Making peace with “convenience” foods & how they can help improve your nutrition
Ashleigh Kidd, RD, LDN | September 2022
Convenience foods (read: processed foods) and nutrition in the same sentence? Yes! You read that right. The first thing you probably think of when hearing “processed food” is chips, cookies, candies, cakes, etc. (and these foods CAN be enjoyed mindfully), but processed foods aren’t ONLY those foods. So let’s start here: what IS processed food?
According to the Department of Agriculture, processed foods are any raw agricultural commodities that have been washed, cleaned, milled, cut, chopped, heated, pasteurized, blanched, cooked, canned, frozen, dried, dehydrated, mixed or packaged — basically anything done to them that alters their natural state. This means even an organic apple is processed once you cut it into slices.
Processed & convenience get a bad rap, but the truth is they can be nutrient dense AND make your life easier. They can be a great way to help you balance your meals (like frozen veggies), get some protein in (like canned tuna or beans), or nourish your body when you’re pinched for time (frozen waffles with peanut butter, ready in less than 5 minutes!).
I’m not recommending that you eat heavily processed foods at every meal, choosing minimally processed foods most of the time is recommended. BUT having convenience foods on hand can actually make it easier to achieve your nutrition goals and balance your plate.
Here are some staple “convenience” foods to keep on hand to make balanced meals and snacks easier for your day to day:
- Frozen produce
- Great for smoothies or to top on oatmeal.
- Canned tuna
- Easy source of protein.
- Canned beans
- Fiber and protein- great for salads.
- Salad kits
- Perfect for when you haven’t prepped veggies for the week.
- Frozen protein waffles
- When you don’t have time for breakfast, top with PB and fruit.
- Whole wheat and lentil options are great for a little more protein and fiber.
- Peanut butter
- Easy fat source with some protein to stir into yogurt.
- String cheese
- Quick fat and protein source, pair with whole grain crackers or fruit.
- Ready to serve quinoa/rice
- When you don’t have time to cook your grain, pop these in the microwave for a carbohydrate to balance out your meal.
Keeping these foods on hand for when you’re running low on time can help you to build sustainable nutrition habits. Make sure to check out our “How to build a balanced and satisfying plate” blog to learn more about how to make your meals balanced AND satisfying to feel your best. Pro tip: convenience foods can fit into your balanced meals to save you time during the week!