When it comes to eating a diet of whole foods and unprocessed meats, my family tends to fall on the “everything will kill you so you may as well enjoy your jerky!” side of the scale. As for me, I’m the queen of the drive-through. My reign even extends all the way to the frozen food aisle. It would seem nearly impossible therefore, to cut processed meats out of our diet.
However, that changed after reading the new findings from the World Health Organization. A recent WHO report released Oct. 26 revealed that processed meats can cause cancer and are as risky as cigarettes and asbestos. Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.
Although doctors and dieticians say that processed meat is still okay when eaten in moderation and infrequently, these findings are troublesome, especially for families who frequent delis and make a quick meal of hot dogs when life moves faster that we can. Turkey sandwiches can quickly become a go-to lunch food but it may be causing more harm than good.
That’s why I decided to try to eat clean (or as close to clean as I could get) for an entire week. I thought that if I can do it, anyone can, and so began an exciting gastrointestinal journey for my family’s wellness.
We began by cutting meat out of the equation and focusing on exciting textures, colors, and most importantly, flavors of food.
“Sometimes a child may not like a new food at first (or second or third!) Look at the textures of foods your children enjoy and continue to offer them similar tastes and textures. For example, a child who likes crunchy and salty foods may like crunchy carrot sticks or raw broccoli with soy sauce as a dip,” says Sarah Krieger, M.P.H., R.D.N., L.D.N., Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine. “It’s ok—as long as parents don’t go on and on about certain foods are better or worse, kids will try new foods eventually. It also helps to have them participate in the grocery shopping and meal preparation.”
However, processed meats are all around us when we walk through the grocery store. Standing near any given meat refrigerator, you may be flanked by hot dogs and sausages, and as your children hang off of the end of your shopping cart and whine for candy, it’s tempting to throw that pack of hotdogs into the buggy for a hassle-free dinner afterwards.
“Children usually eat what their parents or caregivers provide starting at a young age,” Krieger says. “If we only offer hot dogs as a protein source, that is all they will know. As a mom of three, I know it’s a big responsibility to offer a variety of foods to our growing children. Every meal doesn’t have to be perfect in our eyes, but our children require a variety of foods to consume the nutrients they require for growth.”
Perfect meals every day of the week are often just not something we can do. However, variety can be key in making delicious meals that are healthy and whole. Your family may not be ready to go full vegetarian—they may not even be ready to cut out junk food—but there are small steps you can take to “eat clean” that can make a huge difference.
“Look for different meal ideas with from-the-store circulars or websites,” says Krieger. “Fit4AllKids.org has a great recipe section to inspire families to try new foods. Look for ideas on other nutritious protein foods too [besides processed meat], such as eggs, meat cooked whole and then sliced for sandwiches (whole chicken, pork loin or beef roast), tofu, lentils and other beans and all types of nuts and seeds. The meal combinations are endless when you include more foods into meals and snacks.”
Eating a better diet doesn’t have to mean cutting out meat completely, but if your family should decide to become vegetarian, there are still ways that you can receive all the nutrients you would have been getting from meat. Krieger does urges families to meet with a registered dietician nutritionist before embarking on a new dietary journey that eliminates meat.
“It is absolutely possible for children to meet their nutritional needs if the family is vegetarian—especially if dairy and eggs are included. Find one [a dietician] through www.eatright.org, who specializes in vegetarian diets and even more important for a family looking into the vegan diet, which eliminates all animal sources,” she says.
As for me, what I found was that not only could my family do it, but we actually enjoyed it.
Within the first two days, I felt more alert and less sluggish than I had in weeks. Sure, I missed my sausage breakfasts, salted meats and my sugary sodas, but I quickly realized how much better I felt without them.
Cutting out (or cutting down on) processed meats can be done. Not only is it worth trying with your family, but it can open you up to a food adventure. We wouldn’t want our children to smoke cigarettes and we wouldn’t live in a home with asbestos, so why would we continue to feed them processed meats? The findings of the World Health Organization may seem grim, but your family can experience a whole new way of life through food. If everything on your plate is some variation of brown or tan (as my food often was) perhaps it is time for a healthy change.
“Too much of any food is not helpful to the body. Ever see a person turn orange from drinking too much carrot juice? That’s a sign of too many carrots!” says Krieger. “Instead of certain foods off limits 100 percent, aim for less. For example, if bacon or sausage is consumed every day, aim for weekends only instead and try other protein foods during the week.”
For more healthy recipes, visit Fit4AllKids.org.
Tips & Tricks from my Time as a Guinea Pig
One of my favorite healthy vegetarian recipes that I tried during the week was the black bean taco from Fit4AllKids. These tacos are heart healthy, gluten free, and can be enjoyed by people with diabetes. The leftovers made excellent lunches as well, which saved time when I had less meals to prepare. What’s not to love?
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium red onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
2 cans (15 oz each) low salt black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 oz) no salt added diced tomatoes
2 jalapeño peppers, minced (optional)
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
12 corn taco shells (6-inch), warmed
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped
1 large tomato, diced
2 Tbsp chopped green onions
- In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until softened.
- Stir in the beans, tomatoes, jalapeños (if using), lime juice and seasonings. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture begins to thicken.
- Evenly divide mixture among taco shells. Top with cheese, avocado, tomato and green onions.
Yield: 12 servings
Substituting healthier things into recognizable meals was key. For example, instead of completely switching to no more sandwiches, it was more effective to still make the sandwiches but without meat and with other tasty things instead. Instead of completely cutting out sugary cereals, we switched to oatmeal sweetened with raisins and fruits.
One of my favorite snacks are granola bars. The problem is, deciphering what is in them can be a headache. So, I tried this tasty granola bar recipe and needless to say, I will not be buying granola bars anymore but will make my own!
1 ½ cups crispy brown rice cereal
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup dark chocolate chips or chunks
¼ cup dried cherries, chopped
¼ cup unsalted butter¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
1teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
In a large bowl, mix to combine brown rice cereal, oats, chocolate chips, and cherries. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter, sugar, and honey together; stir. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract; stir to combine. Pour the butter/sugar mixture into the dry ingredients and gently fold together with a spatula until combined. Pour into the prepared baking pan and press the granola into the pan with greased hands or a spatula until the mixture is even. Allow to set for 5 minutes.
I am a sucker for pizza. On my most recently called list, it says (in order) “Mom, Sister, Papa John’s”. When I first decided to eat clean, the only big thing holding me back was pizza. But, alas, pepperoni is meat (and processed meat at that) and so it became a member of the DO NOT EAT list.
Until, that is, I found the Spinach Pizza recipe from Fit4AllKids. This heart-healthy, diabetes-friendly recipe is vegetarian and goes perfectly with a salad for lunch or dinner. The whole family loved it and I found myself enjoying it more than the greasy stuff.
- 1 store-bought whole wheat pizza crust (7-inch diameter)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 oz part-skim fontina or mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 tsp grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped
- Black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 450°.
- Place pizza crust on a baking sheet. Brush pizza crust with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Evenly spread garlic, fontina or mozzarella cheese and beans over pizza crust. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
- In a large bowl, toss the spinach with remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil and black pepper to taste.
- Spread the spinach leaves in the center of the pizza, leaving a border around the rim.
- Bake the pizza for 8 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the spinach is wilted.
Yield: 2 servings