Why We Eat Some Processed Foods

posted by Andrea | 03/18/2014

food collage

Almost EVERY time I share a recipe or meal-planning post, I get at least one comment or email from someone who claims to “make everything from 100% scratch” and thus has an issue with part of my recipe… because no, I don’t make everything 100% from scratch.

Usually the questions are about how I could change the recipe to be 100% from scratch with absolutely no processed ingredients… to which I respond “I don’t know”.

I’m not trying to be silly or rude, I just honestly don’t know!

As I clearly state on My Recipes Page, it’s not my goal to live without any processed or convenient foods. And it’s not my goal to make everything my family eats 100% from scratch.

I have 500 other things I need to do each day, and while eating a healthy balanced diet IS important to me, I’m also fairly confident that we will not wither and melt from eating an occasional frozen pizza or a boxed brownie mix.

In fact, this is a direct quote from My Recipes Page:

My recipes are simple, delicious, family-friendly, and budget-conscious.

My recipes are easy enough for the busy home chef, delicious enough to impress your guests, and “normal” enough that even your picky eaters are bound to like something!

My recipes use common ingredients you will find in any grocery store (or in your pantry), most offer simple substitutions to fit your family’s tastebuds, and many start with a boxed mix or some pre-made ingredients to help you get dinner on the table even faster.

My recipes are freezer-friendly, and most can easily be made ahead in double or triple batches to save you even more time.

Compare to many people I know, I actually cook and bake from scratch A LOT. However, we have at least one or two meals each week that comprise of some semi-homemade and/or processed foods — and there are many times when I start with a boxed mix for one of my baking recipe… I’m totally OK with that.

Yes, I am fully aware that it would be healthier if I did everything 100% from scratch with all natural and organic ingredients; and I realize that processed and pre-packaged foods are not as healthy as homemade foods.

BUT…

I also know that if I put the pressure on myself to make everything from scratch without ever being able to fall back on a can of soup, a frozen pizza, store-bought cookies, or mac & cheese from a box, I would go crazy and probably give up cooking all together.

We would eat out a lot more, I would be more stressed, I would spend WAY more time agonizing over what to make, our grocery bill would be a lot higher, and our freezer wouldn’t be half as full as it is right now.

I realize not everyone would fall into this trap — but I would.

I like to cook and bake but I don’t LOVE to do either for mass amounts of time. I enjoy spending time in the kitchen if I can be quick and efficient about the meals and snacks I make.

Also, I personally know MANY people who claim to “make everything from scratch” and “never buy any processed foods” but then I’ve seen those same people chowing down at Subway, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut with their family (on more than one occasion).

And while I most definitely do NOT think it’s bad to go out to eat if you can afford it, I also KNOW that these “everything from scratch, no processed food families” eat out much more regularly than Dave and I do — costing them many more dollars and calories in the long run.

When I questioned some of these people as to why they eat out so often, it almost always comes down the fact that they get completely burnt out trying to make everything from scratch — and then they just give up and resort to frozen pizza and fast food for an entire week straight. Then they get back on their healthy-food kick and are super diligent for 2-3 more weeks until they burn out again.

Honestly, I don’t blame them!

There’s just no way I could grind my own grain, make ALL my own bread, make my own cheese, and obsess over every single ingredient that enters my kitchen on a regular basis.

Sure it’s fun to cook from scratch and make time-consuming recipes every now and then — but not every meal, every day, every week.

Everything in Moderation:

Yes, sometimes I make homemade oatmeal with fresh fruit and real maple syrup or homemade omelets with whole grain toast for breakfast. But there are plenty of other days when we eat cold cereal — and I even buy PopTarts for Dave because they are his favorite.

Often we’ll have leftovers or a big fresh salad for lunch, but there are plenty of days when we have lunch meat and cheese on store-bought bread… with chips :)

And for dinner, I have absolutely no qualms about incorporating a can of cream of mushroom soup into my casserole with fresh veggies, roasted meats, and home canned applesauce — because I know that if I had to make my own cream of mushroom soup, I would shy away from even making the casserole in the first place and we’d resort to fast food or a frozen meal.

I am not stupid… I realize that processed foods are not great.

But I’m also pretty practical with my approach to feeding my family and realize that SOME processed food with LOTS of other fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and grains is much better than a stressed out, burned out mama who resorts to fast food and frozen meals day after day.

As I mention on my recipe page, I’m an advocate for “everything in moderation” (for food and most other things in life).

We are not going to live a horrible life because I served store-bought garlic bread with my homemade meatballs and homemade pasta sauce, or even because we eat a frozen pizza (with soda) every once in a while.

I’ve never once claimed to be a gourmet chef or a Real Food fanatic, so if that’s the only type of food you’re looking for — you probably won’t find tons of useful recipes on my blog.

However, if you’re looking for simple, delicious, budget-conscious recipes that your family is sure to love, I can probably help you out!

And by all means, feel free to modify ANY of my recipes to substitute out the processed foods you don’t love — just don’t ask me how to do it!  :)

What are your thoughts on eating some processed food?

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66 comments

  1. B

    03/18/2014

    I literally posted the “moderation” mantra in my blog today! I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on this. I think you have a very realistic outlook toward healthy food for your family! Plus, I have loved the recipes of yours that I’ve tried, so please don’t change your recipes too much!

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  2. Allie

    03/18/2014

    I really get turned off by those blogs that claim to make everything from scratch and have a holier-than-thou attitude. It bothers me especially since many of them use store bought cheese and other ingredients, which isn’t exactly “everything” from scratch and homemade. I think that moderation in life just makes for a happier existence for all. I do try to steer away from too many processed foods but with an extremely picky eater at home, I am just thankful when she eats. I’ve had to come to terms with the notion that eating something is better than starving herself, which she would do. Even her feeding therapist gave up and said just feed the kid anything that will get her too eat. Everyone’s life and experiences are different and no one has a right to judge anyone else.

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  3. Jen

    03/18/2014

    I’m so glad you don’t let people bring you down! They’re just silly…and that’s coming from someone who likes to make as many things from scratch as possible. It’s what I like to do, but I certainly don’t think any less of people who used processed foods on occasion. Which is a good thing, considering I’m having to rely on more processed foods during my high-risk pregnancy! We all do what works best for our family! I love all the points you made. :)

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  4. Amanda

    03/18/2014

    Amen!! Over the last 6mo, we’ve tried to cut a lot of GMOs out of our diet and eat more organic. However, I’m a busy mom and wife… so while those are ideals, I don’t stress about it. I will say I buy Annie’s Mac & Cheese – it’s organic, and at costco, it’s actually only like a $1 more than the Kraft for a dozen boxes. Some people have said that Whole Foods is more expensive, but I’ve found that it’s organics are cheaper than our big grocery chain, and not all that more expensive than the regular stuff (at least in NE Ohio).

    I make my own spaghetti sauce and chicken stock in large quantities and freeze in smaller portions, but I also keep a few jars of sauce and cartons of broth in the house. There are some days I just need to have dinner on the table in 20min, and I have to do whatever that takes, even if it means canned soup (honestly, I don’t think I’ll be able to give up campbell’s tomato soup, lol). So while yes, I try to do more from scratch, I’m not willing to risk my sanity to do it.

    Thanks for the reminder that moderation is the key. As it has been mentioned recently – you can’t “do it all” at the same time – so this is just where we are in life. You’ve got to do whatever you’ve got to do :)

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  5. Navya

    03/19/2014

    I live in India and over here we hardly get those boxed mixes… So that is an issue for me when your recipe uses boxed mixes… But I usually refer to another site for a basic cookie / brownie recipe and then adapt my recipe with a combination of a basic cookie / brownie recipe with your modifications to make say your brownie/cookie bars. So if I can adapt your recipes to suit my taste and lack of ingredients in India and still be a loyal viewer of your site :) I really do not see what problem the others have…

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  6. Nayuleska

    03/19/2014

    Andrea, yours is pretty much the only blog I read and it’s because so often your thoughts and feelings on topics match up with mine. This post had the spirit I decided on yesterday. I use an organic delivery service in England (UK England), so most of my fruit/veg is organic, and other meals are processed because I have chronic pain, & permanent fatigue from my health condition. I live with my parents but sort my own meals out. I make sure the processed meals I do have are high quality, with virtually no preservatives/additives (so just like I could make at home if I had the energy to do so).

    I have a smoothie a day to cram in fruit & veg, as I eat small meals throughout the day. I recently had mango, which added an extra dimension to the smoothies (I use a base of 1.5 oranges and 1 apple in them, with some greens & other fruit/veg depending on what I have). Buying organic mango every week would be too costly. I then saw my family used canned fruit from the store, and yesterday I bought a few tins of peaches, mango, pineapple and cherries. I opened the peaches and rinsed them thoroughly to get rid of some of the sugar. I had some with yogurt as my pre-bed snack, and will use the rest today in smoothies.

    The point I’m getting to is that I’ve only just realised that it’s ok if a little of my fruit/veg isn’t organic. Yes, I do want to give my body the best nutrients when I can, but, like you, using 1 type of canned fruit in my smoothies will not kill me. It means I don’t have to wait ages for fruit to ripen (in the case of pears & peaches), ask family to prepare a pineapple for me as it’s too tough for me to cut myself, and if I unexpectedly finish up some fruit before my next organic delivery I can just open a can and use the fruit in that.

    We have to do what works for us, and often that is a bit of what we want because we don’t have the time/energy/money to live our ideal food lives. I love your attitude towards food, and hope that many more can learn from it and take comfort in it like I do.

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  7. Rhonda H.

    03/19/2014

    Very well said, Andrea!! I couldn’t agree more. Having been married almost 34 years, I’ve tried every cooking style out there, and I always come back to cooking partly from scratch, and partly from packages. I love what you said several times about supplementing with fresh fruits and veggies! We have 5 kids with 2 (teenagers) still at home, and this is the most cost effective way of feeding the masses. :)

    The more I read your posts, the more I wish I knew you personally! Keep up the good work!!

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  8. Rose

    03/19/2014

    Great Post!!!!!!!! I think that most of those negative comments left for you are ladies that are just plain BORED and have nothing else to worry about! No kids??? Lots of free time. Not working outside the home…. They’re just jumping on the “organic–non processed food” band wagon….annoying! If they don’t like what you have posted for them…too bad! You actually are honest, and some folks would rather hear the BS than the truth! I love your blog!!!!!!!!! You are down to earth and honest! Who wouldn’t want the best for their families?

    Your son is gorgeous!!!!!!!!!!!

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  9. Jen

    03/19/2014

    I’m kind of baffled as to why anyone would be bothered so much by your recipes. You have never marketed yourself as a “natural living” blog or made any claims along those lines. Why people think you owe it to them to conform to that is beyond me.

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  10. Dana

    03/20/2014

    Thank you so much! This is so real and more realistic for most of us and our budgets. I often have to stop going to certain blogs because I become overwhelmed with their ideals that I can not meet. You are a breath of fresh air!

    But I do make my bread from scratch thanks to you! I, my kids and husband LOVE LOVE LOVE you english muffin bread and it is so simple and freezes so well I make it every two weeks.

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  11. Lydia @ The Thrifty Frugal Mom

    03/21/2014

    I appreciated many things about this post…moderation is SO important for all parts of our life and so is grace. Not everyone is going to have the same eating habits/choices and that is okay. I’m with you in that we occasionally use pre-packaged ingredients for the very same reasons you do. For instance, I just had a baby and there was a deal on some good quality canned soup. I went ahead and got it even though it is something that I wouldn’t normally buy and I know it’s not the healthiest thing around. I know it will help save my sanity when I need a quick lunch on days when the baby is fussy and the 2 yr. old is hungry and wants to eat NOW.

    That being said, you probably would consider me one of “those people” that makes “everything” from scratch. I make my own bread, cream soup (it’s a fast easy recipe), granola, yogurt, cakes, cookies, etc. And I’d say that 90% of the food we eat is not pre-packaged in any way. And contrary to what you said in your post we typically don’t eat out more than once a month, if that. I don’t feel condemning of people that eat differently than we do but I also sometimes get tired of hearing comments that “it can’t be done” or comments like some here about “holier-than-thou attitudes”.

    We choose to eat the way we do because it is less expensive and more than that, we feel so much better health wise. I’m a busy mom of three who also runs a blog. It’s not like I have more time than anyone else but just like some people make time in their schedule to exercise or to take their kids to baseball practice etc. I make time in my schedule to make food from scratch.

    Do I think you are terrible for using pre-packaged foods sometimes? No! But I also feel like I need to speak up for some of us that eat differently and actually DO manage to stay on top of things and don’t get burned out (any more than any cook gets burned out.) I think part of the key is to slowly work these things into your schedule. Once they become part of your routine and habit it really doesn’t take that much longer. That and finding easy to follow, simple recipes for the things you make is key.

    Thanks for sharing this post Andrea! I do think that it’s good for all of us to be reminded that sometimes our sanity is more important than eating “perfectly”!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Lydia — and congrats on finding that right balance for your family. I guess I could say I have the same thoughts about a clean house as you do about cooking from scratch. I’m willing to MAKE the time to keep our house quite clean, neat, and organized — even though there are plenty of other ways I could fill my time.

    At this point in my life, I’m not necessarily willing to MAKE the time to cook everything from scratch because I don’t enjoy cooking (and cleaning up) nearly as much as I enjoy cleaning and organizing (I know, I’m sick!)

    So yes, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Thanks for sharing your side of the story!

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    Lydia @ The Thrifty Frugal Mom Reply:

    Ha, sick for enjoying cleaning and organizing? I think not! There’s people that would probably pay good money to love doing that. :)

    And I think you summarized my thoughts well. A lot of it comes down to what you enjoy and want to make priority. I can’t stand a dirty house, so I clean at least to some extent every week. I love cooking and baking so I make that more of a priority than doing crafts or things of that sort that I really don’t enjoy. And while I don’t really like clutter it takes work for me to keep up with keeping our house clutter free….that’s where my husband shines thank God! But like you were alluding to in your post- we can’t do it all and it’s okay to fudge in cooking or whatever the area is that you need/want to fudge in. And I think it’s so important that we give grace to ourselves to do that.

    Blessings!

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  12. Pyper

    03/21/2014

    This is EXACTLY how I feel about this issue. I bake from scratch as much as I can, but I can’t always do it that way and I’m not going to kick myself because I used a can of cream of chicken soup or some Pillsbury biscuits.

    Thank you!!

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  13. Lynda

    03/22/2014

    Love this and agree whole-heartily !! I love your genuineness!

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  14. deborah

    03/23/2014

    Thanks Andrea! I heartily agree with this post. You said it very well! :) I truly want to find balance and moderation in many areas of my life! I struggle at times to do this, but it is definitely how I think.

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  15. Sallie Borrink

    03/29/2014

    AMEN!

    Says the gal who frequently uses Cream of Chicken Soup and doesn’t feel the least bit guilty about it!

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