How my family is maintaining a healthy diet

Deanna takes pride in her empty snack cupboard as her family starts to move away from processed foods.

Above: Deanna's snack cupboard now stands mostly empty. Below: Her homemade granola bars.

This weekend, as I was rushing around the kitchen pulling lunch together, I opened our pantry and was struck by how empty the top shelf was. That vision would ordinarily throw me into a “we need groceries” panic, but this time, the empty shelf actually made me stop and smile.

That particular shelf has always been our snack shelf. A snapshot of it as recently as eight weeks ago, when we first started the Today’s Parent Healthy Family Challenge, would have told an entirely different story. Back then it was filled to the brim with granola bars, apple sauce, cookies, crackers, spreadable cheese and cracker snacks, microwave popcorn and fruit gummies. Now it sits relatively empty, a shadow of its former shelf, with a few great reminders of the kinds of changes that are taking place in our kitchen.

The Challenge has ignited a new passion in me that goes beyond the basics of making healthier choices in the grocery store. I’ve recently been reading about how food is made, what is actually in our food (and its effects on our bodies) and where it makes sense to go organic and where it doesn’t.

About three weeks ago, I took my first trip to the grocery store armed with all of this new information and was beyond shocked when I read the labels of many of our regular purchases. So shocked, in fact, that after 45 minutes my cart was still basically empty because I kept putting things back on the shelves. I’ll never forget looking at the package of bread crumbs that I usually buy to make our beloved lean ground turkey meatballs and seeing more than 20 ingredients listed on the container. Twenty ingredients? In bread crumbs? Sitting next to it was a package of Panko with four ingredients — all of which I recognized.

So this is my new mission: I’ve been doing my best to move our family away from processed food (and ingredients we don’t understand), to buy the organic versions of the 12 fruits and vegetables that are the worst pesticide and chemical offenders (the dirty dozen) and to make the snacks that we’ve always enjoyed from scratch. I have also made a new friend when it comes to shopping healthy — the bulk food store.

So now, instead of a top shelf full of boxes, we now have popcorn for the air popper, rice crackers to go along with real cheese, unsweetened apple sauce, steel cut oat packs and some of the family favourite cheese fish snacks. We’ve got a fridge stocked with fruit, vegetables, hummus, yogurt and cheese and homemade granola bars along with apple sauce and cocoa brownies on the counter.

Old Mother Hubbard didn’t know she was onto something back in 1805. There really is nothing wrong with a bare cupboard.