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Help! Too much processed food!!!

My family is SO hooked on processed foods. No veggies unless they come from a can. Most nights Velveeta Mac n cheese is a side. I've tried to switch to home made options but they will not eat. Anyone else had this problem?

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    1. Just about every single food sold in a grocery store is processed on some level.

      How are you defining "processed" so as to establish where your cut off is?

      1 Reply
      1. re: 1POINT21GW

        In general, with a few rare exceptions (canned tomatoes, chipotles in adobo) I try not to buy anything with an ingredient list. Obviously this isn't completely feasible, but it works for the most part.

        How much convenience food do you need, really? I like to keep a few pantry staples on hand for nights when cooking needs to be quick and dirty -- I can put together a puttanesca from canned tomatoes and anchovies, jarred capers and kalamatas and be good to go. But even then I try to buy things that are minimally processed.

        Unlike going to say, a vegan diet, one doesn't need parameters. You just do your best to eat well, and accept that it's not going to be perfect.

      2. That's a shame.

        Start adding veggies like peas, broccoli, to the Mac and cheese. You can even add grilled chicken or shrimp on top.

        Maybe try half processed half fresh to get them accustomed. Or have them do some Internet research

        1. It's going to be a lot easier now to introduce healthier eating habits than later when somebody finds out their cholesterol level is too high. I feel bad for a niece who grew up with poor diet habits (both parents extremely overweight) and not enough exercise.

          It's going to take time to wean everyone off current favorites but it can happen. I like Cooking Light magazine. Perhaps involve family members in choosing a new recipe to try. We have one granddaughter who seems genetically programmed not to like anything except junk food. Right now, she's skinny. Take advantage of seasonal produce and buy local, go to a PYO farm, learn more about Eat Local.

          Unfortunately, their taste buds are used to those flavors. Give it time and I hope your significant other supports this and is helping out.

          1. Try some taste tests. I find that people often don't even know what the taste of real food is. Making mac-cheese is fairly easy so finding something that fits tastes and is less processed can be fun. Can't promise it will save calories, but it is mac-cheese.

            Leave some good food magazines - Clean Eating, Cooking Light, etc. - around and plan a meal to be prepared and eaten. Eyes often affect the taste of the meal.

            Sub in unprocessed foods occasionally without another processed option. Convenience foods are consumed and preferred often because they're convenient.

            Find something in the ingredient list of process foods that would turn others off and use it against that food. For example, when someone asks for cheese, give them a slurry made from the mac-cheese box and tell them you thought that was the preferred "cheese" of the house. Or have more fun and ask them to find out exactly what's in the box. Don't let them stop at giving the list, make them find out what it is in particular. People are often shocked to find that MSG has an endless amount of names that appear on ingredients lists. Food makers have learned that people won't buy MSG so they call it something else like glutamate/hydrolyzed are core MSG products. Go even further by challenging them to try to recreate the product at home - it's not possible because many ingredients aren't available to the public. Then you can ask if it's not available, is it any different than non-available commercial products that probably shouldn't be used/consumed at home.

            It's an every day effort to eat healthy, but it's worth it.

            Many medical professionals believe a majority of our lifelong and every day ailments are either caused by or complicated by our poor diet choices and histories. We can change that.

            1. When my kids were teens and wanted to eat all the crap their friends ate ( Mac and cheese, top ramen, frozen burritos,etc) I would agree to buy them only limited amounts of those items.

              It helped to have healthy homemade foods prepared and ready in the fridge that they would eat and were easy to microwave. They were not interested in helping or cooking.

              My daughters loved bagels, pasta, tortilla and rice (!) so I would make healthy spreads,fillings, toppings for them and sneak in veggies anywhere I could.

              I bought healthier crackers and chips, quality cheeses, and always had veg and fruit for dipping. They ate the junk food first, then "settled" for the healthier items when that was all that was left.

              I also bought them Amy's organic convenience items for the freezer and they ate them.

              They grew out of that phase, one is now a vegetarian and gluten free (ironic, really)... and the other is a wonderfully creative cook and sommelier. Don't get discouraged if they don't like things, keep trying, tastes really do change :)

              1 Reply
              1. re: sedimental

                DS was like that as a teen / pre-teen. All the "junk" would get eaten first and then he'd settle on the fruits, veggies, etc.

                If it's not in the house or prepared, he wouldn't eat it.

              2. The rule in this house is that if you want crap you have to buy it yourself (and preferably eat it elsewhere.) I absolutely refuse to spend money on garbage and will not prepare it for anyone.

                1. I should clarify something also. The kids are my steps, they're used to having lots of canned and out of the box dinners. I plan to make home made mac n cheese, at least I know what's in it. I just won't tell them about the change. Same with veggies. Just make the switch. They can like it or not.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: deputygeorgie

                    Mac and cheese is probably one of the hardest swaps you are going to make. I find that people who love the processed stuff generally tend to hate homemade. I'd start with something a little easier, like maybe homemade sloppy joes, turkey burgers, etc.

                    And I totally agree with you. They can like it or not.

                    1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                      Agree that sub'bing Mac n cheese will be noticed... Also, is there an emotional attachment (as in "I like this because its what my "real" mom/dad that isn't here made")?

                      1. re: firecooked

                        There may be some of that, but if the kids are used to lots of frozen and canned (processed) food, they're probably used to a high amount of salt and fat. So regular food tastes really bland in comparison because their taste buds have grown accustomed to excessive amounts of salt. And it might also not seem right because it isn't loaded with massive amounts of sugar, fat, etc.

                        I can tell you from personal experience that you can "re-educate" your taste buds so that significantly reduced amount of salt seems more than enough, but its a gradual process. Eventually, one finds the processed foods to be intolerably salty.

                        1. re: ePressureCooker

                          I agree. I cook most of my own food, and while it seems I use plenty of salt, my "to taste" is about half as much salt as what recipes call for... And 1/3 the amount if its an Ina Garten recipe. And I struggle at most high end dining establishments with salt fatigue.

                          1. re: firecooked

                            Me too. But, my SO who grew up with a lot of processed foods like casseroles made w/ canned soup etc, he LOVES salt. I taste the food, think it tastes great, he'll dump more salt on it.

                            1. re: juliejulez

                              Maybe you should consider putting salt blends on the table, that way the additional salt will get diluted somewhat. Its hard to get an adult to mend their ways salt-wise if they don't want to cooperate, but a little strategy never hurts.

                              I knew a girl in high school who was such a salt addict she would salt potato chips. These were already the greasiest, saltiest potato chips, and she would salt them even more. If she didn't mend her ways, she probably had high blood pressure by her 30s, or worse.

                              Tell your SO that if they're willing to reduce their salt intake, bit by bit, I can guarantee them from personal experience (and I love salt) that their taste buds will adjust, and that they'll be perfectly happy, feel completely satisfied, with much smaller amounts of salt. And that highly processed foods that once tasted normal will seem incredibly salty.

                      1. re: deputygeorgie

                        I think so many have offered great ideas. Having stepchildren feeding agreements are difficult. My questions over the years include consideration of time spent with you, age, support from spouse, or support from the ex. Balancing bonding during meals versus struggling allowed me to be more lenient. (We always had pb&j). With time they were willing to try most everything. They will not starve themselves.

                      2. It is going to be somewhat harder if deputygeorgie's spouse is in on this refusal, and if the family actually wants CANNED vegetables instead of fresh. I wouldn't attack the mac n' cheese right away, I'd start at the periphery and work my way in, substituting stuff gradually.

                        For example, spaghetti sauce. Start with the jarred stuff, maybe upgrade to a better brand, but you can start with the jarred stuff. Since your family apparently LIKES mushy, overcooked vegetables, there's no reason you can't do that yourself. Cook the devil out of some onions, mushrooms, add in some fresh diced tomatoes, zucchini if you can get away with it, and add that in to the jarred sauce. If its been cooked to death, maybe they won't notice the addition. Then the next time, cook it slightly less, and less the next time, so they gradually get used to the vegetables being cooked, but not so overdone.

                        Or the vegetables, its easy enough to overcook green beans so they taste like the stuff in the can. And I'm betting what your family likes about those canned vegetables is the ridiculous amount of salt in them (and other canned goods). They're salt junkies. Okay, so overcook the devil out of the green beans, and salt them way too much. Then next time, cut down on the salt a bit, don't cook quite so long. Gradually, you can reduce the cooking and the excessive salt, and get them to a point where they are used to the vegetables being cooked properly. And equally, if you gradually cut down the amount of salt they eat, they'll find those processed foods too salty to eat.

                        I make a lot of soups where I've based the ingredient list (except for the preservatives and additives) on the canned stuff, so its familiar for the kid in the family, but the only processed food I use in them is the canned broth, since I just cannot make enough fresh broth/stock for the amount of soup we eat. Then I'll add a little wine or other alcohol source for additional flavor, but that's optional. If I can reverse engineer soups that taste a lot like products they are already familiar with, then anyone can do that. For example, you could make a vegetable beef soup or just a plain vegetable soup, and start out by using frozen veggies to make it (carrots, potatoes, green beans, etc.) Next time, swap in fresh potatoes. Then the next time sub in fresh carrots. Gradually replace each ingredient in the soup with fresh until your family is used to eating largely fresh - the only thing processed will be the broth, and that's a significant improvement.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ePressureCooker

                          Wow. Those are all really good ideas. Luckily I'm not someone who would need to implement them, but for someone who does you offered some great advice.

                          1. re: ludmilasdaughter

                            Thanks! I've got a 9 year old nephew who is picky (he's got a thing about texture, and certain ingredients) and my sister often asks for my recipes, so I try to keep him in mind when I'm cooking, thinking about ways to hide those tomatoes and onions he doesn't like (thank goodness he hasn't figured out spaghetti sauce is made from tomatoes, all hell would break loose), or I made some orange jam for him, and had to think about getting it really smooth since he has texture issues and doesn't like orange segments, but everyone loved the jam.

                        2. I'd just stop buying the canned vegetables and velveeta mac and cheese. Make a fresh green salad and plain rice or baked potatoes as sides to whatever it is you are making. If you want them to stop eating it, stop buying it.

                          1. I'm surprised they actually *want* canned vegetables vs. fresh ones.

                            Perhaps invest in an electric food steamer, so you can make fresh vegetable side dishes quickly and easily. They're way more colorful, aren't all mushy and grey like canned ones, and you can control the salt.

                            Velveeta isn't *that* bad for you really, You can easily mix in some fresh steamed broccoli in with the mac and cheese.

                            I would also try out some different spice blends and seasoning mixes to jazz things up. Try some cajun seasonings like Tony Chachere's, or Lawry's Fire Roasted Chili and Garlic Seasoning.

                            You may want to experiment with brining your meats. It gives it a "processed" taste if they like that, particularly with chicken breasts.

                            Home made pizza's are also a good way to sneak in veggies, such as sauteed spinach, peppers, etc...

                            1. I might offer some raw vegetables like carrots, celery, sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes, etc. with a favorite dip. Snacks could be popcorn or baked tortilla chips and salsa.

                              1. In all truthfulness and seriousness, if someone gets hungry enough, they'll eat just about anything.

                                If we're talking about children, then you're the boss. If you're talking about your wife or husband, then they're grown and can eat whatever they want.

                                1. First, you've got to get your spouse on your side. Then, brainstorm with the kids to see what fresh stuff they do like, and make an effort to include it.

                                  Things many people like "fresh": do-it-yourself pizza. Salads. Crudite platters. Do-it-yourself stuffed potatoes. Pasta salad. Tuna salad salad or sandwiches. Do-it-yourself subway sandwiches. Do-it-yourself tacos. DIY burritos.

                                  A nice step-parent may have a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jam, and some whole-wheat bread on hand and say, "Well, if you don't like what I've made, you can make something yourself."

                                  Or, if the kids aren't around much, you can switch to "pantry meals" while they are here, and use up your emergency supplies so you can buy fresh cans.

                                  Choosing your battles may be more important than winning every one.

                                  1. As someone who could have once been considered a packaged food eater, I think you have a noble but very difficult task on your hands.

                                    When I married a European who was a superb cook and quite health conscious I was forced to undergo a tumultuous change in my eating habits. First, I now had to shop at many different stores, farm stands, farms and sourcing through restaurants and FedEx, each week to obtain ingredients worthy of her kitchen. Fortunately I had already gone from being a heavy salt user to an almost no salt user on my own (think drug rehab). But then the sugar reduction started along with no packaged foods with any word in the ingredients that was not part of one's daily vocabulary (worse than drug rehab, it was the ultimate abandonment of my former life sustaining eating habits)

                                    It did not last long before I quickly realized good food is both good and fun. The taste, the texture and the clarity in my system after a meal devoid of chemicals, excessive salt, sugars and good quality oils versus fat made it worth it to me. There's nothing more I love than the thought of some frito chips, bugles or potato chips. However the reality is now I eat one and throw the package away. Coke, formerly a 6-pack/day, haven't had one in over a decade. Ice cream, my former nightly "snack", haven't had a bite for 7 years. Tried but just can't handle the sugar content.

                                    I can also note that the wonderful cook I managed to marry has not made the slightest dent in her son's, or either of my son's, abysmal eating habits. All are out if the house but have been exposed to more than enough of her cooking to bite if they had an interest. To differentiate good and bad food you have to realize, and enjoy, the difference. Many are simply immune to this or overly influenced my marketing.