Monday, February 1, 2010

The Cost of Convenience

Ah, convenience. One of the things that helped me get fat. The ease of the drive-thru window, pre-packaged foods, ready meals. Quick, sure but detrimental to a healthy lifestyle. Life gets busy (work, kids, cleaning, laundry, school, exercise) and these companies feed into that, but are we really so busy that we can't fit the preparation of at least some unprocessed, whole foods in between Facebook quizzes, video games and watching television?

Take breakfast, which often falls by the wayside when you're rushing around first thing in the morning. Would it be easier to grab a tub of flavored yogurt and go? Sure it would. But what exactly is in that tub of yogurt? For comparison purposes only let's look at what used to be my favorite processed yogurt foodstuff, strawberry Yoplait Thick & Creamy lowfat yogurt.

Below is the nutrition information transcribed from and the ingredients copied and pasted from I find it interesting that Yoplait does not offer the ingredients of their yogurt on their website (I could not find it, not for lack of trying.) So, have a look...

Serving size~ One 6-ounce container
Fat~3.5 gram
Carbohydrates~32 grams
Protein~7 grams
Sodium~100 mg
Fiber~0 grams

Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Reduced Fat Milk, Sugar, Nonfat Milk, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Strawberry Puree, Kosher Gelatin, Tricalcium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Colored With Carmine, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.

No fiber and 28 grams of sugar which is the equivalent of 7 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. "What about light yogurt?" you ask... You'll save 70 calories but you'll still be getting HFCS as well as Splenda.

What about the healthy alternative? Wash and halve a whole cup of strawberries and put them in a container in the evening. The next morning, top with 6 ounces of 0% Greek yogurt and go. Here is the nutritional breakdown that I did on Spark...

Calories~136 (56 calories saved)
Fat~1 gram (2.5 grams saved)
Carbohydrates~16 (half of the Yoplait)
Protein~18 grams (more than double the protein of the Yoplait)
Sodium~2 mg (a savings of 98mg, that's huge!)
Fiber~ 4 grams

More nutrition, obviously but also more food! And more food means more satisfaction. For even more satisfaction for just a few calories more, add a half a cup of Kashi Go-Lean cereal. Yum.

I'm on a roll here, let me do one more. Fast food lunch vs. a homemade lunch....

My (former) favorite fast meal~ two double cheeseburgers with ketchup and pickles only, large french fries and large sweet tea. I don't have the ingredients and I'm not entirely sure that I want to know but here is the nutrition breakdown from McDonald's "Bag a McMeal" nutrition facts.

Calories~1610 (the amount of calories I eat in an entire day, broken up into 4 meals and 1 snack)
Fat~70 grams
Sodium~2660 mg (the RDA is no more than 2300 mg/day)
Carbohydrate~190 grams
Fiber~11 grams
Protein~55 grams

The other week I made turkey kebabs with cole slaw for dinner, I made enough so that I could make us lunch wraps the next day. Marinated and grilled turkey tenderloin and fresh, crunchy cole slaw on a whole grain wrap with a cup of seedless white grapes and a lovely fizzy drink (1 ounce of pom-cherry juice with orange seltzer water.) It took about 5 minutes to put together this lunch for two people.

Calories~421 (about one quarter of the McMeal)
Fat~15 grams (a 55 fat gram savings)
Sodium~I don't have this number, but I'm pretty sure it's way less
Carbohydrate~64 grams (126 gram savings)
Fiber~16 grams (7 bonus grams)
Protein~33 grams (less, but a perfectly respectable amount for one lunch)

Is one processed yogurt or McMeal every now and again going to harm us? Not if we make thoughtful food choices on a regular basis, but there are people in this country who eat like this as a rule, that the only vegetables consumed is the hot lettuce on a Big Mac and I used to be one of them. But I've learned that there is a better way of doing things and I'm noticing the benefits of that more and more each day.

The numbers speak for themselves. Food preparation can be time consuming but there are ways to make it work for your busy life. When you factor in the control over what goes into your body which in turn will directly effect the way you feel and look, it certainly is worth it. I am worth it, you are worth it!


  1. I love how you translated fast food options to healthier alternatives. Great post!

  2. Interesting post. Don't you find that the longer you eat better food, the less desirable the fast food becomes? Your post made me examine my daily yogurt. Might be time to go Greek!

  3. Thanks Carrie!

    And yes, Splurge, it's absolutely true that the longer your body and taste buds get wonderful nutritious foods the less it wants junk. And I love that!

  4. Great post. If we have to do some convienence meals then how do you feel about the Healthy Choice meals or Lean Cuisine? How do you feel about those frozen veggie steamers for microwaves? I will look into Greek yogurt.

  5. Good questions Julie. Frozen veggies are a fantastic option, just make sure they are plain in the package without added sodium, sugar or sauces. It's just as easy to toss with a bit of butter and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and herbs and know what is going into your body.

    Five minutes on the Lean Cuisine site revealed that they use high fructose corn syrup in some of their meals and corn syrup solids even in their "spa cuisine."

    Healthy Choice meals are lower in sodium, which is good, but I can't find ingredients on their site, just the basic nutrition facts.

    This is why it's extremely important to read your labels and make an informed choice.

    I do occasionally take a frozen dinner to work when there aren't any leftovers, but not too often because frozen dinners, no matter how good the ingredients are, always seem to be very high in sodium. I do like the ones from Amy's Organic (especially the Mattaar Paneer), Ethnic Gourmet and Kashi. They are a bit more expensive but to me, it's worth it not to have ingredients I can't pronounce or HFCS.

  6. Great post, Andra! This is so huge, and makes such a difference in health and weight. And often it doesn't even really save time to get take out - it just saves a little bit of effort in the kitchen.

  7. Preach it, sister!

    I'd like to point out that you CAN make healthy choices that are also convenient, too! What's more convenient than an apple - portable AND healthy? Carrots, etc. - you get the idea.

    Plus, you can also make healthy choices at a fast food restaurant. Is it less fun than eating a Big Mac meal? Maybe. But then again, eating all your calories for the day in ONE MEAL is kind of a bummer.

  8. P.S. A great way to do convenience meals is to make them yourself. I spend about 1/2 of Sunday each week planning meals for the week, shopping, and cooking them. I freeze or refrigerate them in portion-size containers so they are easy-peasy to grab for lunches, snacks, etc. I wash and chop my fruits and veggies and portion them out, too. And for meals that I can't/don't want to cook ahead (steak, fish, etc.) I buy them in advance and pull them out of the freezer in the morning before I go to work. That way, they're ready to throw on the grill/in the oven/on the Foreman when I get home.

  9. I agree with seattlerunnergirl. I work 9 hours a day, and spend another 2 hours on the road. That doesn't leave a lot of time for cooking. I have become Queen of the Kitchen one afternoon every weekend. Batch cooking has been a lifesaver for me the past few weeks. If you make it a habit to cook and freeze a large quantity of healthy, home-made recipes in individual portions, you'll have a great variety built up in just a couple of weeks. This Sunday, I made a delicious Black Bean Soup and also some Sweet Potato Burritos. It's just as convenient for me as stopping at the drive-thru on our way home, and I feel so much better about what's going into my body because I know EXACTLY what it is.

  10. Thanks for all the amazing suggestions from seattlerunnergirl (who will henceforth be known as SRG) and Tamara (I'd love that burrito recipe.) As you know, I'm all about batch cooking! I make one or two big batches of soup just about every Wednesday to keep the freezer stocked so my husband always has a delcious lunch to come home to. :)

  11. after ur planned indulgences post around xmas i've made an effort to know when i'll go out to eat.. get on the website and look up which meal i'll be picking! its helped so much. once i started planning meals on sunday for the whole week i had no excuse to eat out when i knew what i was going to make for dinner. i'm down 12 lbs since december 28th (didn't feel like waiting for jan 1st). i'm really pumped. i've craved less bad food since cutting out sweetners in my diet. so the yogurt went bye bye along with the diet soda. i feel great tho!

  12. Way to go, Jamie! You post made me smile. :)