As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, I was raised on processed foods, which were thought to be the wave of the future at the time. Canned or frozen produce was considered preferable to fresh, and frozen TV dinners were touted as fast, convenient replacements for homemade meals. Overly sweetened cereals, white bread sandwiches, and canned soups were meal staples, as was margarine, or oleo as we called it (I did not taste real butter until I was a teenager). The only fresh vegetable we ever had on a regular basis was iceberg lettuce, usually topped with bottled dressing. My father was a meat and potatoes man who was not especially interested in food. My mother, who did not grow up in the United States, valiantly attempted to make this unfamiliar fare, but with no useful feedback from my father was rarely able to achieve great success.
I could go on and on about the mediocre food of my youth, but suffice it to say that, like my father, I had little interest in food. I liked to eat, but was not really concerned about the quality of what I was ingesting. My attitude began to change in college, when I was finally able to taste so many new foods. At about this time, vegetarianism and an interest in natural foods became popular, and I ventured in that direction for a while. I stopped eating meat briefly, and did not really miss it, but unless you are a competent cook it is difficult to prepare enough interesting meatless meals, and I was not a competent cook. I did start to prepare a lot more foods from scratch, however, which really did open up my culinary world to the flavors of unprocessed foods. I baked breads, made soups and other slow-cooked meals, and most of all started using a lot more fresh vegetables. I discovered how much better fresh produce tasted than canned or even frozen. It was a revelation to find out that iceberg was not the only lettuce out there for salads, and that salad dressings could be homemade rather than poured out of a bottle. My feeling toward food was changed forever.
Over the years I have streamlined my cooking. I have learned which convenience foods can be used without losing too much flavor or nutrition, or adding too many unwanted ingredients to my diet. I avoid most canned items, and pretty much all boxed processed foods. I check ingredient labels and try to eliminate hydrogenated trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup from my life. Low or no sodium and low or no fat has become my mantra. I am allergic to red meats and rarely eat them any more. The only good thing about my childhood diet is that fast food was never a part of it, and to this day I almost never eat at fast food establishments. Overall, my diet has improved greatly with time.
But that does not mean my eating habits are perfect. I still crave junk foods and do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. While I seem to want them less these days, I still love sugary treats. And every once in a while I have an uncontrollable desire to eat certain processed foods, which brings me to the point of this post. Below is a list of my current top five favorite processed foods (although this is an ever-changing list, since food cravings can be fickle and ephemeral):
1) Tostito's Smooth and Cheesy Flavored Dip
Normally something called a "flavored dip" would set off all sorts of nutrition warning bells in my head, but this concoction is so smooth and cheesy and I am addicted. I love it with tortilla chips, over vegetables, or mixed with pasta for a quick mac and cheese. And I have recently discovered Tostito's Zesty Bean & Cheese Dip, which is great for nachos. These dips could become a serious problem.
2) Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
|From Sweet with a Few Nuts|
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups have been a favorite since childhood. There is absolutely nothing healthy about them -- they are candy, after all. Dark chocolate would be better nutritionally and it is available. But the combination of peanut butter and milk chocolate is just so irresistible to me. I try to avoid these as much as possible, I really do, but if a candy bar is what I want, then this confection is what I almost always choose.
Oh, Chester Cheetah, how dare you contribute to my dietary downfalls! How could you possibly know that cheesy, crunchy, salty goodness is what I crave in a junk food. And to condemn me to tell-tale orange fingers when I indulge this craving only adds insult to injury. I fervently wish that I could totally resist your savory seduction, but alas, on thankfully rare occasions I must succumb, oh cursed snack food!
4) Kentucky Fried Chicken Extra Crispy
|From Caveman Circus|
I have never been a big fan of deep-fried foods. So why is it that, when I do crave fast food, maybe once or twice a year, it is always KFC's fried chicken with extra batter, which soaks up even more oil? There is something about the rich crunchy coating over moist and juicy chicken that lures me in. I always order the white meat, but not under any delusions that it is somehow healthier -- I happen to love the wing! And of course if I get the chicken I must get a meal, and it must include mashed potatoes (with gravy, of course), sweet and creamy coleslaw, and most definitely a biscuit (but virtuously plain, no butter-flavored spread, thank you very much). This is just a greasy, slippery downhill slope that I unfortunately feel the need to traverse, though only seldom, thank goodness!
5) H.K. Anderson Peanut Butter Filled Nuggets
|From H.K. Anderson|
This is a relatively new addiction, and one that I fight constantly. My biggest problem is that I don't know when to stop -- once I eat one, the rest are not far behind. I can finish off a small bag in one sitting. One of my absolute favorite foods, peanut butter, inside a salty, crunchy pretzel bite -- I just don't always have enough will power to stay away.
In a perfect world, the four basic food groups would be sweet, salty, creamy, and crunchy. And in my world, I would get to consume milk chocolate, Cheetos, cheese dip, peanut butter, and pretzels to my heart's content with absolutely no ill effects. It will never happen, of course, but a gal can dream, can't she?