I have always loved being in the kitchen. Cooking, baking, anything that is homemade tastes better in my opinion. Enter three children in five years … lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of energy led us to boxes of cereal instead of homemade granola, yogurt with more sugar than a serving of jelly beans, and worst of all … many drive through windows.

A year after having my third child, I decided it was time for me to stop feeding my family junk and return to the kitchen. I found that there are easy ways to eliminate processed foods and increase the whole foods (think apples, oranges, carrots, etc.) and whole grains in our diets. So, six months into it…this is what I have done for my family:

At the Grocery Store:

Starting at the grocery store, I now only buy whole grain tortillas, pasta, and bread. I buy 100% natural peanut butter (the only ingredient is peanuts), and jelly that is sweetened with fruit juices. I’ve dropped the processed cheese and picked up cheddar. If I buy yogurt I always go for organic, low sugar. A lot of these items regularly go on sale at grocery stores and if you watch for sales they cost no more than their more processed counter-parts. I try to look at the ingredients and stick to things with ingredients that I am familiar with. Did you know that there is a national brand of pasta sauce with absolutely no preservatives? I didn’t until I started looking, and now that’s my brand! Just paying attention at the store will go a long way.

At Home:

At home I usually use my bread maker and whole wheat flour to make bread every other day. It takes about five minutes. It is also extremely easy to make yogurt at home, so I do that in my crock pot, and flavor it with pureed strawberries and honey. Delicious. I make whole grain muffins in a double batch, put them in a freezer bag store them in the freezer for breakfasts (thaw for 30 seconds in the microwave). My children love home made bread and they love the yogurt, especially when I make freezer pops out of it.

Replacing Foods:

Overall, I feel like they have barely noticed the switch to a less-processed diet. I still make macaroni and cheese, but now I use whole grain pasta. I still make chicken nuggets, but I make them from cut up chicken dipped in bread crumbs instead of buying them from the freezer section at the store. For snacks instead of fruit snacks or cheese crackers, I now do fruit, carrots and ranch (I’m not completely processed free!), and unsweetened apple sauce, or a granola bar that is not loaded down with High Fructose Corn Syrup and sugar. These easy changes really add up to a much healthier diet, and good habits. I used to put a sandwich, chips and fruit on my child’s plate at lunch time. Now I put a sandwich, and two kinds of fruit. They have never said a word about the change.

Do I ever still use processed foods? Yes. Absolutely.