Processed foods can be convenient but they come with a host of downsides from being expensive, to wasteful packaging, to health concerns, or even if you just want to join in a fun challenge. If you want to reduce or completely stop your processed food consumption it may seem daunting, but it’s doable with a little planning and a little effort. I’ve limited my processed food intake for a while due to health concerns (yey migraine triggers!) and while I’m not perfect I have figured out some ways to make this lifestyle change easier and work with even the busiest schedule.
Always Have Pantry Staples On Hand
This is really important. If you have certain pantry staples you always have a quick meal to whip up even if you are running short on time or really need to get to the store. For me that means pasta, tomato sauce, potatoes, eggs, and seasonings like garlic (and garlic powder), onion (and onion powder) and herbs like basil. In a pinch I know I can whip up some pasta and sauce, or for a breakfast style dish, what I call “eggs and stuff”, potato and onion sautéed with onion and some seasonings with scrambled eggs.
Plan Your Meals
So, I don’t meal plan. Not like those people who make up weekly menus, I do it the slacker way. I have a running list of meals I usually make:
- Pasta and Meatsauce
- Swedish meatballs
- Chicken + a roast veggie + Salad
- Chicken Cesar salads (summer mainly)
- Kielbasa and pasta
- Lightly Smothered Pork Chops
Since I know what I will probably make I buy those items I know I will need ahead of time. We do not do large shopping trips since we have no car, so every few days we go and get what we need for the next few days meals. I always have chicken on hand as it’s one of the easiest things to cook and you can do practically anything with it, the same with potatoes. They are a great and flexible side dish that can me made any number of ways.
So next time you go to the store plan at least a few days in advance and get what you’ll need.
Slow Cookers Are Your Friend
Busy? Isn’t everyone. Want ready when you come home? Then get a slow cooker. It’s so easy to make delicious meals that are waiting for you when you come home. Dump the ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning and let it go all day. It will be ready when you are ready for dinner. If you want it to take even less time, prepare your slow cooker meals ahead of time (like on Sunday evening) and portion out the ingredients so all you have to do is literally dump that day’s meal in your slow cooker and go.
Protip: Remember to turn it on. Nothing is more disappointing than realizing you won’t be having your delicious dinner that night and you just wasted all that food.
Start with Easy, and Simple Recipes
You don’t need to make fancy or complex meals, especially if cooking isn’t your thing. There are so many easy recipes on Pinterest that there’s no excuse for not being able to find a recipe that intrigues you. A word of advice though: Follow it exactly at least the first time through. Wait to make substitutions until you know what the original recipe is like. Stuck? Check out my collection of recipes below!
Learn the Cooking Basics
I learned to cook from my mom, with a little help from Home Ec class. Not everyone has that experience, fortunately there are many resources available to learn to cook from YouTube Videos to in person classes (check your local community college). The more you cook the better you get. Eventually you will get a feel for it. You don’t ever have to become chef quality, but learning the basics will help you be able to create delicious, simple, family meals from scratch.
You Don’t Have to Make Everything From Scratch!
Just because you are cutting down your processed food in take doesn’t mean you have to make everything from scratch! There are minimally processed premade foods out there. For example, instead of going for the conventional grocery store bread, check out the bakery. Read the labels, some processed foods, actually do not have many or any preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup or anything like that in them. If the label reads like what the recipe sounds like it should be then it’s okay.
Protip: You may also have your own special needs, so don’t be afraid to make exceptions that make sense for you and your lifestyle.
Go Easy On Yourself!
It’s okay to slip up, it’s okay to splurge every now and then on your favorite indulgent processed treat. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it doesn’t mean you are a bad eating person. It just means you’re human. So cut yourself some slack and be aware things like that may happen, and that’s fine. Accept it and move on, try again tomorrow. You can always improve!
It’s Not About Depriving Yourself, It’s About Sustainable Lifestyle Changes
Is going without your favorite treats making you miserable? Would you really totally die for one right now? Does it make you miserable and cranky to think you’ll never have one ever again? Then just eat it! It’s about finding a balance that works for you, and it’s a process. You can’t expect yourself to stick to a lifestyle change that makes you miserable. So maybe for now you exclude your favorite snack food, and improve other areas of your eating habits. Maybe in the future you can revisit it, but don’t deprive yourself of so much you are miserable, or it consumes your life and you are always wondering what you are eating is too processed. Moderation is key.