Thursday, October 7, 2010

Real Convenience Food

In a recent post I asserted that real food can be just as easy as buying prepackaged processed food.  In the comments an old friend from the undergrad years had this to say:
JosephJ said...

In my mind there are several tiers of "easy food." There's the "I've got to eat something right now or I'll collapse" and the "I've only got 15 minutes to whip something together" and the "I've got time, but want it to turn out well without much effort."

In grad school I kept a drawer of junk food that fit Class I Easy (Pop-tarts, peanut butter crackers, granola bars, etc). Now, I resort to fresh fruit, a bowl of applesauce, or peeling a carrot. This week my Class II Easy was to pop several potatoes in the microwave, then top with butter, sour cream, and salsa. I let Jen do most of the Class III Easy, because she's so very good at it.

I think the main temptation to stock junkfood comes when our idea-well for Class I Easy snacks/foods runs shallow. Perhaps you have thoughts on this?
His classification of three types of food based on the immediacy of our hunger or schedule is totally valid.  And I would agree that "I need something to eat right now," is the hardest time for choosing real food over processed food.  So I've spent a few days thinking about the way we do things, and I've come up with some ideas to share.

I identified three different tiers of solutions to this issue as well.   The first being purchasing prepackaged--but non-preservative-filled foods.  The second being planning ahead.  And the third being true, real, convenience food.

Purchasing prepackaged foods:  I throw this idea out there because there are times when you are out on the run--or maybe on a car trip--when it seems you have no alternative than purchasing something.  My point is that there are some things that you can buy that fit mostly into the "real food" category.  Pretty much everything I will mention in the following two categories will offer some prepackaged version or another with varying levels of processing and additives.  But if you look closely you should be able to find an acceptable option.  You can buy a fruit leather made with fruit and lemon juice rather than a bag of gummi worms made with HFCS and artificial colorings.

Planning ahead:  I say this as motivation to myself not because I am at all consistent about this currently.  But obviously the amount of snack foods that you can make ahead and have waiting and ready for "emergency" are endless.  I mentioned buying fruit leather--but I would love to make my own.  I'm waiting for a cheap dehydrator on Craigslist.  Then there are the baked goods: homemade crackers and granola bars and other things.

Crackers can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container.  granola bars can be stored individually wrapped in the cupboard or even the freezer for longer periods so that it's ready when you want it.  We also recently made homemade "Oatmeal-to-go" bars.  Take your cue from the grocery store--anything they sell you,  you can make at home instead.  And it will be cheaper and better for you.

One thing my boys really love to snack on is our homemade granola.  They will often be found eating straight from the bucket.  I love the granola as a quick snack as well.  I'm a real cold-cereal lover and granola with milk satisfies that craving.

I'll put hard-boiled eggs in this plan-ahead category too.  It takes about 15 minutes to get a hard-boiled egg, but if you make them a day in advance they are very quick to grab and eat.  

Now there is an overlap to my categories, because technically everything in this next category must be planned ahead for and bought, or made, or grown, or fermented, but in our home all contents of the following category are available regularly for fast and easy consumption

 Real Convenience Food:  Joe already mentioned fresh fruits and vegetables.  Grapes, bananas, apples, carrot sticks, slices of sweet peppers, sugar snap peas.  (My boys love their vegetables crunchy.)  The choices are endless.  Out of season you can enjoy applesauce and bottled or frozen fruits and vegetables along with dried fruits.  (We love raisins, craisins, banana chips, and dried pineapple.) 

If you are looking for a snack that sustains your energy it's good to pair a protein source with them.  That sounds lame but it's not.  Yogurt with berries on top. Celery with peanut butter (and rasins?). Apple slices with cheese (don't knock it). Cottage cheese with pears.

All of those pairs are favorite options on their own as well,  yogurt (maybe topped with granola?), and cottage cheese or cheese slices make great snacks

One of our favorite quick filling snacks is smoothies.  

 I keep assorted frozen fruits in the freezer at all times.  That goes into a bowl with any fresh fruit going soft or brown, fresh greens from the fridge (spinach in the summer, kale in the winter)  and plain yogurt.  Buzz it up with a stick blender.  I use a little bit of 100% fruit juice or rice, almond, or cow milk to thin it out, and it's fast and delicious. And it's the easiest way I know to get a lot of greens into my boys.

A quick snack we eat regularly is toast.  Jeremy loves his toast with chocolate milk (we do love our Nesquick afterall) and although there may be healthier options--it's a surprisingly satisfying snack. 

   Toast and eggs are easy too and filling.  We'll even do toast and eggs for a super-quick dinner sometimes. Peanut butter on toast would be a good snack too.

Finally my boys do love tangy, briney-type foods as well.  The love to eat pickles and olives (black, green, and purple) by the crock-full. I haven't tried making any other pickled vegetables, though I probably should because the boys would love them.  Jeremy actually made pickled eggs recently.  Wow--potent. . . but really good sliced on a sandwich. 

So there you have my ideas about real convenience foods.  I think it's one of those things where there are really more ideas than we realize until we sit down and think about them.  So I appreciated this challenge to think about the way we currently do things, and how we could to even better. 

It finally cooled down here enough for us to turn our oven back on.  I christened it back into service this week with a giant batch of homemade granola.  We're excited to be able to turn the oven on more regularly again this fall season, and bake a lot of the foods that we've relied on the (air-conditioned) grocery store for this summer. 

What about you?  What is your easy food?  What are your favorite homemade snacks?  Do you think this whole idea is crazy?  Let us know--commenting is now open!  (I may be back with forgotten favorites as well.)

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