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Publication #FCS80013

Healthy Eating: Improving Your Convenience Foods1

Emily Minton2

What Are Convenience Foods?

Convenience foods are foods that require little preparation. With some convenience foods, you only have to heat them, and they are ready to eat in less than five minutes!

The majority of convenience foods are processed foods. However, precut, prewashed, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables also can be classified as convenience foods. They are healthy foods but usually more expensive than less prepared fresh fruits and vegetables.

Pros and Cons of Convenience Foods

Convenience foods offer many benefits, including less time spent planning meals and grocery shopping, less preparation time, fewer leftovers (with single-portion foods), and easier cleanup. Convenience foods also can provide options for those who don’t like to cook, have limited cooking skills or ability, or have poor or no kitchen facilities.

Figure 1. 

When using canned beans, put the beans into a colander and rinse with cold water before using.


Credit:

Paul Goyette, http://bit.ly/GDgK62


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

On the other hand, processed convenience foods generally have a low nutritional quality compared to other foods. This is because of the sodium, fat, and/or added sugars they contain, along with low amounts of essential nutrients.

Improving Nutritional Quality

The good news is that you can improve the nutritional quality of convenience foods you prepare at home by adding nutrient-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruit, and/or meat and meat alternatives! Adding nutritious components to convenience foods will allow you to consume a greater amount of the essential nutrients, such as the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that your body needs to maintain a healthful status and reduce your risk of chronic diseases. In addition, adding these nutritious foods reduces the amount of sodium, fat, and/or sugar per serving.

Common Convenience Foods and Easy Additions

The table below lists common convenience foods and suggestions of foods you can add to them to improve their nutritional quality.

Figure 2. 

Select vegetables frozen without sauces or added salt to avoid excess fat, calories, and sodium.


Credit:

leibolmai, http://bit.ly/GEiUiZ


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Additional Tips

Some convenience foods call for the addition of milk, butter, and/or salt during preparation. However, they add extra calories and fat to your meals. When the directions say to add milk, use low-fat or fat-free milk, which contains the same amount of nutrients as whole or 2% milk but has less fat and fewer calories.

If the directions say to add butter or margarine, cut the amount in half or don’t add any. Doing so will cut down on the amount of fat in your meal.

Instead of adding salt, use other herbs and spices to add flavor and zest to your food!

What about your favorite prepackaged muffin or brownie mix? Instead of adding vegetable oil, use unsweetened apple sauce. You will still get the moist texture you love but with less fat and more nutrients!

Figure 3. 

Reduce salt in recipes and add extra flavor with herbs and spices.


Credit:

Brandon Burke, http://bit.ly/GEsmti


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Tables

Table 1. 

Common Convenience Foods

Possible Additions

Prepackaged noodles and rice mixes

Fresh, frozen, or canned* vegetables; lean cuts of meat

Canned soup

Fresh, frozen, or canned* vegetables

Baked potato

Low-fat cottage cheese or plain yogurt

Prepackaged casserole mix

Lean beef, chicken, or turkey; fresh, frozen, or canned* vegetables

Frozen cheese pizza

Fresh or frozen chopped vegetables; lean meats, such as low-sodium turkey pepperoni or Canadian bacon

Jell-O, pudding, or yogurt

Fresh, canned, ** or frozen fruit chunks

*Use no sodium added or low sodium

**Use fruits canned in juice; drain juice

Footnotes

1.

La versión en español de este documento es Alimentación Saludable: Mejorando sus comidas precocidas (FCS80013-Span).This document is FCS80013, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date May 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Emily Minton, B.S., former ENAFS program coordinator, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.