Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Convenience foods: the argument for

Since starting this blog, I've become rather taken, some might say rather sanctimonious about, cooking from scratch. Normally, when I have been in full health, I have cooked a meal from scratch 4-5 evenings a week (with the odd takeaway, meal out, meal at someone else's house thrown in in-between). I work full-time too - 37 hours a week. (My fiancé generally works longer hours than I do and has a much longer commute and does not enjoy cooking, therefore I have happily taken on the role in lieu of other responsibilities (e.g. washing up)). I have generally eschewed all things convenience food from microwaveable dinners to sauces that come in jars to ready-made pizzas.

I'm all for slow food. Totally. It tastes better, I get more enjoyment from eating it, and plenty of satisfaction from preparing it. It's food how food is meant to be.

But the key phrase above was "in full health". Recently things have been a bit more tough. I really don't like to complain too much because my illness is not that serious and is treatable (and I am in the process of being treated), but the fact is that as a result of the radioiodine therapy my thyroid now cannot produce enough thyroxine to keep my body functioning properly and I am in early stages of treatment, which may involve some tweaking of medication before balance is fully restored. Anyone familiar with the spoon theory will know what it can be like to have a chronic illness. I'm not going to expand too much on what it's like to live with thyroid disease, because that's getting off the point a little.

The point is, I've come to learn that convenience foods have a place in life. In particular, they have had a place in my life recently.

At first I felt guilty. I felt like I'd failed in my mission to provide myself and my partner with nutritious whole foods, as is my general aim when it comes to food. But what choice did I have but to load the freezer with things I could stick in the oven? (I could get my fiancé to cook, but some nights recently he hasn't been home until 9pm, by which point I would be crawling up the walls...) Not all of these things have been convenience foods as such: things like sausage and mash have been do-able some of the time. But I still felt crappy about it - of course I did. It's natural to feel crappy about not being able to do everything you normally can do.

Eventually you begin to accept it, though - that this is the way things are at the moment and you have to make do as best you can. And, actually, stocking the freezer with things that are easy for me to cook has proved to be a smart piece of forward planning - during previous periods of illness, I have been less prepared and this has led to more disappointment, more guilt and more takeaways.

Quite often, I'll have two options for dinner on the go - for example, I may have some braising steak in the fridge to make a stew should I feel up to it, but at the moment, I usually have a back-up plan too, either in the fridge or freezer.

The convenience foods may not taste as good, may be less nutritious, less good for the environment and hardly using local or seasonal ingredients, but when my choice is between going hungry because I physically do not have the energy to stand up in the kitchen for long enough to create a meal and eating something ready-prepared in a plastic packet, I'll take the food where I can get it. And I'm not going to feel bad or guilty anymore, because I'm doing the best I can.

I still check the ingredients labels on everything though before I buy and I still can't face eating battery-farmed chicken. Most places seem to do ranges of ready-meals, soups etc. which have pretty (if not, wholly) natural ingredients too. I like Covent Garden soups and I recently tried a dish from Marks and Spencer's Gastropub range which was both tasty and filling (shock, horror!).

The good news is that I'm gradually starting to cook more as I'm starting to feel better. I still don't feel I'm functioning at 100%, but I did cook from scratch three nights in a row recently. That was huge for me. It felt good. It tasted good too.


  1. What a lovely post. Sorry to hear you're unwell. When my mum was ill a few years back I made her my own versions of convenience food. I would make a giant fish pie or a lamb stew or lasagne and then portion it all up into containers and freeze it. I'd spend 2 days cooking and end up with over 2 weeks worth of healthy home made meals! Keep well x

  2. I am with you, I enjoy the process and product of scratch cooking. However tonight we are sitting down to a dinner of Mac & Cheese and ravioli from a can.

    I hope you stay well!

  3. Charlene, I admire you for your positivity and optimism! Keep on going girl, things will only get better, I'm sure :o)

    When I have one of my bad days or feeling a bit under the weather I find that having some "half-ready, half-homemade" pizza is the best. I get these sunblush tomato flatbreads from ASDA http://groceries.asda.com/asda-estore/catalog/sectionpagecontainer.jsp?skuId=910000053003&departmentid=1214921923736&aisleid=1214921924708 which work amazingly well as pizza bases (much better than any other premade pizza base I've ever tried) and I top them with some pancetta, buffalo mozzarella (it makes the difference, and it's not too expensive anymore!) and roast artichokes from a jar (or mushrooms, but the artichokes don't need cleaning and slicing) and in 10 min in the oven it's done.

    And then I can give myself the excuse that at least it's not 100% unhealthy, and it only took 5 min to make (plus 10 in the oven). :o) Try it out!

  4. Don't feel guilty about using convenience foods, sometimes they are necessary, its better to eat something than starve! I've had recently some of the Glorious chilled soups and they are very tasty.

    I hope you feel better soon, close family members suffer with thyroid issues and I know it takes time to get back on your feet again x

  5. Thanks all for the comments and tips! :)

  6. Yes, convenience foods definitely have their place. (So don't feel bad about it.) it sounds as though you are trying hard to find good ones, too. Life is complicated and never perfect, for sure. When you're healthy you can stock the freezer up some more (or get Dom to send you some frozen dinners!!).

  7. Thanks, Sarah! Yes, I keep an eye out for ones with natural ingredients (had quite a nice pie from Sainsbury's Taste the Difference range last night!). I'm starting to do more cooking now, as well, so it's all good. :)

  8. What a lovely honest post from a fellow foodie, I'm sure there are many of us that resort to convenience foods where required - I do for sure. with hectic lives they are a necessity at times and supermarkets do produce some quality, well sourced options.

    with a 2 week baby we have had to indulge as the homecooked freezer stocks don't last forever!

    Hoping you feel back to 100% again soon xx

  9. Thanks, Louise. And it is totally understandable to indulge in convenience foods when you have a 2-week old baby! Hope both you and baby are doing well. xx

  10. I think that convenience foods were invented with illness and extreme fatigue in mind. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, don't we? And, oh! the guilt! You are definitely among friends here - no shame in convenience foods when necessity pushes you in that direction.

  11. Thanks, Jen. Glad other people can relate!