Debunking the myth of prepared foods being cheaper and healthier
By Ryan Barhoush, Food and Nutrition Program Associate
As we finish the holiday season (maybe a few pounds heavier) and get ready to put in place our New Year’s Resolutions, we recommend making one of them NOT buying prepared foods. and Instead, commit to cooking up healthier, cheaper, and quicker meals from scratch. With minimal shopping and prep time, we can all feed ourselves and our families with healthier options. Let’s debunk a few of these prepared food myths.
Myth 1. It takes too much time to shop for healthy food
Grocery stores in the U.S. can be overwhelming, and we all feel the stress of walking into these sometimes exceptionally large stores, but do not be intimidated! You can easily tackle the task of shopping quickly and efficiently with some practice and shopping discipline. In fact, if you do it right, you can be in and out of the store in 20-30 minutes with a healthy grocery basket full of food for you and your family. Here is how:
- Make a shopping list and stick to it
- Shop online and get your groceries delivered, or
- Identify your favorite grocery store, get to know where products are and get in and out efficiently.
Myth 2. Prepared and frozen foods have the same nutritional value as a home cooked meal.
Prepared frozen meals are loaded with sodium and sugar; home cooked meals typically have much lower levels of both, thus are healthier and more nutritional.
Let’s compare some labels to prove it. Start with one of most popular frozen food items, pizza. We looked at the Red Baron brand and compared its nutritional content to a standard meal of baked chicken, broccoli, and potatoes.
The results are staggering. One slice of the pizza contains 810 mg of sodium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day—that’s equal to about 1 teaspoon of table salt! For children under age 14, recommended limits are even lower.
So, one slice of pizza is one-third of the total recommended daily intake. High sodium in prepared foods contributes to the hypertension epidemic in the U.S. Nearly half of adults in the United States (47%, or 116 million) have hypertension, defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80 mmHg according to the CDC. Hypertension can lead to stroke, heart attack and other serious illnesses.
|Red Baron’s Frozen Pizza||Roasted Chicken with Potatoes and Broccoli|
|One serving of Red Baron’s is 380 calories per slice!
|Amount per serving 353 calories|
|39g of carbohydrates
|29g of carbohydrates|
|18g of Total fat
| 8g of Total fat
|45mg of cholesterol
| 89mg of cholesterol
|810mg of sodium per slice*||106mg of sodium
|* That’s 3240 mg of sodium per pizza! Almost 1000 mg over the daily recommended limit!
Myth 3. It takes too much time to cook healthy meals for myself or my family.
Meal prep can be amazingly fast, efficient, and fun! There are many websites with healthy meals that can be prepared in 5-10 minutes, with cooking times of 30 minutes or less. For example, this one: “The best meal of the day doesn’t have to take your whole day! I have compiled a list of 25 easy weeknight dinners to get you in and out of the kitchen in a flash.”
Myth 4. Prepared frozen foods are cheaper than shopping and cooking my own food.
Wegmans and other grocery stores have suggestions for affordable nutritious meals, as low as $2.75 a serving. Each 20.6 oz. Baron Frozen Pizza costs from $4.99-6.25 plus tax and includes four servings. But if you look at the label closely, each serving is one piece of pizza and that is an unrealistic serving size for an adult’s meal. Let’s say one pizza feeds two people, that doesn’t include anything else besides the pizza, such as salad or other side dishes. That is at least $2.50 – $5 a person. Already the frozen prepared food option is more expensive than a tofu dinner with vegetables or a chicken dinner with potatoes and broccoli.
Another great place to find affordable, filling, healthy and easy recipes is the Delish website. The internet is full of great suggestions but stay away from sites that suggest using canned soups or packaged or frozen prepared foods, because they are often filled with elevated levels of sodium, sugar, and fat.
Myth 5. I only have a microwave, I do not have a kitchen, or the right kind of cooking utensils.
Do not be discouraged. With the unbelievable amount of cooking videos on social media you would think you would need a commercial kitchen just to have a normal healthy meal. Today with just a microwave you can still make many healthy meals. Check this out: 20 Easy to Cook Microwave recipes.
Also, electric stove tops are a terrific addition to any household. Even without a kitchen, just a few pots and pans and some YouTube videos; you could be well on your way to being a kitchen-less chef! Dried fruits and nuts are easy and healthy snacks that you do not have to store in the fridge. Apples and pears are great fresh fruit that do not need to be refrigerated.
As you can see, there are many ways to avoid processed foods and create healthy meals at a reasonable price. Here are a few links we include to create healthy, fast home-cooked meals that are reasonably priced. Plus, cooking for your family is fun and an effective way to get everyone together around the table. Good luck, eat healthy and enjoy!