Supermarkets are an unavoidable part of our everyday lives, and for those who like to cook at home they can easily be part of one’s daily routine. However, they can prove to be a gauntlet of healthy and sustainable to downright awful food choices. Many supermarket products can be unnecessarily expensive when cheaper, healthier options exist right on the same shelf or perhaps a single aisle away. The majority of these products are designed for consumer convenience to be eaten immediately or taken home and dumped into a meal with a minimum amount of fuss (or slicing). Food activists and those in the know, including those at the Slow Food Movement understand that the handling and packaging of a lot of supermarket foods are actually detrimental to their quality, taste, and nutrition, and are sure to steer clear. Sometimes it’s a simple as buying whole fruit or a whole chicken to slice and cook yourself, other times it might require some baking, but the recurring theme is that knowing what goes into your food is a lot easier when you’re cooking it yourself. Check out our list for details.
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Think bagged salads save time? They might, but they’re expensive, and the washes and preservatives that keep the pre-sliced lettuce from wilting and those other colorful slivers of purple cabbage and carrots colorful tend to negate any of the nutritional value of eating a good salad, not to mention it doesn’t inspire much creativity, which is all the fun of making a salad. What to do instead: Buy a head of lettuce for a third of the cost, wash it, and chop it up yourself.
Sure, they look great, they smell great, and when you’re shopping hungry they just beg to be picked up. However, keep in mind that they’re made their way into the roaster because they’re just at or near their sell-by date and would otherwise be thrown away, are typically brined in MSG and sprinkles with dehydrated, sodium-laden spices, and set under the heat lamps waiting to be plucked. Yum yum. What to do instead: It doesn’t take that long to roast your own chicken, and you can properly season it the way top chefs have been doing it for years – under the skin. It tastes better and you know exactly what went into it.
It should go without saying, but for some reason these little pods of partially-hydrogenated soybean oil continue to fly off shelves, and the death of baking giant Hostess last year brought a wave of snack cake nostalgia with little mention of how bad all of their products were to the public’s general health. What to do instead: Homemade scratch cakes actually have very few ingredients, are simple to make, and homemade ones don’t have chemically engineered legume oil in them.
Sliced or Shredded Cheese
Cheese can now easily be bought sliced or shredded so it can go directly on pizza, salad, sandwiches, and other fromage-requiring edibles with a minimum of fuss (i.e. slicing or shredding). Problem: It’s much more expensive and quality is compromised (chemicals are added to keep shredded cheese from getting hard and turning into breadcrumbs). What to do instead: Really folks, when did shredding or slicing your own cheese become difficult?
This was a difficult one for us to add because we’re big fans of organic produce. The problem, however, is that in the United States, there’s no generally accepted standard for what “organic” entails – FDA rules vary widely by the type of produce, and the minimum standards are so minimum that many “organic” fruits and vegetables are still grown using conventional methods. Better idea: Go to a local farmer’s market to find out how the crops are grown and harvested. You’ll often be able to ask the one who grew it.
Pre-sliced fruit and vegetables
We’ve all seen them: those pretty little tubs of ripe-for-snacking fruits and vegetables ready to take and eat. They’re tempting for a nibble on the car ride home, but they’re priced at a gigantic premium over the unprepared stuff, not to mention the containers they’re packed in are just more unnecessary waste. Better idea: Yup, you guessed it. Cut it up yourself. You’ll save money and you won’t be tossing a plastic tub that’s been used for all of a few hours.