How one family broke its junk food addiction

Photo by: Lisa Leake/
Granola Cereal Bars-
Lisa stocks up on these on-the-go breakfast bars which also make great lunchbox fillers.


3 1/2 cups rolled oats (if you want... more 
Photo by: Lisa Leake/
Granola Cereal Bars-
Lisa stocks up on these on-the-go breakfast bars which also make great lunchbox fillers.


3 1/2 cups rolled oats (if you want bars use steel cut oats so it will stick together better)
1 cup raw sliced almonds
1 cup raw cashew pieces
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (I could only find unsweetened at Earth Fare, which is similar to Whole Foods)
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw hulled sesame seeds (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Also need - parchment paper


Place an oven rack in the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a large rimmed rectangular baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place the oats, almonds, cashews, coconut, seeds and spices in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Heat the butter and honey together in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Stir in sea salt and vanilla. Remove from the heat. Pour the hot liquids over the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are evenly moist. Turn the granola onto the prepared pan and press firmly with a spatula to create an even layer, about 1/2 inch thick. Bake until the granola less 
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Tue, Nov 8, 2011 5:03 PM EST
The Leake family are on a real food crusade. (photo credit: Shannan Casper Photography)The Leake family are on a real food crusade. (photo credit: Shannan Casper Photography)How long could you go without junk food? Last year, the Leake family attempted to abstain for 100 days. A year later, it's still going strong. "Halfway through the first challenge I took the basket of Halloween candy I was hiding in the guest room for when we'd completed the challenge, and just threw it out," says Lisa Leake, a stay-at-home mom of two daughters, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For tips on breaking your own junk food addiction, click here.

Inspired by an Oprah interview with food activist Michael Pollan, Lisa and her husband, Jason, embarked on the challenge as a way to rethink their unhealthy eating habits. Lisa was raised on Doritos and powdered macaroni and cheese. She tried to prepare healthy meals for her daughters, Sienna, then 3 and Sydney, then 5, but like most busy moms, she relied heavily on processed frozen meals and boxed groceries that had mile-long ingredients lists and the potential to cause long-term health problems, like heart disease and diabetes. Even the foods she thought were healthy weren't as natural as she had once believed. "I was so surprised by how much food is processed," says Lisa, "like for example, bread that lists wheat as an ingredient isn't good for you unless it's made from whole wheat. You really have to study the ingredients."

In an effort to force themselves to consume more cautiously, the Leake family set some temporary guidelines: no refined grains or sweeteners, nothing deep fried, only local hormone-free meats and organic fruits and veggies and absolutely nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package with more than five ingredients listed on the label.

Lisa gave up her morning white chocolate mocha coffee drink ritual. Her husband, who works in technical sales and travels part of the month, gave up fast food pit stops on the road. But the hardest habits to break came into play when feeding the girls. An after-dinner treat meant getting creative with applesauce, fruit juice and yogurt. On grocery shopping expeditions with the kids, Lisa anticipated resistance as they skated past the colorful boxes of cereal and aisles of cookies.

Lisa's blog,, chronicles her family's journey adapting to all-natural unprocessed food. There were hardships, like Sydney's meltdown after being offered a donut from a friend, and the various birthday cakes they had to pass up. Lisa practically lived in the kitchen pre-planning meals and freezing homemade soups she could access in a pinch.

But after 100 days, their palates had evolved. "Artificial food actually tastes bad after eating fresh food for so long," she explains. But investing in all those organic groceries and specialty ingredients, also impacted their bank account. So the family took up another challenge: 100 days of real food on a budget.

With a weekly budget of $125 for a family of four (around the same amount or less than required for a food stamps budget), Lisa was forced to get creative. She spent $30 on plants and seeds for growing her own veggie garden. She invested in a economy size bags of brown rice and occasionally employed martini glasses to make plain old yogurt or juice smoothies look like more indulgent parfaits.

Chronicling her daily inventiveness, from recipes to money-saving tips and candid I-can't-take-this-much-more rants, garnered her blog a growing following and another idea. The 10-day pledge is a modified challenge that Lisa's developed for readers who want to try the Leake model. So far, 1,500 families have accepted the challenge and in the past six months, Lisa's Facebook fans have skyrocketed to 14,000.

Now the original 100-day challenge has become more or less a way of life for the Leake family. "Our new normal is that the kids can have one treat a week, whether it's at school or at birthday parties or something we make from scratch at home like ice cream," says Lisa.

But being a mom of growing girls presents new challenges. This week, Sydney starts first grade, and a whole new world of school-sanctioned food education. "Beyond cafeteria lunches, there's so many activities based around junk food for kids," says Lisa. "There's an upcoming fundraiser at a pizza place, and something else where the kids all go to Krispy Kreme. These things all might happen on the same day that kids get Skittles as a reward for something they do at school, so I want to come up with new ways kids can be rewarded without using food."

So far, she's managed to re-issue a healthier snack-approved list for parents in Sydney's school, encouraging parents to pack fresh fruits like grapes and cherries over Rice Krispie Treats.

But the danger of banning junk food, or anything for that matter, from kids, is the seduction factor. "I do worry that by banning junk, they'll end up wanting it more, so I'm trying to let the girls start making their own informed choices," she says.

"Yesterday I was sitting outside with my daughters and some other kids were eating those 'freezey pops' that are pretty much just artificial syrups," says Lisa. "Of course they wanted one. So I said, you can either have one of those pops or some homemade ice cream. They chose the pops. But later my older daughter said she didn't like how they tasted, so I figure she's learning on her own why those foods aren't good."

And why is that?

"They taste gross after eating fresh food."

If you're interested in trying the 10-day challenge, or even just a one day challenge, check out some of Lisa's most popular real food recipes from her blog in the gallery below.

Related links:

Should you stop drinking soda?

Q&A with food activist Michael Pollan

Back to school lunches your kids will love

Shocking news about your child's school lunch