Many times we get too busy to start up a meal from the scratch; then what do we do? We try to go for something quick and less stressful to prepare- something convenient! In fact, it can be said that, modern society survives on such foods. Now, let’s look at the ‘formal’ definition of convenience foods.

What are Convenience Foods?

Convenience foods are those foods that have been processed, precooked or preserved to a reasonable extent by the manufacturer, such that the end consumer has little or no cooking to do before consuming such foods. These foods are meant to optimize the ease of consumption.

Convenience foods are classified as:

  1. Pre-cooked foods: These are foods that have been partially cooked or prepared and are normally ready for consumption after a little additional preparation such as boiling, chilling, heating, etc.
  2. Ready-to-eat foods: These are foods that can be eaten immediately without any preparation. They have been fully processed or prepared and are generally ready to eat.

Although these foods (convenience foods) save time, they tend to have lower nutritional values and can be more expensive than foods that take more time to prepare.

Why the prevalence of Convenience Foods?

The origin of convenience foods dates back to the 19th century when foods were canned for military purposes. The cans made preparation, transportation and storage of foods for soldiers on the battlefield easier.

Today, the rise in the use of convenience foods is due to the growing urbanization and industrialization, which has caused rapid migration of the populace to the urban areas in search of employment which in turn, creates time constraints from both the time spent working and the time spent commuting. These time constraints shift consumer demand from raw farm produce to semi-processed or fully prepared convenience foods. It can be simply said that convenience foods have gained popularity in recent years due to less leisure time to prepare food. We now have more working-class women who go out to work and have less time to prepare food for their families.

Examples

These foods include a variety of canned products such as meat, fish, vegetables; baked goods, biscuits, ready-to-eat cereals and so on. Other examples of such foods are:

Beverages such as fruit juices, soft drinks, etc.

Canned soup.

Canned fruits and vegetables.

Bread.

Instant noodles.

Corn flakes.

Pizza.

Pre-packaged foods.

Pre-cooked sauces, stews and soups.

Fast food meals.

Now, we shall get to know some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the acquisition and consumption of these type of foods.

Advantages of Eating Convenience Foods

  • They are quick, as less time is being spent planning or preparing meals. They can be served either as a quick snack or instant meal.
  • There is little or no need for buying and storing of ingredients and food stuff.
  • They are very tasty and appealing; this is as a result of the additives that have been added to improve the taste, colour and general appearance of these foods
  • They are non-perishable, that is, they have long shelf life.
  • With convenience foods, little or no cleaning up is needed, unlike preparing foods from the scratch.
  • Some ready-to-eat convenience foods such as breakfast cereals are difficult to prepare at home because of the expensive machines and advanced technology used in their preparation, and so it is more economical to purchase them.
  • They are easy to store and can be kept for emergencies.
  • Some convenience foods are fortified to prevent deficiencies of certain nutrients, especially micronutrients.
  • Convenience foods save cost of fuel (gas, coal or kerosene).
  • A high level of culinary skills is often not required by the use of convenience foods since most of the processing and cooking has been done by the manufacturers who also provide the needed information to guide the potential user on how the products could be properly used.

Disadvantages

  • Most convenience foods, especially fruit- or vegetable-based, tend to lack freshness.
  • These type of foods are high in calories, trans-fat, salt, sugar and other additives which may be detrimental to the health.
  • Such foods are commercially prepared; hence, it is difficult to control the levels of ingredients such as sugar, salt, etc. to suit your own taste.
  • Compared with homemade foods, the cost per serving of convenient foods is generally higher.
  • Nutritional deficiencies may occur in consumers, as nutrients may be lost during processing and not replaced.
  • Over time, convenience foods can contribute to serious health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancers, and strokes, if consumed regularly.

Now the question, my dear reader is; after weighing the advantages and the disadvantages of consuming these type of foods, what is your take on the topic? Do you think it is worth abstaining from? Or are you of the opinion that they are not that bad? Let us know what you think in the comment/reply section.

Meanwhile, stay healthy!