grocery shopping

My Favorite Packaged Foods

by Sally on March 10, 2014

In the last few years, I’ve made a conscious decision to make more food from scratch. But I still buy packaged food (read “From-Scratch Cooking Confession: I Can’t Keep Up!“). Several readers asked me for more details on the kinds of packaged products I buy, so I wanted to share some of my favorites.

When choosing packaged foods, I always read labels, looking for a simple ingredient list and a food that’s naturally nutrient-rich (not something heavily processed that’s been pumped with vitamins and minerals). Because I have a food budget, price is also important. So while I know that the natural foods markets are teeming with terrific packaged options, everything on this list can be found at a regular grocery store or Target at a pretty reasonable price (with the exception of the “Splurge Snack”).

smuckers-creamy_300 Peanut Butter: Smucker’s Natural

Just peanuts and salt and a thick, grainy, satisfying texture.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Breakfast Sausage: Applegate Chicken & Apple

The ingredients are chicken, dried apples, water, honey, and spices. No antibiotics. And my fourth grader can now make eggs and sausage for himself and his little brother in the morning all by himself. Hallelujah!

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Frozen French Fries: Cascadian Farm Shoe String French Fries

They’ve got the look of fast food fries but are made with organic potatoes and have hardly any added sodium–so you can sprinkle on however much (or little) salt you want.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Crackers: Triscuits

Just three ingredients—wheat, oil, and salt. I like that these crackers, unlike some others, have no added sugar.

Honorable Mention: Wasa crispbreads, which are hearty and satisfying, and delicious with a smear of natural peanut butter or a slice of melted cheese.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Cereal: Barbara’s Puffins

Just 5 grams of sugar per serving (that’s a bit more than 1 teaspoon) but sweet enough to feel fun to my kids.

Honorable Mentions: Read “My 5 Favorite Boxed Cereals

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Splurge Snack: Simply Balanced freeze-dried fruit (at Target)

Contains only fruit and tastes like a special treat. This is what I buy my kids at Target when I’ve been dragging them around on way too many errands.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Energy Bar: KIND bars

Short ingredient lists, and big chewy pieces of nuts, dried fruit, and seeds.Honorable Mention: Larabars, because I love the super-simple ingredient lists and (in some cases) no added sugar.

My Favorite Packaged Foods by Real Mom Nutrition Boxed Mac-n-Cheese: Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat

Filling whole wheat pasta and no neon colors.

Honorable Mention: Annie’s Organic Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar.

Want more ideas? Prevention Magazine recently released its “100 Cleanest Packaged Food Awards” for 2014. A few of these brands–including  Smucker’s, Cascadian Farms, and Applegate–made that list too.

What are YOUR favorite packaged foods?

Disclosure: I’m happy to be working with Applegate this year as a member of their Advisory Board, because it’s a brand I buy and respect. All opinions expressed are my own. 

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From-Scratch Cooking Confessional by Real Mom NutritionI believe that a diet based around whole foods is the way to go. I believe we should know what’s in our food, that we should strive to eat food that isn’t laden with preservatives and artificial flavors. Over the years, my suspicion about ingredients like artificial colors has grown, and I’ve become increasingly annoyed with food marketing designed to manipulate and deceive.

As a result, I buy fewer packaged foods than I did even a few years ago. I experiment in the kitchen, making homemade versions of store-bought staples. Sometimes I post those recipes here and on my Real Mom Nutrition Facebook page because I want to share something that’s worked for me.

What I DON’T want to do: Give you the impression that everything in my house is homemade.

It’s not.

I love to cook and bake. I love the satisfaction that comes from making something myself.

But making everything from scratch? While I’m in awe of people who do this, it appears to be statistically impossible for me. Four of us eat nearly every single breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home (or a packed lunch made at home). My fourth grader’s appetite is becoming alarmingly robust. And if the mountain of dishes I create every day from prepping all that food gets any higher, I’m afraid it will topple over and bury my husband, the designated dishwasher.

Here’s how from-scratch cooking goes down in my house:

What I always make from scratchvinaigrette dressing, pizza dough, hummus, barbecue and pizza sauce, cookies, pesto, and chicken soup.

What I sometimes make from scratch if I have time: bread and rolls, applesauce, French fries, granola bars, nut butter, and macaroni and cheese.

What I very, very occasionally make from scratch (or in some cases, have made only once just to see if I could do it): donuts, tortillas and pita bread, knock-off pop-tarts, pasta, fruit leathers, and sushi rolls.

And here’s what that looks like for our family:

  • If we have from-scratch hummus, we’re probably eating it with store-bought pita bread.
  • If we have homemade nut butter and granola bars that week, there’s also a bag of pretzels in the snack cupboard.
  • If there’s a pot of chicken soup on the stove and homemade rolls in the oven, we are likely having boxed pasta and jarred sauce the next night (or fish sticks and French fries from the freezer).

In some circles, all packaged food seems to be demonized–that to admit you buy packaged foods is to somehow admit failure, laziness, or a lack of concern about health and wellbeing. And don’t get me wrong: I love a good Pinterest challenge. Homemade graham crackers? Maybe I’ll attempt that some lazy Sunday afternoon.

But in the meantime, I don’t feel guilty about using packaged foods because I choose them carefully by reading labels (read: “Does the Food Label Even Matter? Here’s Why I Say YES.”). We keep junk to a minimum in the house. And for me, relying on some packaged foods does help my health and wellbeing because it preserves my sanity.

How about you: What do you always make from scratch–and what do you usually buy instead?

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