Are you one of those virtuous people who eats only natural whole foods, often purchased from local growers or grown yourself? Do you, without fail, take these wholesome ingredients and lovingly fashion them into delicious meals and snacks, cooking everything from scratch?
Good for you! Could you please come over to Crabby's house now and do the same for her?
Ah well, it was worth a try.
Whole foods and home cooking with only healthy ingredients is what the magazines act like we're all doing, and it's certainly the ideal. We all know a diet of mostly processed food is a Really Stupid Idea. (For example, this recent depressing study noted that British four year olds were getting roughly twice as much salt as they should from processed foods and that it was already showing up in their blood pressure readings).
But if you're not totally dedicated, exceptionally creative, and super well-organized, it can be a struggle. You need time, and nearby healthy food retailers, and cooperative (or at least coercible) family members in order to have any hope of banishing processed convenience foods from your life. It's theoretically possible. However, it ain't happening anytime soon at the Crab and Lobster household.
So for those of us who are perhaps not so creative or dedicated: we have our little repertoire of home cooked meals, which we make as often as we can stand. And we have our favorite restaurants and semi-healthy take-out options. (Crabby just discovered Pizzeria Paradiso, a D.C. pizza place that makes a tasty pie with a whole wheat crust. Paired with a salad: a quick dinner with minimal guilt!
Some of the time though, we end up buying stuff that's been pre-made or processed and packaged up for later. We buy crackers or bread or frozen enchiladas or pancake mixes or lunch-meats or canned beans or tofutti cuties. And as soon as we push our carts past the pyramids of fresh produce and venture into the rest of the grocery store? We have to pass through the gates of CompromiseLand.
(This is different from Don'tGiveaCrapWorld, where the majority of people seem to shop. Their stores are vast and their aisles are packed with tons of tempting options).
You know the drill. Say you've seen an ad for a new breakfast cereal. It promises to be whole grain and healthy but tasty, packed with healthy fruit and nuts. You are skeptical but perhaps you're just a tiny bit tired of your same old oatmeal every day, and you're tempted by the idea of the sweet crunch of a "regular" breakfast cereal like everyone else gets to eat. You locate the box and maybe it IS healthier than most! It's fairly low in calories, high fiber, a decent amount of protein, but whoa... look at all that sodium! And it's sweetened with high fructose corn syrup!
Do you buy it?
Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. Crabby's kitchen cupboards contain an embarrassing quantity of products that are "the best she could do." They're better than most but there's usually something wrong with them. They're not a total all out Junky but Yummy Treat, like transfat-packed cookies or something. But then they're not a virtuous sack of dried lentils, either.
Convenience Foods are on Crabby's mind more than usual lately, because she has just moved within four blocks of the Holy Grail for Almost-Healthy Convenience Food: A Trader Joe's!
Have you been there? Crabby has visited other locations over the years but hadn't ever lived close by enough to become a regular. So every couple of days she comes back with some new convenience item to try: Pre-cooked Microwaveable Brown Rice! Unsalted Blue Tortilla Chips! Fancy Greek Yogurt! Whole Wheat Pretzels! Dark-Chocolate Covered Almonds! Cheap Frozen Calamari! Black Bean Taquitos! Whole Wheat Low-Carb Tortillas!
So far, most of these Trader Joe items seem to be pretty reasonable compromise foods. They taste anywhere from OK to yummy, and they do their best to eliminate or minimize Bad Things. Some she will probably get tired of soon because that often happens--the novelty of the new item fades and somehow the "packaged" part of the flavor starts to stand out more. Crabby is rather promiscuous when it comes to convenience foods and few go on to become household staples.
Crabby's current favorite item is the Fage Nonfat Greek Yogurt, which is incredibly rich and tasty and high in protein (and expensive!). When mixed with vanilla and the sweetener of your choice, it tastes like freakin' cheese cake. (The Trader Joe's brand of Greek Yogurt, while much cheaper, tastes kind of salty and sour). The Scariest Item she's brought home? It's those low carb tortillas. The ingredients sound more appropriate for insulating your house than wrapping around a pile of beans and cheese and putting in your mouth. But the dang things only have 50 calories, they have an insane amount of fiber and protein, and they don't even taste bad.
It's funny though: we all have our own idea about what a Somewhat Acceptable Compromise Convenience Foods is--and our ideas may be totally different!
So while there are lots of Scummy Marketeers trying to lie to us about blatantly unhealthy food, even the products that are Sincerely Trying to be Good still end up falling short for many of us. Because Weight Watcher people need to prioritize their Points, and whole-food crunchy people need everything be as natural and organic as possible, while others are being extra careful about saturated fats or white flour or sugar or sodium or calories or fiber or transfats or the correct ratio of Omega 3's to Omega 6's.
Then there's the fact that everyone has their own personal health histories and nutritional goals. Plus, sometimes "reasonably healthy and convenient" means "astronomically expensive" and not everyone can go down that road. And some people stubbornly insist that their convenience food actually taste good!
The result is, while most whole foods work for nearly everyone, any packaged product is going to seem like a Toxic Poison to someone and a Gift From Heaven to someone else. It's sort of like looking for the perfect iTunes workout playlist: everyone agrees it's a great thing to have, but no two people would chose the same one. And other people's choices can seem downright ridiculous!
So Crabby would never presume to come up with a list of Best and Healthiest Convenience Foods. But she's still curious to hear about what you all look for and what you've found that's good! She would love some new ideas. (Has anyone, for instance, found a whole wheat pasta that doesn't taste like the box it came in?) Or, in contrast, since she tends to be a sucker for ads about Some Favorite Old Forbidden Convenience Food which has had a New Healthy Makeover, what should she be warned to stay far, far away from?