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Apr 12, 2008 10:18 PM

Healthy processed foods?

OK, so maybe its an oxymoron. But here's what I am looking for:

simple, easy to prepare food easily available at a major supermarket that doesn't contain huge amounts of sodium and most importantly, doesn't have corn syrup as one of the top ingredients. I am trying to avoid both those products for health and other reasons, but its hard to do. EDIT: is it really necessary to add good tasting as a criteria?

DH travels a lot during the week, and I find myself fixing dinner for one more often than not. I have been slammed at work, and I just want to go home, heat up something simple, and put my feet up. But I don't want to eat junk. Even canned "healthy" soups are amazingly high in sodium....I have found some frozen soups that are good (in the organic food section of Albertson's).

Any ideas? I would love a general discussion of ready-made food items that don't contain corn many of the cookies and crackers and even pretzels do!! Today I discovered that low-sodium goldfish crackers fit the bill....but woman cannot live on goldfish alone. Ideas??

(Actually, I'm glad that summer will soon be on us. Sure, it'll be hot, but at least then a simple salad or maybe some fruit might be the perfect dinner. In the meantime, I'm still looking for suggestions...)

(And don't suggest the "cook in advance" idea. Until my freezer makes the move down here to Vegas, the little one on top of my refrigerator is already overstuffed...)

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  1. Try the ethnic sections even in markets like Albertson's. Food from other countries have less junk and rarely HFCS ...British, Mexican, etc.

    1. "...doesn't contain huge amounts of sodium"

      Although I rarely, if ever, eat processed food. This one has me curious for interest sake only

      1. If your supermarket has an in-store bakery, you could check there for cookies, breads and other products. It's possible that they won't have corn syrup and you can buy what you need for a couple of days or freeze things.
        Packaged baked goods use corn syrup, and now often HFCS, to extend shelf life because it prevents crystallization and retains moisture so the products maintain quality. That's why bakery cookies get stale after a few days and Chips Ahoy last 6 months on the shelf.
        There is a difference between plain corn syrup and HFCS. Many fine bakeries use corn syrup or similar products for good reasons, including as I said above - avoiding crystallization and moisture retention - so you should look at it on a case-by-case basis.
        I totally agree with you however that it has no place whatsoever in about 80% of the places where it is is lurking. Salad dressings, soups and meats? Gimme a break?

        My standby meals in your situation were often eggs, eggs and more eggs. I loved eggs on top of asparagus. Eggs on top of pasta. Omelets. Scrambled eggs.
        Good frozen veggies are frozen without salt in bags and I can heat as much or little as I want.. I roast a chicken and have several days of meals (and lunches to carry to work) from it - plus stock from the bones, with no extra sodium.
        Individually frozen fish filets defrost in minutes under water and cook in minutes.

        If you want to avoid additives you object to, you'll have to do some work. Most stuff is put into food to maintain quality or to extend shelf life. Without them, most people would open the packages and find the products unappealing and not very tasty. Sad to say, a lot of people won't even think to add salt before saying something tastes flat. They want it OK right out of the package so manufacturers make it to the general market.

        3 Replies
        1. re: MakingSense

          << If your supermarket has an in-store bakery, you could check there for cookies, breads and other products. >>

          I used to think that the products baked in-store would be better for you than the packaged stuff, but if you look at the labels, you can see they are not. Actually, what I have found is that many of the in-store bakery bake the products only, they are not made in-house.

          1. re: NE_Elaine

            Depends in the in-store bakery. Most of them do use par-baked products so that there is consistency from store to store. Can you imagine the nightmare of teaching every new employee how to scratch bake every cake and bread they offer? Yikes!!!
            But the quality of the in-store bakery products offered by some stores/chains is still better than many or even most mass market products that have to last weeks or months on store shelves.
            Read the labels. They usually have far fewer stabilizers and preservatives since they don't have to keep for so long.
            One regional chain here has in-store bread that has almost nothing in it but the basics and they're all organic. You have to find the right store and the right bread.

            1. re: MakingSense

              Yup. Read the labels. I have to say, though, that when I did, I was surprised how many house-baked goods did have HFCS.

              Just a reminder: as far as I know, there is no organic HFCS (the whole point of HFCS is that it's a way to use excess cheap corn -- which may become a thing of the past). So any organic product will be HFCS-free.

              Like MakingSense, I have just keep the staples for a 10-minute meal on hand. Sausages (there are so many good/interesting ones these days), pasta, potatoes I can cook fast in the microwave, good quality frozen veggies (from TJ's), a bunch of jars of sauces/condiments in the fridge, etc.

              Actually, Janet, since I know there are Trader Joe's in Vegas, that's where I'd start. Their convenience products are generally higher quality with fewer additives than the average supermarket, and in fact they just came out with some lower sodium soups (in the one-quart tetrapak) -- I think because many customers (including me) requested them.

        2. Janet, would it be possible to prepare some great foods from scratch during the weekend and then enjoy them during the work-week? If you roast a very large chicken for Sunday dinner, you would have the roast chicken to enjoy in a variety of healthy ways during the week and you'd have the carcass to make your own healthy soup or stock from.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Val

            I believe she asked that we not suggest cooking ahead...

            Even Healthy Choice and organic frozen foods from the grocery tend to have large amounts of sodium. I have had some luck with Trader Joe's prepared foods. Just be sure to skip the frozen veggies which have sauce. The 'sauce' is actually frozen rounds of butter and salt that invariably tastes nasty.

            1. re: mojoeater

              heh, I had to re-read the OP twice to see that in her last paragraph...sorry everyone! But, son is on a low-sodium diet...I've been going to a variety of low-sodium websites and this one is run by a medical doctor; he reviews convenience foods and rates them, so for what it's worth, you might peruse his list of foods, link below.


              Here's one more website that lists "angels/devils" as far as nutritious frozen foods that might also be helpful to Janet:


          2. Kashi entrees have gotten some good reviews here and elsewhere, although I haven't personally tried them (and I haven't looked at their nutritional info). The Moosewood frozen products have caught my eye a couple of times at WF, but I never brought myself to buy them. Same with other ready-made products (e.g., Amy's, etc.) for the exact same reasons you mention, I guess: too many ingredients, too many unknown variables, too much salt.

            I try to stay away from frozen meals, although I can certainly relate to an incredibly hectic schedule and the limited time one can devote to cooking. In our case, it's typically a compromise: getting the ingredients from a can/bottle, and mixing them on the spot with some fresh add-ons. Not terribly original, but do-able given the circumstances.