10 Items You Shouldn’t Buy at the Store

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I buy food in packages sometimes.

OKAY, I said it!  I do.  But, especially since Jacob is sensitive to corn and soy, I have pretty strict standards about what I will buy and what I won’t.  And the number of packaged items I buy has gone down over time.  If you took a look at my pantry, you’d find almost nothing that you could just grab and eat (frustrating, when everyone’s starving and no one wants to cook).  And if anything ready-to-eat is there, you can bet I’ve probably made it.  Like the macaroons I made for the kids yesterday morning…which are now gone (their friends were here and they shared).

Some foods are “iffy” — you might buy them if you don’t have a particular reason not to (like chocolate chips — they contain soy lecithin so I don’t buy them, but I used to sometimes before we discovered Jacob’s sensitivity).  Or maybe some are just special, rare treats.

But there are some things that, generally, you should never buy at a store, if you can help it, because there is just no redeeming value there.  Let’s dive in and take a look.

1) Beef (the one ” plain ingredient” on this list)

I can walk into some health food stores and find “grass-fed beef.”  It is potentially as low as 30% grass-fed (that’s what USDA organic standards require) and very likely not grass-finished.  And plain ground beef costs $6/lb. or more.  In any normal store, beef is corn-fed and probably has hormones and antibiotics in it.  I can’t even stand that stuff anymore; it stinks and I don’t feel well after eating it (yes, plain beef).  And that CAFO meat costs $2.50/lb. minimum, on up to $4/lb., depending on the store and “type” ( fat content).  Or, I can go to my local farmer and buy 10o% grass-fed beef for $3.50/lb.  It’s a no-brainer.  Even if it’s not actually cheaper to buy the best in your area, it’s worth it for high quality meat.

2) Ice Cream

Who doesn’t love ice cream?  There have been weeks — yes, really — where we literally ate an entire batch, every single day.  This was usually, but not always, in the summer.  It was our bedtime snack.  However, it was never store-bought.  That stuff has anti-freeze in it, plus skim milk (in ice cream), corn syrup, guar gum, and a lot of other additives.  And that’s just for vanilla.  Forget about the junk in the interesting flavors.  Make your own ice cream at home and skip the junk.  Mixing raw cream, raw pastured egg yolks, raw local honey, real homemade vanilla…it’s practically a health food!

3) Bread

There’s one caveat to this: if you can find real sourdough bread (ingredients should read: flour, water, salt and maybe honey), that is fine to buy.  But if we’re talking the usual grocery-store-bakery-dinner-roll sort of bread, don’t buy it.  The ingredients list has about 30 things on it, including soy oil, powdered milk, high fructose corn syrup, dough conditioners, and other things that make you go “Is that food?”  It’s not.  Not to mention bread is usually made with all or mostly white flour (even “whole wheat” bread is at least half white flour in most cases), and it’s treated with some type of preservatives.  Real, homemade bread doesn’t stay soft and mold-free for weeks at a time.  It’ll be “less good’ the day after you bake, stale and dry by 2 or 3 days, and moldy by a week, supposing it’s wrapped up (if it’s sitting out, it’ll just dry out and be good for breadcrumbs, which are something else you should never buy).

4) Chicken Stock (or Beef, etc.)

You cannot buy healthy stock from the store, with very few exceptions.  I know some farms or small stores make their own stock in-house, but this usually is expensive, $3 – $4/quart.  Stock is so easy to make, and bones cost $1 – $2/lb., which ultimately means you’re paying under $10 for a couple gallons of stock.  Don’t buy the cartons of stock or cans or even worse, bouillion cubes.  They don’t have any of the gelatin or other goodness of stock, and they have MSG.  Ugh.  Skip it.  Make chicken stock or beef stock at home!

5) Salad Dressing/Marinades, Barbecue Sauce

I used to buy these all the time.  Until I looked at the ingredients and realized that even ones that weren’t sweet contained high fructose corn syrup.  They also usually have soybean oil, corn starch, and various thickeners, artificial colors and flavors.  No thanks.  It’s easy to make your own salad dressing (or this one), or chicken marinade or beef marinade, and even barbecue sauce isn’t hard.  Why waste money on unhealthy store-bought versions?

6) Frozen Pizza

Sometime last year, it was getting late and we wanted a fast dinner.  I headed to a health food store and bought a frozen pizza, rationalizing that it “wasn’t that bad” because, well, it was a health food store.  Umm…yuck?  Plus I didn’t feel well.  Even the “good” ones have white flour (or unsoaked whole wheat…but not much of it), dough conditioners, soy or canola oil, and so on.  Don’t even look at the ingredients on the bad ones.  Instead, do what we used to do (and need to do again): make up a triple batch of pizza dough, then make 20 or 30 personal-size pizzas and freeze them.  It’s simple: make the dough (you can use sprouted flour or adapt for soaking), spread it, pre-bake at 400 for 5 minutes, add sauce, cheese, and any toppings, and wrap it up to freeze.  I haven’t found a better solution than aluminum foil for this, sadly…though I suppose if you wrapped in parchment paper first then in foil, it wouldn’t matter since the aluminum wouldn’t touch your food.  Hmmm….  Anyway, then all you have to do is toss a homemade frozen pizza in the oven at 450 for 10 – 15 minutes.  So awesome.

7) Cream Soups

So many casseroles and other one-dish meals call for cream soups.  It’s almost annoyingly ubiquitous, like with a bag of frozen veggies, some chicken breasts, and a mixture of cream soups, you can make a “from-scratch” dinner, fast.  Not so much.  At least not the “scratch” part.  Have you read the ingredients?  More soybean oil, cornstarch (all GMO), artificial and “natural” flavors, thickeners, preservatives, an incredible amount of processed, refined sodium….  But of course if you enjoy that type of cooking, there’s no reason you should give it up.  Instead of using canned cream soups, make your own cream soups.  Then enjoy your rich, delicious, nutrient-dense meals!

8) Cake or Mixes, or Frosting

Cake isn’t health food.  Even if you make it at home.  But what’s a birthday party without a little cake?  I’m still enjoying my birthday cake (well, I finished it last night — and you’ll get the cake recipe next week and the real buttercream frosting, with no powdered sugar, the week after).  But the the store-bought cake, mixes, and frostings are absolutely awful.  They’re full of vegetable oils, refined white flour, GMO beet sugar or corn syrup, various preservatives and additives, food dye, and so on.  There’s no redeeming value to consuming those.  In contrast, if you make a cake and frosting at home, at least you’re getting rich cream and butter, pastured eggs, the chance to use sprouted or almond flour, and other nourishing ingredients.  There’s still sugar.  But there’s definite redeeming nutritional value there.  Try chocolate fudge cake, chocolate zucchini cake, spice cake, or even carrot cake!

9) Cookies or Brownies

Same deal here.  Not health food, but homemade at least doesn’t contain vegetable shortening, artificial flavors, and other complete junk.  There’s something delicious and sort of nutritious about a cookie loaded with real butter, eggs, homemade vanilla, and aromatic spices.  Try my grain-free brownies (I love these), or oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (must find a way to soak them), or even devil’s food cookies.

10) Fried Chicken or Fried Potatoes (or fried anything…)

Eek.  Have you looked at the ingredients on these things?  Fried foods aren’t the healthiest (because the cooking method, despite the type of oil, reacts with the starches and creates some yucky stuff — so still, keep it as a rare treat), but the ones from the store are made with vegetable shortening, white flour, various additives and preservatives…awful stuff.  Instead, bread your own chicken in sprouted flour, or soak organic potatoes in water (to reduce starch) and then fry them yourself in coconut oil, pastured lard, or another healthy oil.  I am really loving my pastured lard lately — it just makes things so delicious.  Try chicken nuggets, amazing fries, or even popcorn chicken (from my newest book!).

What foods from the grocery store make you hesitate or say “No way!”  Were you surprised by any on this list?


  1. says

    Just thought I’d chime in on pizzas: I flash freeze them for a little bit and then put them in ziplocs once more or less frozen. That way I don’t have to waste aluminum foil (since it’s hard to reuse, often)….ziplocs are a lot easier to reuse! :-)

    • says

      We go through the home made pizza in our house too. I freeze them until they are firm then transfer them to a big glass lidded container in the freezer–that I bought just for the pizzas (my kids are dedicated pizza eaters!). Works great, it’s easy to see when we’re running low and there’s no waste.

  2. Vanessa says

    Gread list! I love the idea about homemade frozen pizza. I always make homemade pizza but I never thought to freeze it. I’ll have to try that next time I make the dough. I also try to make most things we put into our bodies. It’s hard sometimes because I do work too but I’m getting better at managing it.

  3. says

    Because of our allergies, I share your dislike of packaged foods (and the resulting issues with finding a quick snack). I found out the hard way about the broth. I snuck some baby food pureed chicken in some breakfast muffins for my son who is on a gluten/casein free diet and refuses most types of protein. He wouldn’t touch them and I found out why after eating one myself… and getting horribly ill!
    We have worked down this list over several years. It takes a long time to eliminate all of these things, but it is really worth it!

  4. Melanie says

    I wish I could find ground beef from our farmer for $3.50/lb!! In San Diego, it’s $11.99 a pound for grass fed beef from the Farmer!! Though not too bad if you compare it to the $9.99 a pound Whole Foods charges.

  5. Ivy says

    I love blogs like this, but I have yet to find an equal alternative to butter. I love butter. I wish I could use butter, but my son is severely (SEVERELY) lactose intolerant, so I cannot. I’ve tried coconut oil, and that works for a lot of things, but nothing but lard or crisco is as firm as butter. Any suggestions?

    • Rebekah says

      Ivy, is he intolerant to raw milk? The enzyme that digests lactose is still alive in raw milk, not destroyed as in pasteurized milk. I get palm shortening (as low as $23/gallon) from tropicaltraditions.com as a replacement for crisco. You can’t beat lard, coconut oil, or grass-fed raw butter. Grit Magazine is advertising a book (also on amazon) called Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.

  6. Rebekah says

    It’s not a “food” yet we put it in our mouths and it gets absorbed into our bodies. Toothpaste! Not even to mention mouthwash! We make our own now. Just run out of your regular toothpaste stash and then your family will have to cope with your experiments! I will not go back! Love the info about store-bought ice cream. People seem to think it’s such a treat, I’d forgotten it has anti-freeze. We get it once a year for kids birthday, but I need to start posting the problems with various store-bought treats on my fridge. Then visitors and in-laws might learn a thing or two and I’ll keep the knowledge up front in my head! :-)

  7. Amy says

    Yikes, we eat pretty much all those things! We do eat beef from a local farmer but there are a number of things I would like to implement here! Thank you:)

  8. Skeptical says

    I’m curious to know where all this information came from. Usually with these type of articles there’s a reference to sources. Like where is it factually stated that Ice Cream contains anti-freeze? Thank you :)

  9. Ruth says

    I wanted to share a website with you regarding allergies. http://www.naet.com. We discovered our daughter was allergic to egg white when she was a year old. She is now clear of her egg white allergy as well as numerous other allergies, including soy. This website will help you find the nearest practitioner in your area. I am so grateful for the NAET technique every day. It is fast and completely non-invasive. Good luck :)

  10. Dee says

    I know you are right on all of this – Ben and Jerry’s is my one big cheat. That one was a shot to the heart. Funny thing is my kids RARELY have ice cream (it’s a sugary mess I have to clean up). I’ve got to break out the dehydrator and start working on the beef jerky (that’s what the hubs lives off of when he’s in the field (Army family). I have really appreciated you site. I ordered my first bottle of magnesium oil (I am due with #4 in April – which will make 4 under 5) and also purchased the flakes to make m own and some for family for Christmas. Keep up the good work!!

    • Kate Tietje says

      I bought tiny containers of Hagen-Daz the other week. :) (They contained cream, milk, egg yolks, and the ‘flavor’ — whole strawberries, vanilla, chocolate) So that’s okay if you need a little cheat here or there. Just read the labels carefully!

      • Amanda says

        Hagaan-Daaz is the only store-bought brand we buy. If you stick with the plain chocolate or vanilla you can avoid most the bad things…

  11. says

    Good morning Kate! Love your list…you are so thoughtful and informative. Happy to meet you this morning! Question…i’m planning to start baking my own sourdough bread but i’ve a question? Doesn’t “real sourdough bread” have yeast in it? Just askin if i need to get a different recipe. Thanks again for sharing love and for everything you do for so many others without benefit to yourself.

    • Kate Tietje says

      Well, real sourdough has wild yeast in it. It doesn’t use any commercial yeast. So, you make the starter, which “catches” the yeast from the air…and don’t add any ‘extra’ yeast, if that makes sense. I have a few posts on sourdough in my recipes section.

  12. says

    Love this post! The sad thing is the ice cream ingredient problem is also the same at most ice cream shops – just ask them for a list of ingredients and prepare to be horrified! Is nothing sacred – ice *cream*!

  13. Hannah J says

    I read that your son Jacob has a soy sensitivity? My husband and I avoid soy for health reasons. We found Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips in our Giant Eagle. The ingredients are: Evaporated Cane Juice, Natural Chocolate Liquor(Non-Alcoholic), and Non-Dairy Cocoa Butter. They were the plainest chocolate chips we could find, and I love them for baking. They taste like semi-sweet chocolate chips, so you know. =)

  14. Jana says

    Breyer’s Natural Vanilla contains only about 4 ingredients. It’s the only ice cream I buy, as I don’t have an ice cream maker.

  15. Wendy says

    I agree. Although, anti-freeze or not, sometimes I just gotta have Ben & Jerry’s. There I said it. I am ashamed….


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