Still Standing on the Soapbox: Concerning Convenience Foods

Heather says:

When I wrote Sunday’s post, I had very specific convenience foods in mind. Yet, I realized after I spoke with Ivy that I may have sounded as though I am against all prepared foods. I’m not.

If you looked through my cupboards, there are plenty of convenience items I happily use with no guilt:

  • whole wheat bread -I do try to stick to Arnold’s or Nature’s Own, neither contain HFCS
  • pasta
  • canned tuna
  • canned tomatoes
  • condiments
  • whole grain cereals
  • a few spice mixes (Montreal Steak Seaoning, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Chef Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic)
  • peanut butter – and no, not even the organic kind
  • pie crust – I can make them, but oh do I hate to, mostly because I don’t own a food processor.
  • tortillas – because yes, I’m too lazy to learn
  • chocolate chips
  • salad dressing -some varieties cause a little bit of guilt

My “emergency” stash gets a bit worse and there is guilt:

  • spaghetti sauce
  • ramen noodles (These are for extreme cases of PMS and actual hurricanes, we get those)
  • canned soups

Treats include chips, salsa, dips, and occasionally soda. I happily use a cake mix rather than buying cake flour that won’t get used for months.

There is nothing wrong with having a treat.  The trouble comes when convenience foods  are used so often that a person’s palate becomes accustomed to the cheapest ingredients possible, dressed up with high fructose corn syrup, MSG, and high levels of sodium. It takes time to undo that training. Sometimes returning to less processed options feels like a detox, with cravings and a general feeling of being unwell. Processed foods can become a hard habit to break. 

Just for fun, I asked via Twitter and Facebook: 

Hey it’s another Help a Heather Out: Looking for your worst examples of processed “foods” ie Hot Pockets. Will give credit for suggestions.

And here they are:

Nate Mallard: Lunchables! PizzaRolls! Jimmy Dean Breakfast sandwich! All my favorite foods.

Heidi: Hamburger Helper?

Brian Wilder: Ritz Handi-Snacks. Disgusting! 

Gene Bowker: SPAM

Shannon Brigham: SPAM Also someone was telling me about another line Hormel products on shelves that lasts two years and doesn’t have to be refrigerated? –stews and such.

Caanan Tully: How about spaghetti o’s? I can’t stand to smell that fake tomato sauce, much less taste it.

Jessica Ashley: Flavored non-dairy creamer. And yes, I am guilty of consuming it. Hot Pockets? Oh hell no. Creamer? Ohhh yes.

Becky Ray: Here is GA we shop at Kroger, and they sell a store brand ice cream called “Frozen Dairy Product.” I’m not kidding, that’s what it says on the box. It tastes like plastic.

Hillary Gerber: I think the frozen crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are kind of scary.

Chells: With @CaananTully, any of those Chef Boyadee concoctions [sp?]

Gigi: 1. frozen crustless pb&j. 2. Indiv wrapped pb “slices”. Omgsrslywtf?!?!

Allison Nadeau: I always thought lunchables were particularly icky. So much sodium.

Carol: Hmmm, spam?? Can you get any worse then that. Hamburger helper, that is awful. I am sure I can list about 100 more.

Jennifer: The frozen crustless grilled cheese sandwhiches….just plain gross. My kids did not like them at all.

Rosemary: I will defend this much of hot pockets. The meatball ones are better if you baked them in an oven. But microwaved? Oh hell no! BUT Smucker’s uncrustables are horrible. My peanut butter aficionado tells me they taste like mushy cardboard and to top it off, the dog (who loves PB&J) sniffed it and walked away from it.

Kelly Love: Lean Cuisine! Lived on them in college while working @ software co FT. Cannot stand the smell of microwave meals to this day.
Oh, and from a health perspective, Stouffers has to be the worst (high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, other yuck).

James Williams: I should be able to win this game, but I don’t eat anything worse than ::sings:: Hot Pockets.  [I then ribbed him about his known affection for Cheez Whiz / Poptarts at the same time, to which he responded]  I just don’t think that’s as bad as Hot Pockets. The cheese in a Hot Pocket is like something that fell to earth.

Ian May: I tried Hot Pockets once. Curiousity killed the cat, ya know?

Simon Ashton: Sorry, coming late to this, but can I put in a shout for Kid Cuisine?  – unbelievably nasty stuff!

Don’t worry, it’s not all soapboxes here at Home Ec 101. I’m working on another Fearless Friday, are you? Additionally, some of yesterday’s comments are in the process of being addressed.


  1. MomTFH on May 24, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    May I present…canned entire cheeseburger.

    Can I haz cheeseburger for the win?

  2. caryn verell on May 23, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    any convenience food that has ingredients that are unpronounceable ingredients should be avoided at all costs!

  3. caryn verell on May 23, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    i have been known to use two table knives to cut butter into flour for pie crust…and it works quite well…..actually better than the cuisinart my husband gave me for xmas and there is much less to clean up later. i don’t understand anyone who thinks spam is a bad processed food. it is 100% pork shoulder without the bones and yes, it is a convenient item and comes in handy when there is an emergency like hurricanes or tornadoes, or floods.

  4. Milehimama on May 21, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    I make my pie crust right in the pie pan, no rolling necessary!

    Of course, you can’t have a lattice top or anything with that.

    They even use frozen pie crust on the Food Network.

  5. traci on May 21, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    you don’t need a food processor to make pie dough. i used to use a pastry cutter until i discovered you can do almost everything in a stand mixer with the wire wisk beaters, which do the same thing as a pastry cutter, except better. i make a lot of pies throughout the year, so anything that cuts down on the time involved, without sacrificing taste, is a huge plus for me.

    i throw the dry ingredients + fat of your choice (butter, lard, shortening) in the mixer, and start mixing on low. if all the fat chunks up around the beaters, i stop the mixer and distribute the fat more evenly. i might have to do that a few times until everything really gets going. then i speed things up until the flour+fat gets mixed up really good. then i add the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon or spatula. easy peasy.

    i know a lot of people are afraid of pie dough, but it’s really not that hard. plus you can make a bunch up at one time and freeze it, just like your store-bough pie crust, but good (sorry, i’m a pie snob).

    i’ll even share my recipe if you like. 🙂

  6. MomTFH on May 21, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Hey, look at that. There I am.

    I don’t even bother with cake mixes. I will usually buy the damn cake. I made cupcakes from scratch for the last kid birthday party, but part of the party involved them icing and decorating the cupcakes themselves.

    I have a safety stash that also includes spaghetti sauce, some canned soup, and frozen cheese tortellini.

    I really don’t think of peanut butter as a convenience food, per se. Really, is that opposed to grinding your own peanuts as needed? Same goes for bread. I did bake my own bread, briefly, when I was underemployed. But, I consider store baked bread to be a staple, not a crutch, for most people.

  7. gracie on May 20, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    worst convenience food: canned mac’n’cheese, mushy peas, and flaked dehydrated minted lamb and veggies (a baby food concoction i found in england one year) — euwwwww

  8. Milehimama on May 20, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Ooops – third comment! Sorry!

    The convenience food I think is the worst is Kraft Mac and Cheese, because it isn’t any more convenient than making stovetop mac from scratch but is full of chemicals. If I can have something healthier for the same amount of time and effort, why buy the blue box? You get NOTHIN’ out of Kraft!

  9. Milehimama on May 20, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I’m working on a 30 day food stash and a 2 week water stash. The 30 day food stash is more of a hedge against inflation.

    Last year, my sister and her family stayed with us for 3 weeks after Ike – and food was hard to get for a week or so (rationing at the grocery store!) I was very glad that I bought extra food – more than 3 days for just my family!

    When planning a survival stash, keep water use in mind! Salty foods will make you drink more, and pasta takes more water to prepare than rice, for example.

  10. Milehimama on May 20, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Where are you on Twitter?

    I’m Milehimama

  11. Ceci on May 20, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Hey I like Hot Pockets, well Lean Pockets anyway. They are my go-to lunch on weekends becasue i don’t have to think, and i can eat them while doing other things.

    Your ’emergency’ stash got me thinking. Maybe you guys have done this before but with hurricane season less than two weeks away, it would be great to do a ‘hurricane survival food kit’. I mean everyone hears about batteries, water, flashlights, etc., but all i ever hear is food for 3-5 days. What food? Crackers? Peanut butter? Tuna fish? During Ike last year I was powerless for 16 days, but fortunately stayed at a friends house whose power came on after 2 1/2, just about the time everything in the fridge went bad. So we ate pretty well all things considering, and I never got desperate enough to dip into the Hormel chili, or canned fruit/veggies that I had bought.

  12. Michelle M on May 20, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Those frozen pre-cooked hamburgers are the worst. They look disgusting on the box. I am guilty of buying the HEB brand of frozen potstickers, though.

  13. Heidi @ CarolinaDreamz on May 19, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    I’m rather thankful that I’m so intolerant to food ingredients, when it comes to over-processed “crap.”

    I’ve never heard of the rolled peanut butter. Eww.

    I’m off to the grocery store, where I can avoid several aisles and hopefully still come home with something to eat, after reading all those labels.

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