:

Do you, or anyone else know why on Nutrition Facts on food there is no Daily Value percentage listed for sugar?

I think there is probably a recommended daily amount, like there is for sodium, but no package contains a percentage for sugar.

Just curious why.

8 | Capital Mom

October 25th, 2010 at 2:47 pm


I have sometimes thought about buying a microwave just so I could have microwaved popcorn. mmm. But air popped is just as good.

9 | Liz

October 25th, 2010 at 2:49 pm


I think you did an awesome job! Thanks for the link to the nuggets . . . that and an air popper for my popcorn are next on my delete list :)

10 | Rae

October 25th, 2010 at 4:20 pm


We already avoid most of these, because I hate the taste.

My 8 yo can even make “Lilyburger Helper” with some meat/pasta/spices. It’s good! The hard one for me is Margarine. I think we could switch to butter though.. I will do that when the tub we have is done, otherwise – waste!

11 | Binki

October 25th, 2010 at 4:27 pm


Natural (100% peanuts and only peanuts and nothing else) peanut butter is good for you.

And it’s sooo good!

12 | Vicki

October 25th, 2010 at 5:01 pm


For an easy, encouraging and gratifying way to stick with a walking and pedometer regimen, check out the Government of Ontario’s Pedometer Challenge Web site at:


Some friends and I have been using this site, gently encouraging each other, competing against no one other than ourselves … and having some fun with it in the process. At the end of this year, I will have been wearing a pedometer for 4 years and will have topped 17 million steps (almost 13,000 km) over that time. From a modest start, I now average close to 12,000 steps or about 9 km a day. I rack up those steps walking my dogs, running errands in my neighbourhood, using public transit … and you can even build up a surprising number of steps doing housework and chores, taking stairs instead of an escalator, getting off one subway or bus stop early on your way home, etc., etc. I trust you and your family are already up on the countless fitness, health and even mental well-being benefits of walking. Enjoy!

13 | bushidoka

October 25th, 2010 at 5:58 pm


I’ve got easy home made recipes for several of the items you list, if you do not mind me putting in a shameless plug for myself

Hamburger Helper is “goulash”, and yeah, technically macaroni elbows are processed, but so is most rice. I use whole wheat elbows to make my own. I’ve also done it with brown rice too. Search for “goulash” on my site and you get these 3 recipes

Chicken coating is easy to make as you note – I have not done it in quite some time so do not have a pat recipe at hand. But you can use all sorts of mixtures of flour, corn meal, corn starch with a few herbs and spices. Just experiment

Popcorn can be done in the microwave but I’ve never had great results with it. It is so easy to make on the stove top, why bother farting around with the microwave. If you search my site on “popcorn” you’ll get these 2 hits which include making popcorn the old fashioned way on the stove, and how to make bacon popcorn, which I’m pretty sure would be tough to do in the microwave. And incidentally, bacon fat is pretty unprocessed. There is a movement on amongst some folks to actually get rid of the highly processed vegetable oils in favour of animal fats. Bacon fat is less processed than butter, for example. Chicken fat is really nice to make popcorn with too.

Hot chocolate/chocolate milk mixes are easy to make too. I don’t have my recipe on hand but I’ll teach you to fish, instead. Read your package of cocoa and see how much cocoa and sugar to add to make a cup of hot chocolate. See what volume the recommended – e.g. it might say 250ml. So you’d need 4 times that amount to make a litre. Then buy some powered milk and read the directions on how much to use to make a litre of milk. Measure out that amount and mix it into the mixture of cocoa and sugar and put it into a jar and give it a really good shake. Now you’ve got instant hot chocolate powder that you can just add hot water to. Sure, the powdered milk is processed.

Chicken nuggets – I am pretty sure my recipe is already in the other post that you linked to. Really easy to make and really yummy. Works with pork and other meats too.

14 | bushidoka

October 25th, 2010 at 6:02 pm


Whoops, nope, your nugget link was not a link back to your site, where I thought I’d once posted my recipe. So here it is complete with video.

15 | Carrie C

October 25th, 2010 at 7:12 pm


That’s a great list Andrea.

I started reading ingredients when I found that I had food reactions that cause severe migraines. While prepackaged and frozen foods were convenient, they were also making me sick. I have eliminated most from our pantry. The bonus is that our grocery bill is much lower because packaged foods are expensive! We spend about $100 a week for 3 people, including lunches.

I skip the frozen foods aisle almost completely, except for frozen veggies and fruit.

We stopped buying most prepared soups, as I found that homemade soups and stocks were much tastier. (I admit that I can’t give up good old Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom. We won’t talk about the sodium…)

Prepared pasta sauces are out at our home too. Once every couple of months I make sauce from scratch – using in season tomatoes or canned whole ones from our local Italian market. I freeze the sauce in meal sized portions or use it for lasagne. The store bought ones are often full of sugar, salt and preservatives and just don’t have the taste of a homemade sauce that has simmered for hours on the stove.

Another tip for the crumb coating for nuggets and other shake ‘n bake recipes: Keep a ziploc bag in the freezer and add in crushed bread crusts, the last few crackers from a package, cornflake crumbs etc. Take out what you need for a recipe and season as desired. The crumbs stay fresh, and it’s a good way to use up the tail end of things rather than tossing them.

16 | DaleAndAl

October 25th, 2010 at 9:26 pm


great list! and i’m quite happy that we don’t eat or buy most of these! i never thought about the marg and am going to change over once our tub is done! and i’ve done the natural PB before – we’ve somehow made it back to kraft but certainly could switch back over again.

i’m going to try your recipe for shake & bake, looks good! i’ve never bought it yet but my friends served it once for the kids and i thought it would be a good idea but prob salt laden and highly processed.

prob the hardest thing to give up in our house is cereal… can’t say i can go there yet… but feeling not too bad overall!

17 | bushidoka

October 26th, 2010 at 8:43 am


For anyone wishing to give up breakfast cereal and would eat oatmeal or other porridge if only it were easier to make – I give you this!

Get a large 2 litre pyrex measuring cup and use it in the microwave. For a single serving, 1/2 cup quick rolled oats, 1 cup water, 5:55 in the microwave. No need to stir or anything. For 2 servings, 1 cup oats, 2 cups water, and 8:88 seconds. Again, no stirring required.

3 or more servings and you’ll need a small crock pot and set it up the night before, because the pyrex container would boil over with more in it.

18 | andrea

October 27th, 2010 at 9:48 am


Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and links. I think I am preaching to the converted here. :)

Bottom line for me is this: we, as a society, need to make healthy eating more of a priority. Not just on a micro level (i.e. at home) but as a whole … demand great products and better farming practices etc.

It seems daunting, doesn’t it? But we can’t lose sight of the fact that we vote with our dollars. So if we don’t buy things like the new Kraft whipped peanut butter (a food product clearly invented by the Kraft marketing department to sell more peanut butter to a gullible marketplace) it will not survive.

What do you think?

19 | Tiana

October 27th, 2010 at 11:06 am


Frozen waffles and pancakes. I made a post about it just a few days ago…

20 | Jen_nifer

October 27th, 2010 at 3:26 pm


I have no idea how you kept up the enthusiasm for KMDM this long already, I’m glad to read you’re human. :)

I’m wondering if “processed food” is the right label to use here. Isn’t flour processed wheat? I’ve read others write about this idea, but I think they usually use the term “prepared”. Both terms seem a little vague.

I have tried getting rid of margarine, but my husband likes to use it for cooking and spreading on bread. I have reduced our use of it though, by putting out a fresh 1/4 cup of butter on a plate every few days over the last year.

We don’t use a lot of Peanut Butter, but I think if we used the healthier stuff it would go bad before we used it all.

I dislike most packaged cookies, I prefer mine soft. On the rare occasion I buy from the store, it’s usually the store baked ones.

We don’t do a lot of popcorn, but I might try your idea over the holidays when I’m off work and ready to experiment.

I don’t think we’re up for getting rid of our chocolate syrup anytime soon. I had a hard enough time switching from Brown Cow to Nesquik when they shut down the Hershey’s line for Brown Cow in Smiths Falls.

Despite the fact that we have a nearly 5 year old boy in the house, I’m the only one who likes Hamburger Helper or “children’s” canned pastas. They are only eaten a couple of times a year.

We don’t do a lot of frozen foods, and no one here eats chicken nuggets, but we could be doing better in reducing our fast food dinners.

For the last month or so I’ve been trying to make something the night before for breakfast for a weekday or two, and it’s been very nice. For the family I’ve made oatmeal pancakes twice, banana muffins, and oatmeal for myself a few times.

bushidoka – I’ve heard this theory/idea that animal fats are better than shortening and was making pie crusts with bacon fat this summer! My big problem is cooking enough bacon to keep up with my pie crust needs. Any ideas? Do the grocery stores even sell lard anymore?

21 | Mrsgryphon

October 27th, 2010 at 4:45 pm


The only things on that list that we have in the house regularly are peanut butter, chicken nuggets (only for nights the babysitter is coming and I can’t cook dinner first!) and hot chocolate mix. I did, however, *just* get back from the store where I bought fancy little jars to fill with our own homemade hot chocolate mix and use as Christmas gifts. I won’t be buying any more ready-made cans, promise :)

22 | Jen_nifer

October 27th, 2010 at 8:00 pm


And I forgot to mention the reason Shake n Bake sucks me in is because it tells me what temperature and how long I should cook my chicken or pork. I’m sure eventually I’ll become a better cook and be able to remember these details.

23 | Jen Hughes

October 27th, 2010 at 8:52 pm


We’ve left behind (or never ate) a lot of those things (margarine, shake coatings, hamburger helper, microwave popcorn), but we could certainly do better.

I might just have the world’s pickiest 6-year-old in the house, which makes things challenging. He loves peanut butter, so I’m clinging to the normal Kraft variety out of fear that if I switched to all-natural, he’d stop eating it altogether. Maybe someday!

I have replaced those instant oatmeal packets with the real stuff though. I add raisins, cinnamon and freshly grated apple to the fully cooked oatmeal and it’s delicious.

Great post!

24 | bushidoka

October 28th, 2010 at 7:30 am


Jen_nifer – there are lots of sources of good animal fats in our diets. For example, we buy a side of pork from local farmers and put it in the freezer. We ask specifically for extra fat and he gives us a big chunk of it. But even the regular cuts are pretty fatty, and you can trim it off and store it in a bag in the freezer until you have enough to render on the stove in a pan. Then filter with a coffee filter and store in a mason jar in the fridge.

My problem is the opposite – I have too much fat stored up in jars and cannot go through it all. Starting to make bird feeders with it :-)

25 | bushidoka

October 28th, 2010 at 7:34 am


p.s. lots of good fat to save up from cooking chickens too. And turkey. Either roasting them or otherwise. When I made this series of videos I ended up with several litres of chicken fat from making this broth, and I canned it up in 250ml mason jars


26 | LO

November 6th, 2010 at 5:32 pm


Everything in moderation.
We don’t use margarine or keep it in the house.
I am not anti sugar but prefer it in its purest forms. As for all these sweetners and sweet and lo and aspartine, we still won’t know for years if they are ‘good’ for you……..

Unfortunately for many, sometimes myself included, time and resources get in the way. It takes time to learn and read all the labels and ALL the words used for one ingredient-those manufacturers trying to trick us:)
And money-sometimes it’s cheaper to eat healthy and sometimes it isn’t.
Like everything in my life, I don’t make huge commitments I cannot keep and don’t like to say I won’t do something or have something because then I want to do it or have it: ) BUT what I have been doing is meeting things half way and on my terms and then they don’t seem so daunting and before I know it, it becomes easier and second nature and then I can improve ie running, diet, cooking better etc..

AND you should all get whirly poppers for making popcorn. It makes the BEST!

comment form:


Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Jennifer Jilks: I don't have a bucket list. I sorta live day to day!
  • Aj: Each peach, Everybody puts two feet in, king counter will say the following rhyme as they count around the circle: "Each peach pear plum out goes
  • Jenn Jilks: That is really exciting! Break a leg!
  • fun88: I was excited to discover this page. I want to to thank you for your time for this fantastic read!! I definitely liked every part of it and i also
  • Gretchen Humphrey: I had a beautiful bee& birdbath filled with a solar fountain and dozens of antique marbles that were suddenly disappearing. At first I thought my
  • Jinjer: I am sobbing reading this post. And you're right, companion is not enough. Little furry treasured gifts that they are. Thanks for sharing cutie-pi
  • Karen: Dear Andrea, Mark and your daughters I am so very sad for your family xxx Piper was/is my favourite Instagram post. You shared with us so intimately

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


Connect with me at these places too!

Still calling it Twitter