In today’s food industry, convenience is the name of the game and sure, it comes in handy for our busy lifestyles, but is it worth it? Are there convenience foods that we are just buying out of habit, not for convenience? I’m convinced that some of the convenience foods that are not only taking up room in our pantries but are also taking a big bite out of our grocery budgets are really not that convenient. Consider the convenience foods you use. Are they really making your life easier, or are you paying for convenience that isn’t really saving you much time at all? Let’s look at a few I think you could live without:
1. Instant Oatmeal: Is instant oatmeal really that much easier than preparing on the stove? Sure it takes 30 seconds vs 15 minutes, but it’s not like you have to stand in front of the stove and watch the oatmeal cook. I will put some oatmeal on after my morning run and then unload the dishwasher, pack lunches and get the kids up all while the oatmeal cooks itself. FYI- as you wean your kids off the instant oatmeal, you will probably have to sweeten up the real deal with Stevia, berries or bananas. And, if I may get real for just a minute, even if you add a scoop of brown sugar, it is still so much better for them than the packaged stuff.
2. Microwave Popcorn: I found a little article on Pinterest this year that explained how to take 1/4 cup of popcorn, put it in a paper bag, roll the paper bag closed and put it in the microwave for a minute and a half (your microwave might be different) and there you go…microwave popcorn- easy, free of all the junk usually added, and inexpensive! Seriously, how did I just learn that trick!
3. Lunchables: My kids beg for Lunchables, and yes, I have left the store with those handy little compartmentalized packages, but I can just as easily roll up a few slices of organic lunch meat, slice some organic cheese and throw some Kashi crackers in a reusable storage container. Remember, when you make the homemade “lunchables”, add some fresh cut fruit alongside. Bento lunch boxes work great when your are making this easy lunch.
4. Pancake mix: Pancake mix is literally just the dry ingredients that you would use to make “from scratch” pancakes. If you really feel you must have a mix (to make those mornings just a bit quicker), take 15-20 minutes over the weekend to make your own mix of dry ingredients; place the bulk dry mix in Ziploc bags or store it in a cute glass storage container. Make sure to label the bags/jars “Dry Pancake Mix” and include the instructions so you don’t have to look it up every time. Also, when you actually make the pancakes (whether you use a mix or not), double or triple the recipe. Freeze the extras and voila!, toaster pancakes! Hint: you can do this with cookie/muffin mix too.
5. Juice or other bottled beverages: Do I really need to state the obvious? We, at the Kitchen Remix, highly recommend nixing the juice and instead make fresh smoothies for you and your kids! By the way, smoothies have become my go-to convenient afternoon snack. A smoothie can also stay fresh and full of vitamins in the fridge for 24 hours.
6. Bottled Water: Filtered Water. Reusable water bottle. Repeat. I stopped buying bottled water after learning that bottled waters aren’t under the same stringent testing that tap water undergoes; you seriously don’t know what is in that bottled water. I remember reading of a popular bottled water brand which has its water source coming from the Detroit River!
The old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” rings true here as well. I keep these convenience foods on hand:
Spaghetti Sauce: (…although I will make on my own with my Vitamix,) It’s a nice staple to have on hand for those busy nights. Go for a sauce that is low in sugar and has a simple ingredient list. Steer clear of any sauce containing High Fructose Corn Syrup or other additives. Try Trader Joes’ Vegan Marinara.
Cut Veggies: I will sometimes buy a veggie tray when I go to the store and set it out before dinner. (I do this in addition to the tons of fresh whole produce I purchase.) I just like to have cut up veggies right when I get home from the grocery store when I know my kids are starving. The veggie tray is usually gone in a few days, but if they do leave something (in my house it’s the broccoli and cauliflower), I just steam what’s left and use it for other purposes, like in a stir fry or pasta sauce. I will also make my own “convenience veggie trays” by taking an extra 15-20 minutes to cut up all those fresh veggies. I get out my portable relish tray (the kind you would take to a potluck with dividers and lids) and fill it up with fresh cut veggies. In fact, last night I did that, threw together a green lettuce salad and had “make your own salad” night. It was a big hit with my kids. Seriously, any dinner that is “make-your-own” is always a winner!
Cut up Mangoes: I have a hard time cutting up fresh mangoes. I feel like I always waste half the fruit or end up getting a bit too intimate with the mango (i.e. sucking on the skin or licking the cutting board;). My mom has tried to teach me several times how to properly get into a mango, but I just don’t have the patience for it. If you wrestle with a certain food, can’t seem to find an avocado that isn’t brown or can’t boil an egg without it turning bluish green, then by all means, let the food industry do it for you and move on.
Frozen Fruit and Veggies: These are nice to keep on hand for smoothies, stir fries, sauces or lunches when you have run out of fresh produce. One of my favorite things to do with frozen fruit is to use it as my “ice pack” for picnics. Usually, by the time lunch is done, the fruit is almost thawed and makes a delicious dessert. Bring toothpicks or plastic forks along and let everyone dig in.
Please be assured that I am not here to place guilt on you for buying convenience foods, quite the opposite really. I remember when my daughters Bella and Grace were born I did everything I could do to breastfeed, but my milk just didn’t supply what was needed for my girls. I was riddled with guilt. I remember my pediatrician saying, “Just feed your babies.” I was so relieved to hear that and came to terms with formula because it was what was working for the girls. I still live with that philosophy: “Just feed your babies.” I always do my best to provide healthy fresh options but life is unpredictable. Some weeks I do fresh homemade food really well and some weeks, like when we just get back from vacation or someone comes down with the stomach flu, my kitchen can become “convenience central.” I would call those times in my house “survival mode.” So use convenience foods when you need them, but make sure your family is not stuck in survival mode.
In our world, faster always seems better, but I have found that is not true. Here are a few tips that I have found useful:
Write it out: Make a list of your favorite convenience foods and then right down the fresh alternatives. Make sure that the convenience foods are really saving you time (which is really the whole reason for convenience foods in the first place) and that they are healthy options for your family.
Family Togetherness: Sit down for meals with your family as often as possible and have everyone help put the meal together. The research is overwhelming and claims that family dinners will help your budget, your waist line, even your kids’ future. It shows that kids who eat at home are less likely to do drugs, and they tend to get better grades at school than their peers who don’t have a regular family meal time. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be the night time meal; just make time around the table as a family.
Grocery Attitude Adjustment: One of the reasons I shop at Whole Foods is because I love the atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like such a chore but more of an adventure. The beautiful produce, the bulk bins and the samples almost make me forget I’m running a weekly errand. Tip: My love for buying in bulk began with a few pretty glass jars I keep on my kitchen counter. There is something simple and peaceful about buying lentils, beans, oatmeal and other bulk staples and displaying them in my kitchen. They also get used more often when they are in plain sight.
Bake the staples, not the extras: Remember that baking doesn’t always have to mean sweets. How many times have you make cookies with your kids to teach them about baking and having fun only to realize you just made 24 sugar filled cookies with nowhere to go but in the bellies of your loved ones? Instead, bake a loaf of whole wheat bread together; I promise the smell alone will make it worth it, and you still get the experience of baking together with your kids. This one is important because, for so many of us, baking has such an emotional tie to memories of loved ones. This small change could help your family’s health long after your are gone as it will start new traditions for your family.
I hope you find my tips and suggestions about convenience foods helpful to your life. I’d love to hear comments on what you do to replace some common convenience foods, or let me know if you need any ideas on how to nix a convenience food in your pantry. You may discover that implementing even just some of these changes actually makes your life more simple.
Enjoy the below smoothie recipe for an on-the-go afternoon treat you and your whole family will love. Make a double batch and save the leftovers in the fridge for your morning smoothie. Now that’s convenience!
Blessings of health and peace to you all!
Go-To Blueberry Orange Chocolate Delight
1 cup blueberries
2 handfuls spinach
1 handful Romaine lettuce
1/8 teaspoon turmeric root
1 teaspoon natural cacao
1/2 teaspoon Raw Organic Cacao Nibs
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Stevia
1 cup ice
1 cup water
Put all ingredients (please wash the produce) in blender and blend on high or smoothie setting until smooth. Enjoy!