What I Accepted: The October Unprocessed Challenge

You may have noticed a new badge appeared in the side-column of my blog a few weeks ago. Today marks the first day of the October Unprocessed Challenge -- 20 hours in and I'm still going strong! The challenge was initiated by Andrew Wilder in 2009, who currently blogs at Eating Rules. What began as a challenge among friends ballooned into a pledge accepted by over 3,000 people in 2011. This year nearly 5,000 people have signed up to spend the month eating meals that lack processed ingredients.

Clearly, given the title of my blog, this sort of thing is right up my alley. Not since I first started this blog have I truly tried to avoid processed foods in all their shapes and forms. Truth be told, I've gotten a little lazy with my diet and have added in quite a few more "convenience foods" (aka frozen pizza and other treats) than I would like. So, in order to set things back in balance, I decided to take part in this challenge and remind myself how easy -- and let's face it, sometimes how hard -- it is to eat unprocessed foods.

Let's take a look at the "rules" of the challenge. Wilder defines unprocessed food as "any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients." Wilder refers to this definition as the "kitchen test." Basically, if you can read the label of a food product and determine that you could source all those ingredients and make it yourself at home, it passes the test.

At the outset, I think what I'm most concerned about is sweeteners. Technically, the best choices for unprocessed sweeteners are honey and pure maple syrup. Given my love for baking, I'm not entirely sure how well either of these would work as a substitute for granulated or brown sugar. (Though I think during this month I will do a little baking experimentation to see what happens.) However, apparently some raw sugars also pass the "kitchen test." While out shopping this evening at the local natural foods store, I happened upon a brand of "unrefined and unbleached" sugar, which works for me. For the most part, I am going to try to consciously limit how much sugar I eat this month, but if I want to bake up a quick bread or make a batch of cookies, I will use this raw sugar as my main sweetener.

The easiest way for me to succeed in this challenge is to plan, plan, and plan some more. Let's just say that, though I meant to put together a meal plan for this week, I haven't quite done so yet. I have a general idea of what I will eat each day, but I think I need to set up a formal plan to work from. I always tend to get in trouble when 5p rolls around and I haven't thought of a dinner idea -- that's exactly when we reach for the frozen pizza or run out to Subway to grab a sandwich to eat. I also need to come up with a snack plan. Right now, I think raw nuts and fruits or veggies will be my snacks of choice. (Just typing this out is giving me a major "Duh!" moment -- those are the snacks I should always reach for, rather than a handful of chocolate chips or a stick of gum to tide me over.)

As I make my way through this challenge (only 30 days to go!) I plan to share a few recipes, thoughts on how it's going, and a few of my attempts to make things from scratch. I currently have plans to bake a loaf of whole wheat bread (Gah! Yeast -- my nemesis!), make up a batch of homemade vanilla extract, and try my hand at making hazelnut coffee syrup. (A girl's gotta figure out how to flavor her lattes naturally, right?) It should be an interesting ride. Come along with me, will you?