In Praise of Convenience Food: Why Grab-and-Zap Meals Help Me Lose Weight


By Shaun Chavis

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I've been toying with the idea of joining food bloggers nationwide and posting pictures of everything I eat. Not only will it keep me on the straight and narrow, but it may also help me lose weight. And I'm sure my daily life can demonstrate examples of both good and bad eating habits.

Unfortunately, after taking inventory of my meals, I've realized that my breakfasts and lunches will get boring fast. I eat pretty much the same thing, at least on weekdays, and no one wants to look at the same bean burrito five mornings in a row. But there's a lesson in my boring meals: Routine and prepackaged meals can be good weight-loss tools.

You know from previous posts that I'm big on breakfast. (Confession: I'm a reformed breakfast-skipper.) Breakfast is usually a banana or some other fruit (lately, cherries and local peaches), eaten either before or right after my morning walks. Some days I might add a boiled egg. Then, I usually have a burrito once I get to the office. (My fave is Amy's Kitchen Burrito Especial, with white rice, black beans, veggies, and cheese.)

microwave-dinners-150.jpg microwave-dinners-150.jpg , I've tried to make sure I get at least 400, and usually around 500, calories for breakfast. And I don't feel guilty if I get 600 calories for breakfast; that's a little more than a third of my day's calories.

This routine works for me; I don't get hungry for hours and it helps me stick to my calorie limit. I may be stuck in a rut, but research from the National Weight Control Registry shows that successful dieters limit the variety of foods available to them.

Lunch is also a convenience product, usually a frozen entrée from Amy's or Kashi. Even though I started this habit last year to save money (so that I don't go to the company cafeteria or eat out), the instant portion control helps me keep calories in check.

It's much easier to polish off a Lemongrass Coconut Chicken guilt-free than eat only one-half or one-third of a takeout order. And research backs me up. A small study from the University of Illinois published some years ago said this about packaged entrées and dieting: Instant portion control from a package helps support weight loss.

Although convenience products may save money and calories, there's a downside: They can be high in sodium. Even if you're not one to reach for the saltshaker, it can add up fast. Low-cal options like Lean Cuisines can have up to 30% of your daily recommended sodium.

Curious if grab-and-zap products will make dieting a little easier? Try this Health magazine fast-food diet plan designed to help you drop 10 pounds in 5 weeks.