Any food that can be served as a frozen meal or processed / packaged mix which is easy to prepare is known as convenience food. In order to enable easy consumption, such food can be prepared through commercial processes as well.
A convenience food can also be known as a ‘ready-to-eat’ meal as it no longer requires extra preparation.
Convenience food can consist of the following:
- Fast food.
- Canned foods such as pasta and vegetables.
- Beverages such as milk, yoghurt, soft drinks and fruit juices.
- Fruits, nuts and vegetables in either processed or fresh conditions.
- Processed and packaged cheeses and meats.
People who have little or no cooking skills as well as those who lack the time to follow different recipes in food preparation would find the use of convenience food very useful.
Majority of these foods require only heating before consumption while some just play the role of ingredients.
A brief history of convenience food
In the 19th century, canned food was developed basically for the military but it gained more grounds in World War I.
Meat packing was among the earliest processed foods that was produced on an industrial-scale.
Furthermore, animals could be reared, killed and butchered hundreds (which later became thousands) of kilometers away from those that consume meat. This was due to the invention of cars that had a refrigerating system in 1878.
Types of convenience food
Under foods, we have the following:
- Ready to cook foods: Foods in this category include mixes, dosa, instant idli and noodles.
- Ready to eat foods: Such foods can be eaten from the package directly with little or no heating, preparation and thawing.
- Dairy snacks e.g butter, cheese spread, processed cheese, etc
- Bakery foods e.g cake, biscuits, bread, cookies, and pizza.
- Frozen foods e.g chicken, ice cream, chocolate, kebab, etc
- Fried foods e.g pretzels, potato chips, wafers, plantain, chin-chin, etc
- Extruded meals e.g soya based foods, cereal and pulse based foods.
- Supplements e.g fruit chutney, pickles, oats, corn, etc
- Ready to fry foods: Such foods include chicken, wafers, beef, chips and finger foods.
- Ready to use foods: They require either frying, reconditioning or cooking before they can be consumed.
- Freshly cut vegetables e.g beans, lettuce, cabbage, etc. They are either chopped, shredded or sliced and packaged in an adaptable temperature.
- Masalas e.g curry masala, garlic & ginger paste, chicken mix, meat masala and several others.
- Ready to reconstitute foods: Examples include weaning mixes, khoa powder, and instant ice cream mix.
- Canned foods: They include fish, chicken, vegetables, fruits, meat, curry and pulps.
- Breakfast cereals: These are our regular breakfast cereals and examples include golden morn and other millet based flakes, corn flakes, various pops, fruits & fiber, and wheat flakes.
Under beverages we have:
- Ready to serve beverages: Such beverages require some preparation before they are served for consumption. They are either made over or diluted before consumed and they include chicken soup , different flavors of fruit concentrates, soup, Tropicana, instant soup powders, etc.
- Ready to drink beverages: These beverages can be consumed straight from their packages such as mango, pineapple, orange, apple, strawberry, black currant and milk/yoghurt based beverages.
These beverages have different shelf lives with natural fruit juices being sold in tetra packs, cold coffee having a shelf life of 6 months while malt shakes as well as horlicks has a shelf life of 4 months and sold in tetra packs too.
Health and environmental hazards of convenience food
Convenience food is not entirely bad, but in most cases they pass through intense processing and consists of huge quantities of unhealthy fats, sugar, carbohydrates and sodium.
Convenience food which has been processed usually contains a high number of chemicals as well as intensive production involving a lot of energy utilization. Also, the packaging used usually results in a landfill in which plastic contaminates the environment taking hundreds or thousands of years to decompose.
Furthermore, foods such as vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grain cereals, olive oil and nuts have an association with an healthy state. All but fish is among foods with the lowest effect in the environment with fish having a remarkable lower effect when compared to processed and red meats.
Certain fishes such as the Atlantic salmon and bluefin tuna are intensely overfished and without immediate intervention, they could become extinct as they are now an endangered species.
Not only does the overfishing of a certain species destroy that population, it could also seriously affect the food chain and reduce biodiversity as well.
A daily consumption of processed foods increases the chances of kidney damage and aging because they possess genetically engineered ingredients as well as phosphate.
Also, constant consumption of processed foods promotes irritation and anger. That is why it is advisable to consume natural whole foods as they assist to sustain the energy levels, make your mood leveled and give you a relaxed and contented feeling.
Myocardial infarction which is responsible for a number of total deaths in a lot of developed countries as well as in some developing countries, happens when numerous illnesses arise as a result of the deposition of fat excesses in the blood vessels. Some of the health conditions that may arise include hypertension, stroke, obesity and diabetes mellitus.
Taking off the exterior layers of vegetables, whole grains and fruits could eliminate it’s nutrients and fibre. Also, a lot of nutrients could be damaged or eliminated in the course of processing. Drying foods or subjecting them to heat may remove certain minerals and vitamins from them.
Sodium, saturated fats and added sugar which are ingredients widely utilized in the manufacturing of highly or ultra-processed foods have become pointers of low diet quality as a result of the roles they play in high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity.
Advantages of convenience food
- There’s hardly any leftovers.
- Absence of purchasing , storing or planning of condiments.
- In concentrated form, packaged foods are easier to transport from one location to another.
- There’s a great reduction in the time used to prepare it.
- It is easy to clean up and faster to display.
- No fear of wastage or spoilage when dealing with convenience foods.
- Cost of mass production and distribution is efficient.
- Breakfast is instant especially with cereals.
Disadvantages of convenience food
- They are usually high in sugar, fat, calories, trans-fat, salt and saturated fat.
- Convenience foods are tougher to control when it comes to the degrees of salt, sugar and fat.
- They lose their freshness at the end of preparation especially the vegetables.
- There might be too little or too much cheese, meat or fish than what you would have had in your meal if it was home-made.
- Baking or even cooking time is prolonged occasionally.