Processed foods. We all know they're bad, right? Downright evil in some circles.
Moms brag about not giving their kids anything processed. Health nuts boast that they eat clean.
Sometimes it seems like we're not all on the same page about what it means for something to be a processed food. And, as a result, a lot of us feel bad about ourselves for spending any time in the canned-food or freezer section or the deli.
Let’s stop right here. Would you love to serve everything fresh and hand-churned and homemade? Of course. Heck, I'd like it to all come from my own backyard garden, too, if we're talking about what we'd like.
And we should do as much as we can, but let’s cut ourselves some slack. And let’s remember that just because something is convenient doesn’t necessarily mean it’s processed. Those are two different things. Just because you didn’t make it from scratch doesn’t mean that someone didn’t.
So, yes, let’s acknowledge that truly processed foods contain ridiculous levels of sodium, and sometimes a lot of chemicals with names you can't pronounce, and zero nutritional value. But truly, this does not mean that you, a parent with a full-time job, must make your own guacamole, pesto or hummus, or even chop your own vegetables.
At the end of the day, we're all doing our best. And yes, I am an advocate for home cooking. I believe there are a lot of benefits (health and social) to it. I also believe it's important to teach our kids how to cook as part of helping them to grow up into self-sufficient humans.
But I also believe it's important to teach our kids not to obsess over every little thing — we don’t live in a Pinterest page, after all. Plus, the idea of "cooking from scratch" isn't appealing to some people. I get that.
A lot of grocery stores help make things easy for you. So, yes, by all means, buy the pre-chopped onion and the pre-made guacamole and salsa from the deli. Choose the things that are most important to you. Choose the things that are doable for you.
In my freezer right now, I have homemade (dairy-free for my allergic little man) ice cream. I have homemade chicken stock. And I have homemade popsicles. Those are the things I've chosen are important and doable for me.
But yes, I also have a couple of frozen dinners (not homemade!) in case I get stuck at home with a sick kiddo one day with nothing to eat. I have frozen potstickers from Trader Joe's because those suckers take forever to make from scratch. And I have Sprouts’ frozen taquitos for my son. (To be fair, these actually may be tipping more on the processed than the pre-made scale, but it is what it is.)
Maybe someday things will be easier and I'll have gobs of free time, but for now, I have made the determination that I'm not going to beat myself up about giving him a frozen taco. In general, I have decided that these frozen tacos are OK for us, but certain other foods and food-like products are not. But for a lot of people, those chicken tacos are processed and not clean and shan’t be offered. For others, the foods we're skipping are lifesavers.
And that's OK. It’s all OK.
As working parents, we need convenience and simplicity. We need to find ways to make health and life and all the rest happen without going crazy. And you absolutely can find ways to make preparing dinner a little bit easier. And that doesn’t mean you’re giving your kids processed or unclean food. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you a human being with 24 hours in your day.
So, remember that there are degrees to the term processed, you are human, and you can cook homemade goodness with your kiddos this weekend. For now, let's just work to get through the workweek.