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These 16 Foods Show That Store-Bought Is Sometimes As Good As Homemade

When my firstborn child turned 6 months old, I embarked on the project of feeding him his first solid foods. As I had been both the provider and producer of what he ate up to that point, I felt responsible for ensuring that he continued to be well nourished. I also believed that these first tastes of food would set up eating habits that would stay with him for his whole life.

Instead of buying a box of rice cereal that requires only the addition of water, I ground my own organic brown rice in a blender, boiled it on the stove and stored it (in a glass container, of course) in my fridge. Then every day I would feed him a little scoop of it along with a dollop of organic kale that I had steamed, pureed and frozen into baby-sized portions using an ice cube tray.

I could have just as easily purchased little glass jars of pureed vegetables at the store, but that felt like taking a shortcut. Did I really want to take the easy way out when it came to what I was feeding my baby?

Now, he’s a lanky 14-year-old (taller than I am) who regularly polishes off bowls full of sugary cereal and multiple cheeseburgers from a certain fast food establishment I swore I would never take him to. Of course, I want him to be healthy, and, yes, he does eat fruits and vegetables. But he also eats a lot throughout the course of a day, and I’ve let go of ensuring that every bite is perfect.

I was remembering my baby-feeding journey the other day when I came across a recipe for homemade goldfish crackers that involved a tiny fish-shaped cookie cutter and baking them in the oven in small batches. If that sounds like your idea of fun, by all means, go for it. But if you’re juggling dozens of responsibilities already and don’t need to add the title of cracker baker to your résumé, rest assured that your child will fare perfectly well eating packages of crackers that you buy at the grocery store.

“I encourage my clients to take shortcuts in the kitchen, especially when cooking is stressing them out or they’re feeling overwhelmed by feeding their family,” Megan McNamee, a registered dietician and author of the cookbook “Feeding Littles & Beyond,” told HuffPost.

“Not everything needs to be made from scratch,” McNamee continued, adding that she discourages people from this kind of “black-and-white thinking.”

“People need permission to just get food on the table and not think perfectly about nutrition,” she said.

HuffPost asked McNamee and other nutrition experts what items they buy at the store even though they could make them at home. Here are their picks:

  1. Pasta sauce or pesto

  2. Meatballs

  3. Bread

  4. Pasta

  5. Granola/snack bars

  6. Pureed baby food

  7. Hummus

  8. Peanut/nut/seed butter

  9. Pizza dough or crusts

  10. Dressings/sauces

  11. Chicken or veggie broth

  12. Crackers

  13. Yogurt

  14. Kombucha

  15. Pre-chopped veggies

  16. Cake mixes

Here are some more things to consider as you’re selecting grocery store items for your kids and yourself:

Fewer ingredients is generally better.

A lengthy ingredient list is often a sign of how different a processed food is in comparison to its homemade version. As to what those differences may be, dietician Alyssa Miller told HuffPost, “Store-bought items tend to contain higher levels of fat, sugar or salt and less fiber, largely due to mass production and efforts to appeal to broader consumer taste preferences.”

“Additionally, to extend shelf life, these products frequently include more preservatives and stabilizers, ranging from sugars and salts to vinegars or acids, which might be minimized or unnecessary in homemade versions,” she said.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that any one of these individual ingredients is bad for you, only that this is one way these products differ from homemade versions. Every family has their own priorities when it comes to nutrition, and avoiding certain additives may not be your family’s top goal at the moment.

That said, you can sometimes select products that most resemble homemade versions by looking at the ingredient list.

“Plain hummus, whole grain bread, plain yogurt or meatballs are things I could make at home, but buying the store-bought version saves time and has similar or the same nutrient content,” dietician Jennifer Anderson told HuffPost.

Plain yogurt made with only milk and live cultures is exactly what you would make at home, for example.

“Plain yogurt, homemade or store-bought, is going to have just as many nutrients,” Anderson said, noting that you can add your own sweeteners at home for flavored yogurt with less sugar than a store-bought brand might have.

Ingredients you don’t recognize aren’t necessarily bad.

It’s reassuring if you recognize all the ingredients on a list, but seeing a word you can’t pronounce doesn’t necessarily mean a product is less nutritious.

Miller called “the whole, ‘If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it’ rule ... a bit tricky.”

“Take cholecalciferol, for example — it sounds super complex, but it’s just vitamin D3,” she said.

In addition, Miller said that “some processed foods and those long ingredient lists can still fit into a healthy diet,” even when they’re different from homemade versions.

“It’s all about finding that balance, considering what tastes good, what fits the budget and what ingredients we’re OK with,” Miller said.

Stick to looking for the nutrition information you’re most concerned about.

There are so many things you could consider when looking at nutrition information panels and ingredient lists. It helps to narrow these concerns down to a couple that matter most to your family. You might be vegan or dealing with celiac disease or a nut allergy, for instance.

If your concerns are more general, you might follow Anderson’s example and keep an eye on sugar and sodium content.

“We know on average people are eating more of these nutrients than needed, and they are often added in higher levels to processed foods than what we would add at home,” she said.

This is where buying plain yogurt and adding fruit or other sweeteners at home could mean consuming less sugar than a flavored yogurt product.

“Getting a handle on what you really value can help steer you toward food choices that not only help you feel more satisfied but can make you feel more confident with your buying decisions too,” Miller said.

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