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Balancing Convenience and Nutrition: How to Choose Healthy Prepackaged Foods for Busy Parents


In our busy, demanding lives, the need for speed and convenience often clashes with the desire for nutritious meals, especially for busy working parents. With our numerous responsibilities, finding the time to prepare healthy meals from scratch at every meal time can be a daunting task.

As a food educator, I understand the challenges faced by many families striving to maintain a healthy diet while juggling various commitments. In this blog post, I'll share practical tips on how to navigate the aisles of prepackaged foods to make healthier choices without sacrificing convenience.


Read the Labels: The first step in selecting the healthier prepackaged and convenience foods is to carefully read the labels.

Don’t let the claims on the front of the packaging fool you – go to the back and read the ingredients list.

Avoid food that says “low fat” and anything that is “free from” unless you have a dietary reason to avoid certain allergens.

Look for products with minimal ingredients, aiming for five or less (although a dish with herbs and spices may add several more and that’s ok) and preferably with names that you recognise and can pronounce.

Avoid items containing additives, colours, flavours, and added sugars in all their guises.

The order of the ingredients starts with the heaviest first so you may think one brand is better than another as it’s lower in sugar but not realise they’ve used three types of sugar which added up make sugars the heaviest ingredient. 

Added sugar can be labelled cane sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate/purées, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, lactose, galactose, maltose, glucose, crystalline sucrose, caramel, maple and agave syrups, dextrose, maltose, molasses and treacle.

Artificial sweeteners are to be avoided too, such as sorbitol, xylitol, saccharine, aspartame, sucralose etc. These have been added to reformulated recipes for foods and drinks to lower the total sugar and avoid the sugar tax.

Food colours can cause behavioural issues in children so you may already be avoiding them in sweets but not realise they’re being added to other food such as your pesto sauce or ready meal curry.

“Flavourings” whether natural or not, can mean many different things and if we don’t know exactly what is in the food or drinks, I don’t think we should be eating it.



Choose Frozen Fruits and Vegetables: While fresh produce is ideal, frozen fruits and vegetables are a convenient and nutritious alternative. They are often flash-frozen at peak ripeness, preserving their nutritional value. Frozen options are versatile and can be easily incorporated into meals, smoothies and snacks, saving time on preparation without compromising on health benefits. I always have frozen vegetables such as chopped onions, mixed berries and peas in our freezer.

 

Opt for Whole Grain Products: When selecting prepackaged grains such as bread, pasta, or rice, opt for whole grain varieties i.e. whole grain, they’re richer in fibre, vitamins, and minerals, providing sustained energy and promoting digestive health. If you don’t like brown rice you can start with a 50/50 mix of white and wholegrain.


Be Mindful of Portion Sizes: Prepackaged foods often come in larger portions than necessary, leading to overconsumption of calories and unhealthy nutrients. Pay attention to portion sizes and consider dividing larger packages into smaller servings to prevent overeating.

 

Look for Healthier Snack Options: Snacking is inevitable for busy parents on the go, but it doesn't have to derail your efforts to eat healthily. Whole fruit one of the best snack options – buy the widest variety you can. These are so many different cultivars of apples that taste very different as well as pears and tomatoes.

Stock up on nutritious snack options such as nuts, seeds, dried fruits.

Having a jar of mixed seeds and dried berries on the shelf which can added to plain yoghurt with a squeeze of honey makes a quick filling snack that can be changed as you mix different seeds and dried fruit.

 

Prepare Homemade Convenience Foods: While prepackaged foods offer convenience, homemade alternatives can be equally convenient and much healthier.

Double your favourite recipe and freeze on half for another day.

A popcorn maker can turn one scoop of corn kernels into a huge bowl in a few minutes. Sieve over one teaspoon of icing sugar and voila, popcorn ready for movie night at home.

 

Consider batch-cooking and freezing homemade meals, snacks, and sauces for quick and easy meals during busy weekdays.

 

Time-saving kitchen gadgets such as a slow cooker or pressure cooker can streamline meal preparation without sacrificing nutritional quality.

 

I hope that by following these tips, you can strike a balance between convenience and nutrition when choosing prepackaged foods. With careful selection and occasional indulgence, it's possible to nourish your family with wholesome meals even on the busiest of days. Remember that small changes add up over time, and prioritising good health is always worth the effort. Happy and healthy eating!





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