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Processed / convenience foods as an act of self-care

I have a feeling the tittle alone of this post will raise some eyebrows with many people. Especially those that know me since back in the day when I began my path into the nutrition world. Those who back in the day preached with me on the importance of "pure foods". And, I also want to add an apology to any client or friend who I once told you with my know-it all voice things like: "cereal is not food" "If you are craving X, but you wouldn't eat an apple, it means you are not really hungry". Yikes! So much has changed since, and I have grown much more.

There is so much talk about self-care in recent years, and opinions vary on what it is. This post is not about that, but I would definitely recommend the book "Real self-care" by Pooja Lakshmin MD. If you have a subscription to your library audiobooks it's likely available there and it's read by the author.

It's my personal view that you can implement daily acts of self-care in your life and routine that do not involve spas, retreats, massages or even having to spend money. For me, self-care involves all those actions you take in order to promote wellbeing, and it looks different for everyone and every day. For example, setting time aside for me to write this blog, to work on my monthly budget, to answer emails. Other times it's blocking time on a day to do some work on courses. Stepping away from my computer and take the time to eat lunch. Going for a walk before work. And sometimes, as the title of this post indicates, it's about using convenience foods.

So, let's unpack this.

I have been open about the fact that I have dealt with disordered eating for a big part of my life. This included thinking that everything had to be made from scratch, and anything else was just poison in a package. Can you relate? Add to that being the main person in the household that takes care of meals - Yeah, stressful.

Beyond the stress though, it made me really dislike the kitchen. To the point that I would dread coming home from work because I was tired, and still had to do all this cooking. Then there was the guilt, because I couldn't and shouldn't feel this way, I am supposed to lead by example for all my clients.

And if you are someone who enjoys making everything from scratch and cooking all the time, and it brings you joy, that's cool and kudos to you! But that is not for me, at least not most of the time. Sometimes on the weekends I do enjoy making big dinners for my family, but it's not a daily occurrence. I have accepted and made peace with it. There have been times where I have too much going on that even thinking about what I will make for dinner, makes me want to shut down mentally even more. And thus, enter processed/convenience foods to the rescue.

What are processed foods?

Simply put, processed foods are foods that have been changed from its original form. Based on this, you can see that we've all been eating processed foods forever. That baby green salad container at the store IS a processed food. As is quinoa, eggs, milk, etc.

I like the International Food Information Council Foundation classification of processed foods, where it places it in a continuum depending on the level of processing, going from minimally processed to ready-to-eat.

What are convenience foods?

While definitions vary slightly from different sources, these are those foods or meals that are ready to eat and require minimal preparation efforts on your part.

As you can see the line is a bit blurry with these two concepts, but while all convenience foods are processed, not all processed foods are a 'convenience'.

So, going back to those days where the last thing my mind needs is to be preoccupied with cooking, or when there is too much happening, and the day gets away from me... Instead of falling into the abyss and cook something while in the worst mood possible like I used to, now I look for options that will make things easier, provide me with nutrition that my body needs to keep going - including being able to deal with the situation that has me in this position. We can solve problems better when we are not hungry.

Here are some ways I've made it through mealtimes:

These are some quick tacos I make with a rotisserie chicken. This time I threw some yam fries in the air fryer and then all I had to do is sauté cabbage and zucchini. I use the cabbage to top the tacos along with a little sour cream and chile if I have any in the fridge. Meal is ready to eat in a few minutes.

In the past when I travelled I'd often skip breakfast. One, because depending on the accommodations usually there is no kitchen. And two, I'd skip meals in order to "earn" a bigger meal later in the day.

On my last trip, I made sure to have foods that required little prep, and ready to eat. The fridge had yogurt, muffins, fruit and vegetable trays, cheese of course and a couple of other essentials like coffee. This way I had something to eat before going out for the day, or if I needed a snack at night.

This day was so busy I came home almost hangry, and the last thing I wanted to do was figure out what to make for dinner and spend an hour cooking.

I had some buffalo chicken flings from costco, threw them in the air fryer while quickly cut up some veggies for a simple salad. And put a basil and spinach focaccia (PC brand) in the oven. Toss it all on the plate with some dressing and queso fresco. All in all, 15 minutes for a very satisfying dinner.

Other ways I have incorporated processed foods:

  • When I am leaving the house and will be running errands for a big part of the day, I'll bring some protein bars, nuts, yogurt cups, cheese strings.

  • There have been times when depending on my emotional estate, I'll buy ready to eat cut fruits or veggies. Yes, there have been times that when even chopping a pineapple seems like an exhaustive task.

  • I don't always feel like complicated meals, sometimes a snack plate is all I need. So, I'll just throw in things on a plate from my fridge. Literally. For example, some beats, tomatoes, cheese, olives, grapes, some nuts and maybe some cookies or chocolate.

  • Other times, it's just about practicality. For example, once in a while I will make a teriyaki chicken bowl with store-bought sauce. Why? - because I don't need to make a sauce that will sit on my fridge and go bad because it's used to unfrequently. And a store-bought sauce it's not going to affect the nutritional value of all my other ingredients.

These are just some examples where processed foods helped me save the day, avoid unnecessarily skipping meals, and sometimes avoid a mental melt down. Because it's not about being lazy, it's about self-care and preserving my mental health. It took me a long time to understand this, but it's all part of my journey. Everyone's journey is different and will vary with our own privilege too.

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