Making Healthier Convenience Food Choices
Convenience foods are foods that require little to no preparation. Although it helps when you are in a time crunch, sometimes unhealthy choices are made. Being aware of the healthiest options will make your life easier in more than one way. Some convenience foods only require heating and are ready to eat in less than 5 minutes. The majority of convenience foods are processed foods. Often, people forget that there are healthy options that can be prepared in the same time or less. Precut, prewashed, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also convenience foods. They are healthy foods, but are usually more expensive than fresh fruits and vegetables.
Pros and Cons of Convenience Foods
- Less time spent planning meals, grocery shopping, and preparing food
- Less leftovers (with single portion foods)
- Can provide options for those who do not like to cook, have limited cooking skills or ability, or have poor or no kitchen facilities
- Processed foods generally have a low nutritional quality
- Processed foods are high in sodium, fat, and added sugars
How You Can Improve Nutritional Quality
You can make the convenience foods you prepare at home healthier by adding nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, legumes or lean meat. These healthy additions will increase the fiber, protein, vitamin, and mineral content of the meal and reduce the sodium, fat, and added sugar in each serving.
Another way to make your convenience meals healthier is to prepare meals ahead of time and separate them into portion sizes to be heated as needed. You can often freeze meals and cook them in the same amount of time as a store-bought meal. By doing this, you will not only save money, you will save yourself calories, sodium and fat. Also, you will be gaining valuable vitamins and nutrients.
When choosing canned fruits, make sure to get the natural juice when available. You can add fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables to canned soups. Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit chunks can be added to Jell-O or yogurt.
- Some convenience foods call for the addition of milk, butter, or salt during preparation. However, these additions add extra calories and fat to your meals. When the directions say to add milk, use low-fat or fat-free milk.
- If the directions say to add butter or margarine, cut the amount in half or do not add any. Doing so will cut down the amount of fat in your meal.
- Instead of adding salt, use other herbs and spices to add flavor and zest to your food.
- Add applesauce to desert mixes that call for vegetable oil. You will get the same moisture texture you love and get less fat and more nutrients!
Grab Healthier Options at Stores When Traveling
When you are on the road and you want to avoid the calories of fast food, stop by a convenience store and grab some healthy snacks.
- Swap skittles or gummies for healthy fruit bars
- Choose raw nuts over cocktail peanuts
- Exchange sugary sodas and fruit juices for water- you can never go wrong with water!
- Grab healthy cheese instead of sugar-added yogurt
- Instead of grabbing a hot dog, grab some healthy jerky
- Craving chocolate? Grab some dark chocolate instead of a snickers
Simple changes can be made to make your convenience meals healthier. If you would like to learn more about healthier eating, visit choosemyplate.gov for tips.
Jana Hart- Extension Agent- FCS/4-H