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Let’s face it: we’re not perfect.  Some of us are just starting our real food journey.  Sometimes we need a break from the kitchen.  Sometimes we’re in a phase of life where we can’t do everything and some convenience is helpful.  Last week we talked about 10 things you shouldn’t buy at the store.  And while generally, buying packaged and pre-made foods is not the best plan, sometimes we just need a break.  Today we’re going to look at 10 items that are okay to buy from the store.

Keep in mind most of these are not excellent nutrition or perfect options.  I’m not recommending a steady diet of store-bought foods.  But when you just need something easy, these are some better options.

1) Cheese

Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with cheese (as long as it’s actual cheese — not “cheese food product”).  Although normal store-bought cheese won’t be grass-fed or raw, at least it’s a real food.  Plus you can serve it simply in slices or cubes, on crackers, or in sandwiches.  We rely on cheese a lot when I don’t want to cook or we’re out and about.  Look for hormone-free varieties, which can be found in most grocery stores.  Imported cheeses are often grass-fed and raw even if they don’t explicitly say so (I have found these at Costco).

2) Frozen fruit and vegetables

These are so helpful for a wide variety of meals.  Frozen veggies go into soups, as part of a stir-fry, or served as a side dish.  Frozen fruit can go into smoothies, be an “as is” snack (especially for teething babies), or even make a quick fruit salad.  I always have these on hand (choosing organic where the fruits/veggies are on the ‘dirty dozen’ list).  These are great any time, really, and are not much of a compromise (especially off season).

3) Pretzels

Okay, they aren’t nourishing.  But they usually have few ingredients and no preservatives.  I like to buy them every now and then if we’re having a rough time, and serve them with cheese and meat.  Perfect meal?  No.  But it gets the kids fed and makes them happy.  Just make sure to check the ingredients because a few brands have corn syrup or soy in them, but most don’t.

4) “Natural” Macaroni and Cheese

Any brand that has actual pasta and cheese in it is okay.  I found the Annie’s organic in a big box at Costco cheaply.  A 15-count box lasted us two months (and I’m a little sad that wasn’t longer, honestly).  Make it with real butter and whole milk (ignore the instructions; use 4 tbsp. butter and 2 – 4 tbsp. whole milk) and add some ground beef or cooked chicken and it’s not too bad.  Pair it with some steamed veggies and fruit slices and you’ve got a pretty healthy meal.

5) Sourdough bread

Sometimes we all just need a little bread!   Sourdough is the one type that’s usually safe, because it has minimal ingredients and it naturally lasts longer due to the soured grains.  Make grilled cheese or other sandwiches, serve bread and butter, or even hot sandwiches or stuffing!  It’s an easy meal component.

6) Yogurt (plain)

I like to buy either Trader Joe’s European style or Dannon plain, because both of these brands are only cultured milk.  They don’t have pectin or guar gum or any of those additives.  Dannon can be found at any store.  Just make sure it’s whole milk and plain.  This can be eaten plain (add a little fruit and honey if desired) or add to smoothies.  It’s nourishing and easy, and if you get brave, you can use either as a starter culture to make your own yogurt at home.

7) “Natural” lunch meat

Look for brands like Applegate farms — ones that are free of nitrites, nitrates, and other preservatives.  Use them to make sandwiches or just to eat plain.  My kids love uncured pepperoni and cheese slices.  Add a banana and you have lunch.

8) “Natural” hot dogs

These, too, are awesome.  Look for brands that are uncured and free of nitrites.  Serve on a slice of sourdough, mix into mac’n’cheese, or just serve plain.  You can even make pigs-in-blankets (and they can be made ahead of time and frozen) for an easy lunch on the go.

9) Crackers

Look for crackers with minimal ingredients, and no soy or canola.  Many health food stores have decent ones.  Serve with cheese and/or lunch meat for a quick meal.  If you can eat it, add some nut butters too (another item you can buy at the store — just make sure it only contains nuts.  You can add honey and sea salt at home if you like).

10) Brown rice pasta

If all else fails, have pasta for dinner.  Brown rice is low in phytates and phytic acid, so if it doesn’t get soaked, it’s not a tragedy (that’s why you should choose it).  Pair with meat and sauce, or have BLT pasta (I’ve been making that for lunch lately).  There are lots of ways to serve pasta with nourishing ingredients!  You can buy regular brown rice, too, and use that for stir-fry or Mexican Rice.

With these simple ingredients, you can make food very quickly and easily, that is not too bad!  It’s good to know there are options on days when you are busy or sick or just plain tired. :)

What do you buy at the store for busy days?


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (6.5), Daniel (5), Jacob (3), and Nathan (1.5). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a popular book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. She also recently released Healing With God's Earthly Gifts: Natural and Herbal Remedies, which teaches people to use natural remedies to keep their families healthy. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children.

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27 Comments

  1. THANK YOU. My poor husband is feeling so deprived as we walk this journey to better nutrition. My biggest challenge is keeping snacks for him. He loves to have a hot dog or crackers for a snack, so I will look for some of these options!

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  2. Unfortunately the “Natural” lunch meats and hot dogs are not actually nitrite, nitrate and preservative free. They contain cultured celery extract which is controversial because it is a natural source of nitrites and nitrates. I think they are a better option than the non-Natural choices, but go easy on them because they are not preservative free.

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    • Definitely agree on the nitrate free stuff. Look at the label and make sure it doesn’t have celery cultures in it. If so, it probably ends up with far more nitrates than it would have had anyway. The celery juice cultures make nitrates, so they end up putting in enough to be sure that all the nitrates needed to cure the meat are made – since they can’t guarantee that ratio, they tend to err on the side of caution and add more.

      However, there are truly uncured meats out there, which don’t have that issue at all. However, things like uncured ham don’t actually exist – if it tastes like ham and not pork, there are nitrates there somehow.

      (After looking at it, we’ve started avoiding most sandwich meats, but we’re ok with the limited nitrates in the dry cured bacon and ham from the pig we bought last year)

      Reply

  3. I think it’s nice to be able to have a hot dog once in a while. :-) Great post, Kate!

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  4. Thanks for this post! Sometimes I get discouraged when trying to cook wholesome meals and mother three children under 4. We have two in our family that need a gluten free and dairy free diet which complicates things. Its nice to know that I’m not the only one who adds a few not-from-scratch food items into our diets such as pasta and hotdogs and lunch meat. I got so excited a while back when I found our local Target is selling completely grass fed beef hotdogs (also hamburger and small steaks). I really do appreciate the break and I don’t feel too bad about the food I’m offering still!

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  5. I was wondering how to know if it is a good sourdough brand. Or suggestions of brands to buy or a place to buy over the internet. :)

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  6. I loved this list Kate! We get the grass-fed cheese at Trader Joes or the organic at Costco. We also love that Costco is now carrying the big box of organic mac and cheese. The kids love it and I really liked your suggestion on how to add a bit more to it.

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  7. Lunch meat and hot dogs? I didn’t even eat these before I became vegetarian 36 years ago. I can’t believe they are OK now.

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    • Kitblu, it’s important, as always, to read labels. The reason these are usually bad is because they are cured with nitrites. You can buy 100% grass-fed beef, organic hot dogs that are not cured with chemical agents now. That was not possible even 5 years ago. I don’t recommend any diet, personally, that eliminates any food group long-term, either. I’m talking to an audience about moderation and reality — and most people do and should eat meat. And need ways to do so easily when they’re having a busy time. :)

      Reply

  8. We have a few of these things (and some other “compromise” foods) hanging around and it’s funny to me how rarely we actually use them! I think now that we make most things from scratch, I just forget the other options are there. That being said, Annie’s Mac n Cheese is something I always keep a couple boxes of for “oops there aren’t any leftovers” lunches. A quick tip, I substitute plain yogurt for the milk and thrown in a bit more cheese. That amps up the nutritive value and makes for a bit more depth of flavor. Thanks for the encouraging lists!

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  9. Just make sure your sourdough is real sourdough and not “soured” with vinegar for the flavor only. A true sourdough bread will not have yeast in it!

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  10. Love the list,but I have to disagree with the comment that “most people do and should eat meat’,considering the human body isn’t even designed to consume meat. We have the body(teeth,saliva,intestine length,etc..) of herbivores,not carnivores or omnivores. If that is your choice then that’s fine,but it really aggravates me when people say that we NEED meat or dairy. (Dairy is a given,considering that it is completely unnatural to consume milk from another species,so obviously we don’t NEED it for the vitamins and minerals either..)

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  11. Great list, thanks! I too was wondering about “real” sourdough breads, as I’ve noticed that regular bakery sourdough and even Panera’s have added yeast. It makes me wonder if there is any true souring happening… Can you comment on this?

    Reply

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      From having looked at recipes, what happens is that flour and water are allowed to sit for a brief time (1 – 3 days) to develop a “sourness” about it. This process is not bad, because it would treat phytic acid, but it wouldn’t actually have enough bacteria or yeast to cause the bread to rise. It takes time and patience to develop a real sourdough starter that can actually raise the bread. This method is not as good because of the commercial yeast, but it’s not terrible — especially if white flour is used, since white flour doesn’t contain phytic acid anyway.

      Sometimes, though, people will use vinegar to artificially sour the bread. Again, if it uses white flour…it doesn’t matter anyway. I’d probably skip whole wheat “fake” sourdough though.

      Reply

  12. Yes! Thank you for this! I’m way off the deep end lately when it comes to food prep. Someday soon I want to get back on the boat when it comes to real food, but it is SO hard right now at this stage of life and all the crazy things that are going on in my life right now. And article like this makes me feel not so guilty when I am not able to feed my family completely nourishing food all the time. Thanks Kate!

    Reply

  13. I have to agree with posters Kitblu and Jessica — I really do love this site, and much of what you discuss. But I feel like the active promotion of meat and dairy consumption is overwhelming. We should not be eating meat or fish. Its toxic to our bodies and we are not designed to eat it. Our digestive system is closer to a koala’s system than a cheetah’s. (Chimps are vegans, we should be too. ) I believe in natural, eating real food – but real food does not include beef, chicken or milk! Milk, in any form – either raw or pasteurized is not a good idea to drink as it does not nourish, but deplete the system of vital minerals. Also, we do not need to consume the milk of another species.

    I was raised Christian, (and I know this is a site that promotes faith, and I respect that) and was taught that God gave us dominion over animals – but that does not mean we eat them. We should treasure them.

    I hope that MAM, MAH and all other natural sites can help at least promote more veggie eating – there are many vegan meals that are super easy, fast, and inexpensive… and many can be purchased at the supermarkets.

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    • I’m sure you are well aware of the huge amount of debate over what we are “supposed to eat,” and the fact that people have been thriving on meat, milk, and fish for millenia. Kate is not shy about sharing that she is a proponent of more “ancestral/traditional” diets (heck, her first “popular resource” link is the Weston A. Price Foundation!). That is a big part of who she is and what she stands for, so I think it’s great that she is open about it here on her own personal blog! There are plenty of veggie/vegan healthy eating sites out there, but let’s let Kate be Kate!

      By the way, have you ever seen the nature channel-type shows of chimps using sticks to pull termites out of their nests and eat them? It is one of the coolest animals-using-tools bits of footage out there. So I’m gonna go ahead and say that unless some amazing photoshopping was done by the Discovery Channel on that one, chimps are not, in fact vegan.

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    • Ok so totally agree with danielle, I hear vegan and vegetarians say stuff like that all the time about howapes are vegan so we should be too…ok, but fist of all theyre not, they love bugs, so they do have a meat source and enjoy eating other live animals…insects. @nd of all you said youre a christian which is why we should treasure them and not eat them…but you compare us to apes and that we should take after them instead of be the creation God made us to be. We’re not apes, we’re human. And as a christian I can see in the bible God’s people eating meat since the beginning and that God even promotes using animals for various things including consumption. Even Jesus ate meat…I mean hey if its hood enough for Jesus its definitely good enough for me. He took part in passover which meant he ate meat. So dont be christian faith into it. If someone wants to be vegan totally fine but to say as christians we shouldnt use animals for proucts and consumption…well that just cant be found anywhere in the bible and it actually encourages the opposite.

      Reply

  14. Another alternative for mac and cheese is Wildtree. Disclaimer: I am a rep for the company! We make a product called Kids Cheez that can be added with pasta and milk to make a healthy mac and cheese meal for the kids. No GMOS or artificial ingredients.

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  15. oy…It’s always obvious when I’m nursing my LO and trying to type

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  16. White flour doesn’t contain phytic acid? Now I am all sorts of confused lol. I really want to make homemade sourdough. I have been trying to find a good starter from someone (preferably from organic or sprouted grains). I am running out of patience. Does anyone have any tips or links on how to make your own sourdough starter??

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  17. i so needed this today! i’ve been feeling completely overwhelmed with our limited budget, desire for real food, and fluctuating preferences of little kids! this stage of life is so physically and emotionally challenging that sometimes i just need to go on auto pilot with food and not feel paralyzed in the grocery store trying to feed my family! i was just talking to my husband about how to figure out where we can compromise and this is a wonderful list of ways to do that without switching over to overly processed convenience food… thank you!

    Reply

    • Hi Kristin! I have felt the same way on occasion. I have a 1 year old, who isn’t super picky, but still has some things he won’t eat. When I start to feel that way in the grocery store, I just remember to do my best. Remember the dirty dozen/clean fifteen, no HFCS or other nasty preservatives, and always try to choose the organic option of things if it is available budget or availability wise. We live in a small town, so I can’t always get grassfed beef/dairy products, so I do the next best thing by choosing dairy products that are made in Wisconsin (that’s where we live) and I try to buy the leanest meats possible (as most toxins are in the fat of an animal). And don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t afford organic/raw everything! We certainly can’t, so I compromise to fit our budget.

      Reply

  18. I like to add canned tuna to the mac and cheese – if you try and imagine real hard it kind of tastes like cheesy tuna casserole from my childhood. We sometimes add peas too!

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  19. I love this – and Annie’s Mac n Cheese is my indulgence for sure – I love the taste of their cheese. This is a great lineup, especially for people such as myself who is *just* getting started on their natural food journey.

    Reply

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