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Nutrition Myth: Are Packaged and Processed Foods Healthy?

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Nutrition Myth: Are Packaged and Processed Foods Healthy?

We often hear packaged and processed foods should be avoided. But are they always bad?

Some can be filled with preservatives and additives like artificial colors, and flavors. However, many convenience foods can be a healthy part of your family’s diet! Our nutrition myth busting on canned and jarred foods was a perfect example of how choosing options that aren’t fresh can save you time, taste delicious, and still pack in the nutrients! Keep reading to learn which packaged foods to look for when you’re filling up your shopping cart.

Nutrition Myth: All packaged foods are bad for you.

Nutrition Myth Busted:  The right packaged foods can make life a lot easier and be just as nutritious as non-packaged foods!

Packaged foods are a broad category.Macro closeup of mixed green salad in boxes on display

Pre-washed lettuce, pre-cut fruit, cheese, lean meats, ready-made guacamole, and whole grains all come in a package and are all healthy, whole foods. You will also find plenty of “whole foods” that are jarred and can provide additional health benefits, such as pickles and kimchi (probiotics anyone?). Artichoke hearts, olives, hearts of palm, and roasted red peppers are other options that you can find without anything added other than water. Tossing these staples into a salad or pasta dish instantly turns a boring meal into a flavorful dish!

They can make your life easier.

The key to enjoying packaged foods in a healthy way is finding balance. For example, purchasing pre-cooked sliced or diced chicken is an easy protein option that you can serve in a salad, or you can mix with a light dressing and add tomato and lettuce onto whole grain bread for an easy, convenient and healthy meal. Skip the chips, and instead pair your main chicken dish with baby carrots and fruit salad for a colorful plate and added phytonutrients. Check out the Super Crew Colorful Food Tracker for one more way for your kids to have fun! If your family is eating a more highly processed food item like frozen pot stickers for dinner, make it an appetizer or accent rather than the center stage of the meal. For example, serve them alongside steamed sugar snap peas and a chopped salad with mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. Balance is key!

They’re great on-the-go!

When you’re rushing out the door or want to send your kids off with a simple yet nutritious snack, packaged foods can often be your go-to solution. Many packaged snacks don’t need to be refrigerated, so you know your children will have a healthy option any time of the day! Foods like individual trail-mix packets, roasted chickpeas or soybeans, turkey jerky (without added nitrates or nitrites), and dried fruit are all simple and delicious options.

Avoid packaged foods with 10 or more ingredients.

The main things you should look out for are artificial flavorings, colorings, and preservatives you can’t pronounce. Focus on whole foods that come in packages like dried whole-grain pasta, canned beans and legumes, pre-cut lettuce, and pre-prepared fruits and vegetables to save you time and cut down on unhealthy additives. Watch out for packaged foods with a lot of added sugar and find ways to cut down on total sugar intake. Whole-grain crackers, tomato sauce, and salad dressings are common culprits of added (and hidden!) sugar.

The next time you feel guilty over serving frozen or packaged foods, think again! These foods can actually help you achieve or maintain health despite a hectic schedule—not to mention you’ll likely save some money too. Next time you head to the store, stock up on some canned, frozen, and other packaged foods, and use your food knowledge to make good choices. Your schedule, bank account, and sanity will thank you!

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About the Author

Picture of Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa Halas, MA, RD, CDE

Melissa is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with a master's in nutrition education. She is the founder of SuperKids Nutrition Inc. Read more about her Super Crew children’s books and her experience as a registered dietitian on the About Melissa and Shop page. Discover how nutrition can help you live your best health potential through her plant-based books and newsletter on Melissa’s Healthy Living.

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