Healthy Eating

How to Avoid the Convenience Food Trap

convenience foodA few weeks ago, we took a good hard look at the American food budget, a trending topic in the media and even in the legislature right now. It seems pretty clear that our priorities are, at times, skewed compared with other countries. We eat less healthily on the whole, and also spend a smaller portion of our money on food.

Without a doubt, it can be a challenge to afford fresh, quality food on a regular basis. Besides, many of us are hard-wired to look for the bargain before looking at the nutrition label.

But there’s more to the American Diet Conundrum than that. Even more than it being a matter of cost, it seems that convenience is the real culprit in our low-quality food choices.

We’re Time-Strapped More Than Cash-Strapped

Running low on time? What do you do? Grab some quick and easy (but unhealthy) convenience food. Low-quality food isn’t always cheaper than healthy food—in many ways, that’s a myth. In a study on the financial burden of healthy food, the cost per calorie of a convenience diet was actually 24% higher than the healthy diet.

For the price of a frozen pizza or a fast-food meal, a family could buy some brown rice, a few veggies and beans or a breast of chicken. So the real issue is that we’re simply time-poor. Most Americans work far more than in the past. According to CBS News, median-income families today work an average of 3,500 hours per year, compared to 2,800 hours in 1975.

While budget-adjusting may be easier, squeezing more time out of our lives? That’s going to take more effort. Knowing that time is at a premium, how can use that understanding to help ourselves, as well as our families, eat healthier?

Tricks for Making Healthy Food Convenient

It’s true: packaged and processed foods are quicker to prepare, and usually easier to obtain. Items filled with preservatives can be bought in bulk and have a longer shelf-life than fresher stuff. Who wants to go to the grocery store every single day? Not me!

But with some streamlining and planning ahead, we can make healthy eating more convenient. Here are a few ideas:

Make trips to the grocery store more efficient. This is my biggest weakness (I spend way too much time dawdling), so I’m working on effective grocery shopping strategies.

Prepare foods for the coming week. With some forethought, a quinoa salad or veggie burger is just as easy to grab as the chips and dip. So maybe we can carve out time once or twice a week to fill the fridge with healthy dishes. There are also plenty of hassle-free snack foods that are easy prepare and dash out of the house with.

Finally, a few counter display tricks go a long way. It’s the law of low-hanging fruit—people will eat what they can grab quickest. So arrange fruit and protein bars on the counter, or make containers of veggie sticks and hummus ready to grab in the fridge. In my house, this one works every time!

Tell us, how do you find time to eat healthy in your household?

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert

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