Processed food is all around us, making the temptation to take advantage of it great — especially considering the busy lifestyle that so many of us lead. You may feel frazzled or short on time, and the thought of cooking dinner after a long day seems overwhelming, so you pick up some fast food on the way home. It’s only natural, you deserve a break. (Does that remind you of a fast-food jingle?)
But think about what you are doing to your body, especially if you do this regularly. (Once a month? Ok, that IS a break. Once or twice a day? Maybe something needs to change.)
“Fast food” is not the only highly processed food. Many of the foods sold in your local grocery store are just as highly processed. (Bleached flour, anyone? How does eating bleach sound if you think of it that way? What about margarine, which is a few molecules away from plastic?) So how do you avoid processed food while living a busy lifestyle?
It can be as simple as an attitude change. Change your attitude and change your life. I thought about this a while back, and I realized that it takes longer for me to go out to eat than it does for me to cook something at home. There’s the drive time, waiting for a table or waiting for the fast-food counter to get your order right, eating your meal, paying, and driving home. I’m not saving any time, and I’m wasting time, energy, and money. (There’s the time I had to work to pay for the meal and the gas it took to get there, the 30 minutes spent driving, the time spent at the restaurant, etc.) Asking myself every time I wanted to eat out if it was worth it frequently resulted in a no.
That’s when I discovered the other benefits of not eating so much fast food. Fast food is exhausting. It’s not nutritious, and your body must work to detoxify. I have less energy after eating processed food, and so I must spend time recovering from its effects. Illness is more frequent as well, resulting again in lost time. Once I became aware of this cycle and its effects on my life, eating more healthful foods became more and more appealing. I’m not entirely “there” by any means, but if you knew what I used to eat it’d be obvious that I’ve come a long way.
Learning to choose more healthful foods was the next step. A simple rule to keep in mind is that whole food is better. Pesticide-free whole foods are even more of an improvement. Food that you grow yourself is probably best of all. But anywhere on that whole-food continuum is a vast improvement over-processed foods. Buying ingredients instead of the finished product is one way to ensure that your food is more healthful. Reading ingredients on the non-whole foods that you choose is also important.
I prefer to see an ingredient list like “tomatoes, stewed; sugar, water” instead of “partially hydrogenated corn oil, etc.” Note that ingredients are listed in order from greatest to least, so in my first example tomatoes are the primary ingredient. Reading labels may take a few extra minutes initially, but once you’ve done it the first time you can note the more healthful products and go straight to them in the future.
Best of all, homemade food tastes better! And you can make cooking it a family affair, using the time to talk and relax. You can also plan to have leftovers for lunches, which saves time & money since all you have to do is reheat them. You can cook double batches and freeze them. (Did you know you can freeze pancakes?) This saves time as well. Next time you’re too tired to cook, think of the alternatives available and the effects that making good choices will have on your lifestyle!