The Elimination Experiment

Our family has been lucky (*knocks on wood*) to NOT live with food allergies.  However, I know that many other families are living with food restrictions either by choice or by necessity.  I wanted to put our family to the test in a few popular food elimination categories for a few key reasons:

1.) To appreciate the challenges that families face who don’t have a choice.

2.) To figure out if we really need these foods in our lives.

3.) To understand how we feel without these foods.

We’ll be eliminating the food categories below one week at a time (beginning Monday, June 29)*.  At the end of each week, we’ll re-introduce the food before eliminating the next.  Along the way, I’ll post related recipes, articles, and will document our successes and struggles.

I’m a true believer in balance and moderation with all foods.  We will most likely re-introduce each of these food categories to our diet once the experiment is over.  The knowledge we gain along the way, though, will be worth the effort to live without dairy, meat, and gluten for a short period of time.

Wanna join in?  Use #ThreePlatesEE to join the conversation.

Week 1: Dairy

This is one category I’ve eliminated in the past before an important (running) race.  It’s a new one for the rest of the family, though.  There are many benefits to consuming dairy: calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.  However, too much dairy – even real and pure varieties – adds a significant amount of cholesterol and saturated fat to the diet.

  • Foods we’ll be eliminating: milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt
  • Foods we’ll be increasing in our diet as alternatives: broccoli (calcium), kale (calcium), figs (calcium), salmon (calcium, vitamin D, and protein), white beans (calcium, potassium, and protein), almonds (calcium and protein), mushrooms (vitamin D), eggs (vitamin D), sweet potatoes (potassium), tomato sauce (potassium), bananas (potassium)

Note: Because our kids are still growing, we’ll continue to allow them to drink milk throughout this week.  They each drink approximately 8-10 ounces per day.

Week 2: Meat

Even though we try to follow the “Meatless Monday” trend, we otherwise rely heavily on meat to round out our meals – especially dinner.  While there are many humane issues with meat consumption, there are also others.  Meat is expensive – especially organic meat that we choose to consume.  Meat production also negatively impacts the environment.  Did you know that 30% of the world’s ice-free surface is used to raise grains, fruits, and vegetables just for the chickens, pigs, and cattle that we eventually eat?  That’s a mind-boggling statistic.  Despite all of that, meat is an excellent source of protein which the body needs.

  • Foods we’ll be eliminating: chicken, beef, turkey, and pork
  • Foods we’ll be increasing in our diet as alternatives: fish, eggs, nuts, beans, quinoa, nut butter, and chia seeds

Week 3: Gluten

Oh, gluten.  How I love thee.  I’m anticipating this to be the most challenging elimination category for my family.  We rely on (and love) many whole-wheat staples: pancakes, bread, pasta, muffins…I could go on forever.  However, too much gluten can cause bloating and can distract tiny eaters from eating other healthy foods.

  • Foods we’ll be eliminating: everything made with flour
  • Foods we’ll be increasing in our diet as alternatives: rice, quinoa, brown rice pasta, and nut flours.

*This is not a typical elimination diet to identify true food intolerances.  If you believe you may have a food intolerance, consult your physician for guidance.

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Recipe: Roasted Garlic and Herb Butter

Compound butters are extremely versatile and can be extremely useful for a real food household.  Prior to our real food switch, my husband and I relied on pre-seasoned sides as part of our regular meals.  Knowing what we know now, we steer clear of most pre-seasoned anything to avoid unnecessary artificial preservatives.

Adding things like homemade compound butters to your fridge from time to time makes it easier to bump up flavors in everyday dishes.  Here are some ways this delicious roasted garlic and herb butter can be used:

  • Stir a tablespoon or two into cooked brown rice or whole wheat pasta
  • Spread on whole wheat bread or biscuits
  • Top a hot grilled steak, fish filet, or chicken breast with a pat
  • Use it instead of plain butter on grilled cheese or a panini

Enjoy!

Roasted Garlic and Herb Butter_3P

Roasted Garlic and Herb Butter_Recipe

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Recipe: Banana Nut Muffins

Banana nut anything brings me back to my childhood.  I’ve been searching for a real-food alternative to the traditional recipes that include refined white sugar.  This recipe from “The Family Cooks” cookbook by Laurie David (one of my all time favorite cookbooks, by the way) is exactly what I was looking for.  The credit for this delicious recipe is all given to “The Family Cooks”.  I couldn’t find their original recipe posted online, so I’m reposting it here because it’s just too good to keep to myself.  I only modified it by adding vanilla and pecans.  The key to this recipe is using very ripe bananas for the right sweetness and texture.

Enjoy!

Banana Nut Muffins

Banana Nut Muffins_Recipe

 

 

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Recipe: Avocado Hummus

Whenever I need a no fuss lunch that I know my kids will gobble up, I turn to guacamole and hummus (along with carrots, crackers, cheese, and almonds to round out the meal).  They go nuts for it and it’s packed with beneficial nutrients.  So, I decided to get creative and combine the two, and…VOILA…Avocado Hummus!

Enjoy!

Avocado Hummus

 

Avocado Hummus_recipe

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The Right to Choose

My kids are becoming more involved in activities outside of the home with school, soccer, and birthday parties.  It has been a wake-up call for me that they will be – and are – making more and more food choices on their own.  I’d love to keep them in our wholesome at-home nutrition bubble, but that’s just not realistic.

My husband and I have always been honest with them and teach them about what they’re eating – including when we eat foods that aren’t the norm for us that we eat from time to time (e.g. cake at a birthday party).  Little did we know that they were actually paying attention and absorbing most of what we have been saying about food.

When they began playing in a local indoor soccer league recently, I cringed when the dreaded post-game snack sign-up sheet made its way around the bleachers.  It was as if it was coming at me in slow motion as I yelled “Nooooooooooo!” in my own head.  Why do 3 and 4-year-olds need a snack after 45 minutes of no-impact soccer chaos?  Especially when that snack is put into their hands after they’ve most likely already eaten dinner and are headed to bed soon.  My initial reaction was to contact the program director (I’m passive aggressive like that) to ask that a no snack policy be put in place.  The soccer league was taking place at a local health club, after all.

After giving it some thought, I decided to let it go and instead use it as a lesson for my kids.  It turned out to be more valuable than the initial plan of trying to ban snack.  Instead of begging to eat the snacks (Rice Krispie treats, jumbo Capri Suns, fruit snacks – just to name a few) that were graciously given to them by their peers, my kids would immediately ask “Is this yuck?”.  On our walk to the car after each game, we would talk about why the snack in hand was, in fact, “yuck” and that it wasn’t real food.  They were always given the option to try one bite of each snack, too, because completely banning it can very easily backfire.  So, what did we hand out when it was our turn to bring snack?  Mini water bottles, mini bananas, and individual bags of natural popcorn.  All of which were a hit with the team.

In addition to asking if food is “yuck”, they also ask if food is “real or fake”, or “does that food make me run fast or slow?”.  It’s a proud parenting moment to witness them making their own logical decisions.  That old saying “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” rings so true in this life lesson that my husband and I are instilling in our kids.  Teaching them about food is much more valuable than just hiding it from them or banning it.

Continue to praise healthy choices with your kids and be open and honest about what their food is made of and where it comes from.  It’s amazing what food empowerment can do for kids…and us as parents.

Here are some easy ways to get your kids excited about healthy food:

  • Be honest about where their food comes from: the farm, a tree, an animal, the ocean.  We had mahi mahi for dinner the other night and showed the kids a picture of a real mahi mahi fish in the ocean.  They were amazed!
  • Let them choose a component of a meal from time to time and help you with age-appropriate kitchen tasks.
  • Bring them to your local Farmers’ Market (or better yet…a farm) to meet a real life farmer and see his/her yummy produce.
  • Sit down with a pile of cookbooks and let them choose a special (healthy) treat to make.
  • Plant a garden or simple potted herbs and put them in charge of watering the crop (with your assistance).
  • Describe food benefits in realistic ways they can understand.  For example, instead of  telling your child that chicken is a good source of protein, tell him that chicken will give him big muscles.
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Recipe: Cinnamon Maple Yogurt

Yogurt has many health benefits including protein and probiotics , but mainstream pre-packaged varieties contain added refined sugar (some with more sugar than a Twinkie) and added food dyes.  Believe it or not some yogurt companies even use carmine – a dye extracted from the dried, pulverized bodies of cochineal insects – to give several varieties of fruit-flavored yogurt their pink color.  BUGS!  No, thanks.

An alternative to mainstream yogurt is flavoring full-fat plain yogurt yourself.  Our favorite way to flavor it is with a drizzle of pure maple syrup (medium amber) and a dash of cinnamon.  Here are some other ways you can flavor plain yogurt:

  • Chopped fresh strawberries or peaches
  • Homemade berry sauce
  • Homemade chocolate sauce
  • A few drops of pure vanilla extract
  • A spoonful of pure pumpkin puree and a dash of nutmeg

Enjoy!

Cinnamon Maple Yogurt

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Recipe: Peanut Butter Banana Spread

I’ve never been a fan of Elvis, but maybe he was on to something with his famous peanut butter banana cravings.

My family has been in a bit of a breakfast rut, so it was time to shake things up (I promise, that’s as close as I’ll get to Elvis puns) and come up with something new that was both wholesome and delicious.  My two boys are peanut butter addicts like me, so this recipe is a no-brainer for them.  My daughter is hit or miss with PB.  She totally dug this Peanut Butter Banana spread, though.

The great thing about this recipe is that you most likely already have all of the ingredients in your pantry.  The other great thing?  It can be whipped up in about 5 minutes.  Oh, wait, there’s one more great thing: it’s extremely versatile.  Serve it on a whole-wheat tortilla, whole-wheat toast, as a fruit dip, or spread it on whole-wheat crackers for a snack.

Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Banana Spread

Peanut Butter Banana Spread_Recipe

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Recipe: Crab Cakes

I love crab cakes, but I hate COOKING crab cakes.  Every time I attempt the traditional method of pan searing them, I always get frustrated when a majority of them completely fall apart.  So, I decided to make up my own recipe and foolproof method.  Bonus: they’re baked instead of pan-fried.

This recipe is deliciously non-traditional with brown rice instead of breadcrumbs…and bacon!  Bake these in standard-size muffin tins for a family meal, or use a mini muffin pan for a bite-sized party appetizer.

Enjoy!

Crab Cakes

Crab Cake Recipe

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Recipe: Whipped Chocolate Fruit Dip

What’s that old saying?  “Necessity breeds brilliance”?  Well, one day last week I had promised my kids that I would make them our favorite whole wheat waffles for breakfast.  I checked the fridge for pure medium amber maple syrup (that’s the only variety we use for waffles and pancakes because it’s not as harsh as dark amber).  GONE!  I frantically checked the pantry.  NONE!  Well, just dark amber which we only use in recipes.  My kids know the difference, too, so it wasn’t gonna fly with them.  Frankly, I don’t blame them.  I’m not a fan of dark amber syrup on my waffles either.

If you’re a parent you know that toddlers have steel-trap memory, so there was no getting out of my waffle promise.

So, I turned to my go-to cookbook for inspiration.  I whipped up some homemade whipped cream and homemade chocolate sauce as our waffle toppings.  It was a big hit!

Then one day, I had what I like to call a “lightbulb moment” and combined the two for a yummy fruit dip.  I haven’t had a Wendy’s frosty for a really long time, but this dip tastes exactly how I remember it tasting.

Enjoy!

Whipped Chocolate Fruit Dip

Whipped Chocolate Fruit Dip_Recipe

 

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Recipe: Spinach Carrot Hot Slaw

I recently purchased a 5-pound bag of whole, organic carrots.  Why so many?  For no other reason than they were ridiculously cheap and I’m a sucker for a sale.  So, carrots made an appearance almost in everything that week.  One of the side dishes that was a result of my impulse carrot purchase was this yummy spinach carrot hot slaw.  There are probably laws against calling a dish slaw if it doesn’t have some kind of mayo or vinegar dressing.  Oh well.  This recipe does not have a sauce, but “slaw” just seemed like the best way to describe it.  I’m such a rebel.

Because spinach wilts quite a bit as it cooks, the yield for this recipe is on the small side.  In fact, we used it as a topping for our chicken when we made it.  You could definitely double or triple it to make it more of a hearty side dish, though.

Spinach Carrot Hot Slaw | Three Plates

 

Spinach Carrot Hot Slaw_Recipe Image

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