Ah, convenience. With clever marketing and packaging, we can be lulled into thinking we need to buy certain foods and products because they are quicker and easier. But at what cost?
Most convenience foods are expensive and unhealthy. What’s more, they often replace healthy foods that are easy to prepare. If you are looking for ways to tighten your food budget while gaining better nutrition at the same time, here is our list of foods to skip at the check-out line
1. “Fruit-flavored” items. We know about the great nutritional benefits of dark berries, such as blueberries, but stick to the real berries rather than the artificial kind. Those berry-flavored cereals, muffins, granola bars and sauces usually don’t contain a single actually berry. Purchase the real thing and add them to your foods for a real vitamin and antioxidant boost.
2. Bottled tea. Think tea is healthy and low-calorie? It can be when you make it yourself. When you buy it in most bottled versions, it is loaded with sweeteners. With many brands, you might as well be drinking soda.
3. Gluten-free goods. Unless you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, gluten-free foods may not be the best choice for you. Many gluten-free baked goods are packed with more calories, fats, carbohydrates and artificial ingredients than traditional products. Plus, they usually cost more.
4. Multi-grain bread. When it comes to bread, become a label reader. Most so-called “multi-grain” bread  is little more than white bread with a little added coloring. Make sure whole wheat is the main ingredient.
5. Foods with wood as an ingredient. You may be getting more than you bargain for with some of those “high-fiber” cereals and snack bars. Check the ingredients list for the word “cellulose.” Cellulose is a synonym for “wood pulp.” Yuk!
6. Reduced fat peanut butter. Regular peanut butter provides good fats as well as protein. Reduced fat peanut butter adds in sugar to take the place of those good fats. Stick to regular.
7. Frozen meals. The picture on the package may look tempting, but many frozen meals (including so-called “healthy” versions) are loaded with sodium, unhealthy fats, refined sugars, refined grains and chemical preservatives. Frozen foods can be a convenient option, but be sure to choose plain frozen meats, fish, veggies and fruits rather than prepared meals.
8. Vegetable oils. Canola, soy, peanut, vegetable and safflower oils contain high levels of unhealthy fats and often are loaded with GMO ingredients. Instead, stick with extra virgin olive oil, flax oil and coconut oil.
9. Prepared baking mixes. Boxed cake and muffin mixes are usually high in refined sugars and refined flours and may contain GMO soy and corn. It is fairly easy to make your from-scratch baked goods, so become a label-reader for your snack foods and desserts.
10. Salad dressing. Bottled salad dressings contain all sorts of added sugars, artificial flavorings and preservatives. A few tablespoons of them can make a healthy salad, well, not so healthy. Try mixing up your own vinaigrette instead. It’s easy, quick and tasty.
11. Boxed rice mixes. You can skip all the added preservatives and the extra cost by adding your own spices and fresh herbs to your own plain rice.
12. Energy or protein bars. Marketed as healthy, these bars are no better for you than candy bars and, because of their size, they may be even worse. It would be better to reach for a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts for a quick energy boost than these high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar bars.
13. “Snack” packs or individual servings. You are paying up for the plastic trays and packaging in these products. It can be healthier and less expensive – and more satisfying — to make your own.
14. Bottled water. Purchase yourself a new BPA-free water bottle and install a filter on your home tap instead of buying little plastic bottles of water. It’s a better investment for you and for the environment.
The good news is that you can find many healthy and convenient options at your grocery store. Consider fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and seeds for packable, nutritious snacks. They may not come in the fancy boxes or packages, but you can see what you are getting and be the better for it.
What items would you have added to this list? Share your suggestions in the section below: