Convenience Foods Offer Little Time Savings

By Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.


These days everyone is in a hurry. We’re juggling work, homework, family, friends, pets, fitness, soccer, gymnastics, field hockey, household chores and more, more, more. Getting dinner on the table can be a challenge.

No doubt that bagged salad and frozen vegetables can save you some hands on time in the kitchen. And these foods do offer a lot of nutrients. But UCLA researchers, who videotaped 32 families’ dinner routines, found that families who relied the most on convenience foods failed to get dinner on the table any faster than those who used convenience foods less or not at all. On average, meals took 52 minutes from start to supper table. Heavy users of convenience foods saved 10 to 12 minutes of hands-on prep time, however.

Packaged entrees such as hot dogs, stir-fry mixes and items similar to Hamburger Helper made frequent appearances. Use caution here: you may save a few minutes of chopping and stirring, but the trade-off is often more sodium, sugar and fat and less nutrients overall.

If you chose to use convenience foods – and most of us will – select the ones that really make throwing together a nutritious meal easier. Keep frozen and canned vegetables on hand. Buy bagged salads weekly or more often. Supplement your meal with canned mandarin oranges or other favorite fruit. Have the grocer steam some shrimp. But skip the sodium-laden boxed meals and fat-laden rice and pasta sides. Instead of saving 10 to 12 minutes of preparation time, spend those few minutes with your family stirring and cooking or simply enjoy the process of bringing a meal together.


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