I was born in the 90’s– the decade of processed foods. I remember eating Toaster Strudels for breakfast, the infamous Lunchables, and Bagel Bites for after school snacks. We’d get Dippin’ Dots at the mall, and whenever we’d go to Grandma’s house, there would be Sprite Remix and Lucky Charms. Although I had my fair share of junk food, I only scored 45/100 on Buzzfeed’s “How Many 90’s Foods Have You Tried” quiz. <– take the quiz and let me know what you score!
My parents did a pretty good job of balancing our meals– we had some junk and convenience foods (Tuna Helper, Pasta Roni), but we also had a salad and a vegetable every single night with dinner. As we got older, we all learned more about how processed food affects our health, and we started making more meals from scratch. It also helped my mom that both my sister and I liked cooking, so it made it a little easier to transition away from processed foods.
Now that I live with my boyfriend, I rarely buy convenience foods, with the exception of a few things like jarred alfredo sauce (probably not the best, but take what you can get lol), enchilada sauce (when I’m feeling lazy), and frozen breaded chicken strips. For the most part, I do try to make as many meals as I can from scratch.
About Processed Foods
Food that have been processed have been stripped from some/all of their essential nutrients. The preservatives that manufacturers add can make matters worse. For example, the high amount of sodium found in many processed foods, has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. The added sugars can cause obesity, diabetes, and blood-sugar spikes that can trigger inflammation. Many of the artificial colorings and flavorings, chemical preservatives, and additives can negatively impact our health.
There’s been many studies that connect the highly processed American diet to epidemics such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal illnesses, and certain types of cancer. When we choose whole foods, primarily fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, we get the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant compounds such as flavonoids and carotenoids), and fiber we need to feel our best.
Weigh Your Options
The clever packaging of so-called health foods can be very misleading. Anything with a health claim– no trans fat, gluten free, probiotics, or organic– makes people think the food is healthier and lower in calories.
You don’t have to avoid packaged foods altogether, but it is smart if you can avoid anything with more than five ingredients, ingredients that you can’t pronounce, or anything artificial. Whenever you can use more fresh ingredients than convenience, you are doing yourself a huge favor.
Make Smart Choices
Of course, there are some convenience foods that are better than others, such as canned beans and tomatoes, plain yogurt, cheese, tofu, whole grain bread and pasta. Frozen fruits and veggies are also worth buying, especially when fresh are out of season or in short supply. They offer comparable nutritional value to unprocessed versions, as well as convenience.
What are some convenience foods that you rely on? Which foods do you always make from scratch?