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How to Prepare Processed Foods to Boost Nutritional Value

Updated on March 22, 2017
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Sadie Holloway loves researching and writing about simple ways to live a healthier lifestyle.

Is your pantry filled with high-sodium pasta side dishes, breakfast cereals loaded with sugar, and crackers and chips coated with artificial flavors and colors? Processed foods are a fact of life in this busy world we live in. While it would be nice to eat a balanced diet of nothing but home cooked meals made from whole foods, it's just not possible for most people. This articles will show you how to reduce the amount of salt, sugar and artificial flavors you consume in the processed foods you eat by making simple tweaks and changes to the way you prepare these products.

Is it time to update your pantry with healthier food choices?
Is it time to update your pantry with healthier food choices?

By choosing plain, unflavored processed foods and then dressing them up with fresh fruits, nuts, cheeses and veggies, you can boost their fiber content, vitamin content and most of all, flavor and texture. Here are some ways to make five common processed foods in your pantry a little healthier and a lot more tasty. Don't forget to read and compare the nutrition labels of your packaged and processed foods.

Cereals and Breakfast Foods

Did you know that the raisins added to many commercial bran flake cereals are coated in a combination of sugar and modified palm oil? Instead of buying cereals covered in sugared fruits and frosting, buy plain shredded wheat or plain bran flakes, then add dried or fresh fruit. (Hint: Plain bran cereal is also a great baking ingredient when you want to add more fiber to your homemade muffins, cookies and squares.)

Rice, Pasta, and Starches

Kick the high salt, packaged side-dishes in favor of lightly seasoned plain rice and pasta. Brown, jasmine or white rice and whole wheat noodles garnished with green onions, basil or other fresh herbs, a touch of butter, cracked pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese make wonderfully light, yet flavorful side dishes for meats, chicken, fish and tofu. Blackened sesame or poppy seeds add a bit of texture and depth to pasta as well.

If you want to splurge and have a processed comfort food (my weakness is Kraft Dinner), why not try making the macaroni with three-quarters or even half the cheese powder? Then add parsley, tarragon, basil or cumin for a light uplift. Fold up the remainder of the cheese packet and use it another night as a light sprinkle on homemade chilli. Again, it's a small move, but if you can cut back on your sodium gram by gram, your body will thank you.

Crackers and Crunchy Snacks

Do your fingers turn orange after eating a bag of nacho chips? (This can't be good. Is all that food coloring necessary?) Make low fat yogurt dips and chick-pea spreads to dress up unsalted crackers or whole grain chips.

If you do eat chips and processed snacks from your pantry, try to eat the treats slowly and more mindfully. You're less likely to overeat and you'll feel more satisfied with a smaller amount.

If you do eat processed salty snacks and crackers, portion your snack into a small bowl to avoid mindlessly overindulging.
If you do eat processed salty snacks and crackers, portion your snack into a small bowl to avoid mindlessly overindulging.

Bottled Juices and Sugary Beverages

Don't be fooled by fruit juices and vegetable cocktails that brag about having 2-3 servings of fruits or vegetables in them. These drinks are loaded with salt and fructose and you don't get the same amount of fiber that you would if you ate 2 whole pieces of fruit. You're better off drinking water all day and snacking on fresh fruits and vegetables. You'll get more fiber and you'll satisfy your hunger for longer.

Homemade freshly pressed juices are a much healthier option than drinking processed juices and soft drinks. An even better step would be to drink water instead of juice and get meet your daily fruit and veggies intake with whole foods.
Homemade freshly pressed juices are a much healthier option than drinking processed juices and soft drinks. An even better step would be to drink water instead of juice and get meet your daily fruit and veggies intake with whole foods.
Strawberries are on the list of top ten fruits and veggies with high levels of pesticide residue on them. Whenever possible, buy organically grown strawberries if you want to eat healthier.
Strawberries are on the list of top ten fruits and veggies with high levels of pesticide residue on them. Whenever possible, buy organically grown strawberries if you want to eat healthier.

What Do You Eo When Organic Isn't an Option?

Many of us want to eat more organic fruits and vegetables, but sometimes we can't. Perhaps your budget is tight and you can't afford to overhaul your diet and eat just organic produce. You may live in a small town or remote area and your local grocer just doesn't carry organic produce.

There are some things that you can do, however, to reduce the amount of pesticides you put on the table. Here is a guide to the fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide counts. By making a few modifications to what you choose in the produce section, you can lower the amount of unnecessary chemicals you consume. Making small changes to the way you eat is better than making no changes at all.

Bonus Tips:

These bonus tips apply to items in your fridge and freezer, not your pantry.

  • Buy unsalted butter. Sure, it's a small step, but if you're counting your sodium milligrams and trying to reduce your salt intake, every little bit adds up. After awhile, you won't miss the salt.
  • You may not be ready to give up your ice cream, but you might want to get rid of novelty ice creams with chocolate, caramel and other flavored swirls laced through them. Have you ever noticed that these swirls never freeze solid? What on earth do they put in the ice cream to keep the swirls from freezing? Choose plain vanilla ice cream, or old fashioned chocolate if you like, and then sprinkle your ice cream with diced fruit, chopped nuts, homemade jam, chocolate shavings, honey or real maple syrup. You might even want to try grinding some cracked black pepper over your ice cream. You'd be surprised at how good it tastes.

© 2017 Sadie Holloway

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