If you have decided that you want to buy less processed food you are on a step to a whole new lifestyle. One that can potentially bring you better health, more energy and help the world. That is a tall order and a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t have to be.
Sure deciding to do this can be overwhelming to make changes to the time you spend in the kitchen, the money you spend on food and learning new skills. But, once you conquer those this change can help you reap benefits in health, budget, energy and pride. Learning to cook your own food and enjoying it is a special experience. Once you get hooked you may never go back. The big secret here is it doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to make four star food to make great changes in the food you eat. Simple can taste great. Food that tastes great can also be good for you.
Let’s start with what is processed food. For our purposes, processed food is any food that was cooked for you, only takes a few step to make a meal, or has ingredients you can’t pronounce. The means most of the freezer aisle is out and a lot of snacks.
Unless you have an excessive amount to free-time and a desire to make everything from scratch you are going to have to buy what I call convenience items. These are items that in theory you could make, but don’t have the time. For example, I don’t make homemade pasta. Instead I purchase organic pasta that has a list of very simple ingredients. When I want crackers I buy the ones that are made with a few ingredients as possible.
When you have to buy a convenience food and still want your vote to count look for organic, and limited ingredient products. The amount of convenience foods you purchase should be mostly, pasta, grains, and condiments.
7 ways to buy less processed food
Meal plan and make a detailed list
Meal planning is the number one thing that has helped me with budget and sticking to cooking and not ordering or going out to dinner. Making a plan and a detailed grocery list keeps me from wandering the aisles and picking up junk food we don’t need in the house.
Shop on the perimeter of the store
The outside walls of the store are traditionally, produce, dairy, and meat. Things we also refer to as real food. If you are going to wander some aisle and pick up random ingredients this is the place to wander. If you splurge on fancy apples or grapes that is much better than Hamburger Helper and ice cream. To help with the temptation don’t wander the center aisles just stick to the edges of the store. This doesn’t include the deli or the bakery sweets!
Buy a second freezer
One of the easiest ways to eat less processed food is to make large batches of food and freeze individual portions that you can take for lunch or thaw for nights you need a quick dinner. The best way to replace the high sodium frozen meals and soups is to make your own meals and freeze them. Still ready to go to work for a quick toss in the microwave for an easy lunch, but without a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Another bonus of a second freezer, that we will discuss in another post, is that you can by a half a cow or pig and have meat to last your for months at a much more economical price.
Prepare a lot of food on one day for the week
Similar to making a larger batch and freezing it you can also do all of your cooking on one day. Spend 4 hours on a Sunday setting yourself up for the week to make dinner prep that much faster. If you have a detailed meal plan you can chop almost all your veggies on Sunday and have them ready to use later in the week. The part of dinner that takes me the longest is getting all the ingredients chopped and ready. Now if you got your mise en place ready on Sunday you would be able to shave time off your prep right after you get home from work.
Pair up with neighbors or friends
Find friends or neighbors that also want to switch their eating habits. You can either throw a party and make a large variety of meals together or have everyone bring meals and swap so you go home with a bunch of meals you don’t have to cook. Just throw them in your freezer and you will be set with easy meals.
Learn one or two cooking techniques
Instead of trying to master all of cooking just focus on a couple common techniques and practice them until it is second nature. If I was going to pick a couple to learn it would be roasting, both whole chicken and cookie sheet meals. The other would be sauteing vegetables. Cooking them on a high heat and quickly is a great way to get dinner on the table quickly.
Become friends with your slow cooker
Assembling a meal and plopping it in a slow cooker to cook while you are at work can be a lifesaver. You can have dinner ready when you come home, make enough soup for a week worth of lunches in an afternoon, or make chicken broth with little effort. You can also make slow cooker freezer meals that you prep and put in Ziploc bags so they are ready to be dropped in the slow cooker and ready to eat. Google this to find all kinds of ideas. One thing to watch out for is recipes that call for canned soup or other processed food for ingredients.
Because you are learning you don’t have to go from processed food to all home-cooked meals in one week. Start out with the goal to make one or two home-cooked meals a week for a couple of months. Make the nights you cook weekend nights when you can practice and not feel rushed or tired. As you get those down gradually add a day or two until all your meals are home cooked.
Learning ways to change your eating habits won’t happen overnight. You are going to have to work at this and that is ok. Keep making little steps and trying new things until you find your own comfort zone and systems. As you keep at it you will find tips and tricks of your own. When you find something that works for you share it with others. Pay it forward and encourage others to make the same positive changes.
On Friday I will cover ways you can transition from simply buying real food to buying organic.