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donleyThe Challenge: Cut out packaged chips, sweets, and other processed foods for three weeks while keeping tummies filled and taste buds happy.

The Family: Nicki and Chad Donley of Twinsburg, Ohio, and 8-year-old triplets Ava, Grace, and Lily.

Inspired to change:

The Donleys have always been conscientious about what they eat, but busy with full-time jobs and three girls, Nicki and Chad found themselves relying on packaged foods that would last in the pantry and cook quickly. The girls had become picker, too, barely touching their main meals and relying n snacks. “When you’re dealing with four snacks per child per day, it’s like, ‘What am I going to come up with now?’ ” Nicki says. “Sometimes I just don’t want to cut up another orange.” But Nicki and Chad don’t like what they were serving, so they came up with a new goal: eliminate all the processed foods and any packaged items with more than five ingredients.

Getting started:

First, the Donleys purged their kitchen, including cheese singles and potato chips (brought to the neighbors) and packaged cookies (tossed in the garbage: “Once I looked at the ingredients, I didn’t even want to give them to anyone!” Nicki says). Then the family sat down, made a list of approved foods (mostly fruits, veggies, eggs, nuts, and meats), set expectations: They’d all work together at home, and if they girls absolutely couldn’t resist processed items outside the house, they had to try to eat only one.

Making it work:

On Day One, Nicki braced herself for some moaning from the girls—and Lily did shed a few tears at the sight of her sandwich on 12-grain whole wheat bread. The complaints quieted, and Chad, who does most of the cooking, found new recipes online, pleasing all palates with whole wheat macaroni and cheese, and pizza made from scratch. Temptations did arise, like when Nicki and the girls took a long trip to an outlet mall, where she ended up buying them a crushed ice treat with syrup. “I’m sure it had some kind of dye in it, but they were getting so hungry and I was trying to not make myself miserable too,” Nicki says.

Sweet success:

The Donleys not only ate better, they all ended up putting much more though into what went into their mouths. They also reaped physical benefits: Nicki felt less bloated after meals, Chad lost four pounds, and Ava, who had been having chronic stomachaches, never once had a pain. Plus, their grocery bills were no higher than before. The changes are likely to stick: “We’re going to keep processed foods at arm’s length,” says Nicki, though once in a while she’ll allow some of the girls’ favorite treats.

Helpful advice:

Though the Donleys went cold turkey, Nicki recommends cutting out processed foods one meal at a time over several days so kids can adjust. Eliminating packaged food isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it she says: “Looking at what we’ve eaten over the last few weeks compared to what we used to, it’s amazing.”

Could your family part with processed foods? Tell us in the comments.

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