The processed foods available to us in grocery stores promise to make life easier -- canned soup ready in minutes, salad dressing that can be drizzled on right before dinnertime, flavored yogurt for quick snacks on-the-go. Many of these foods seem like healthy choices, but you'd be surprised by some of the unnecessary, added ingredients that detract from these products' healthfulness.
Luckily, some of the most common processed items we buy in stores are easy to make fresh in your own home. Here are six non-processed foods that are quick and simple to prepare from scratch and provide guilt-free alternatives to your prepackaged, store-bought go-tos.
1. Tomato Sauce
Many of the available brands of jarred pasta sauce contain high amounts of added sugar and sodium. Thankfully, tomato sauce is one of the simplest condiments to make at home. All you need is a can of peeled whole tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and salt.
Remove the garlic skins, and crush each clove slightly. Toss the olive oil and garlic into a sauce pot over medium heat, and cook until the garlic is fragrant but not brown -- about two to three minutes. Then, add the tomatoes straight from the can, plus a pinch of salt. Simmer on the stove for as long as you can (even 20 minutes will extract great flavor), occasionally stirring and breaking up the tomatoes.
2. Salad Dressing
Check out the ingredients list on your favorite prepared salad dressings: Chances are, you'll find yourself struggling to pronounce some of those names. These ingredients are added to maintain the flavor and shelf life of these kitchen staples, but don't offer nutritional benefits.
Salad dressing is incredibly easy to prepare at home. Grab a mason jar, and combine one part vinegar (any kind you like), three parts olive oil, salt, and pepper for an easy, quick dressing and marinade you can use at any time. This simple recipe provides a base for any flavors you like -- garlic, Dijon mustard, honey, the list goes on.
3. Canned Soup
An easy and quick meal, soup is a common processed go-to for many of us but these canned favorites can be loaded with sodium and additives. Making soup at home, however, can be a relaxing and comforting way to create a simple, healthful meal for your family.
There are thousands of great recipes online for any soup you love, but you can also put something together on the fly with whatever you have lying around the house -- veggies, leftover meat, canned beans. Start your homemade soup by sauteing whatever veggies and meat you have on hand, add broth, and season to taste.
4. Flavored Yogurt
You can really capitalize on the nutritiousness of yogurt by making it at home -- and avoid the sugar-crammed grocery store versions of this great grab-and-go snack.
Combine plain regular or Greek yogurt -- devoid of added sugar but packed with protein -- with fresh, nutrient-dense fruit, and you have a much healthier equivalent to what you'll find at the market.
Love the idea of making your own yogurt at home? Save money (and calories) by popping your own corn at home, too! Homemade popcorn also skips the loaded fat, sodium, and additives of processed popcorn. A large jar of popcorn kernels, good for dozens of bowls of popcorn, is comparably priced to a single bag of popcorn at the store.
Use a dry popper, or simply add kernels to a sauce pot with oil, and shake with a lid on until the kernels burst. From there, you can choose how much (or how little) salt, butter, or other ingredients to dress your popcorn with for a healthy snack full of fiber!
Prepackaged oatmeal can be a time-saver in the morning, these products often contain huge amounts of sugar. Spend just a couple extra minutes preparing plain rolled or quick-cooking oats on the stove and top them with fresh fruit and/or nuts, and you can have a much healthier version of this breakfast favorite without all the added sugar.
Although processed foods may save us time in the kitchen, they can often introduce exorbitant amounts of sugar, salt, fat, and added mystery ingredients into our diet. The best way to avoid these culprits of weight gain and chronic illness (if you consume them too frequently) is to try your hand at whipping up homemade versions of your favorite processed foods in your kitchen. You can even create your own stock of non-processed foods by freezing, bagging, and canning your kitchen creations for those times when you're on the go.