Pucker up for processed foods

Its Monday morning and already I am feeling tired and lacking inspiration for tonight’s dinner! How can that be? And yes I’ve had my elevenses to fuel the brain but it’s not working just yet..

So after standing staring into my food cupboards for inspiration I thought it appropriate to talk about processed foods and what role they play in our diet. ”What? Processed foods??” I hear you say!

What do you think of when you hear the words “processed food”? Cakes or biscuits jumping out at you or are you thinking of that ready meal at the back of your fridge? Most automatically think of unhealthy, high fat, sugar and salty foods. And whilst many processed foods do include the above there are many that provide good nutrition also..

Let’s go back to food technology for a minute… Processed foods include any food that has been altered from its natural state for either safety reasons (e.g. milk is pasteurised to remove bacteria), convenience or to preserve the availability of nutrients.

Breakfast cereals, cheese, milk, yogurts, bread and tinned and frozen vegetables can all be called processed foods but do you consider them unhealthy?

So let’s agree that processed foods can be included in your diet. Reading food labels is key to choosing the healthier ones to put in your basket and leaving the other ones left on the shelf….

Here is list of some of the healthier processed foods that can be included in your family shop:

  • Tinned tomatoes and vegetables are a great staple cupboard food item. Also contribute to one of your 5-a-day
  • Tomato paste is an excellent source of lycopene (powerful antioxidant). The bioavailability is higher in tomato paste than fresh tomatoes. Can be used instead of tomato ketchup for an intense tomato flavour
  • Breakfast cereals are a great way to boost nutrient intake including iron and vitamin D as most are fortified with a variety of nutrients including iron. Read on further for guidance on which ones to choose.
  • Tinned pulses and legumes such as beans and lentils are a quick and cheap source of protein and iron. Dried varieties often need to be soaked (up to 6-8 hours) and boiled for up to an hour so can lengthen the cooking time. Not ideal if you need to put a quick supper on your table!  Simply rinse to remove the salt added during the canning process.
  • Frozen vegetables can often be higher in nutrients than fresh vegetables that have been lurking in our fridge for a week.. The freezing process can preserve the vitamin content. Always keep a bag of frozen vegetables in your freezer for the day when you find you only have pasta in your cupboards
  •  Tinned fruit contributes to one of your 5-a-day. Healthier choice is tinned in juice rather than syrup and drain away. Can be added to yogurt, ice cream or custard for a quick and simple second course
  • Peanut butter is processed but a great source of protein and low GI food. There are some varieties with added salt or sugar so just check the food label.
  • Breaded fish/chicken is a great go-to meal for kids (and tired adults). Choose products with a minimum of 60% fish or 70% chicken
  • Pre-cooked rice packets
  • Oat cakes are a great handy snack

This is certainly not an exhaustive list!

So go forth with the knowledge and reassurance that even a quick simple dish of packet rice, frozen vegetables and tinned fish is still very nutritious and tasty!