Originally Answered: What can I buy to make healthier food for my family? What foods really make an impact?
I personally think that a lot of non-fat, reduced fat products are not healthy. They have replaced the fat with chemicals and we already get way too many of those. Same with the fake sugars. I use "real" fats but sparingly. Sugars used in baking can usually be reduced by 1/2 without adverse effects in the finished products.
Unless someone in the house has heart and blood pressure issues, salt is not an evil thing. It adds a lot of flavor to food and the human body needs a certain amount of salt to function properly. With you making a lot of your own foods, not buying ready to eat and processed foods, you have already greatly reduced the amount of salt. Anything processed has a huge amount of salt. Just look at the sodium counts on some of the salad dressings, sauces, instant products.
Use spices and herbs to bring up the flavor. Many spices and herbs have healthy benefits. Garlic, onions, cinnamon, oregano are just a few. Good oils include olive oil and canola oil. Both have Omega 3's in them and that's something we do not get enough of! I've attached a link below to an article that explains why Omega 3's are so important. This article convinced me to start taking them as a supplement. Within two weeks, both husband and I noticed less joint issues. I got my 87 year old mother taking them and within less than 4 months her bad cholesterol came down 12 points and her good came up over 10. And she's a horrible eater; the more fat the better!
Because you are busy, try making things like spaghetti sauce, soups, chicken stock, beef stocks in large batches on the weekend and dividing into meal sized packages and freezing them. Same with things like meatballs or casseroles. Make 2, cook one and freeze one. Doesn't really take a lot longer or make any more mess and you have a quick meal handy for those days that nothing has gone well. I make meatballs with lots of veg in them (a good 1/2) and the picky guys never know. I bake them in the oven and put in zip top bags. Between having sauce in the freezer and the meatballs, I can have a great meal ready in less than 1/2 hour and they have no clue it's healthy.
Sneak beans in anywhere you can. It's a highly underused food. Work fiber in anywhere you can. Use fat sparingly but make it the good stuff either from the flavor stand point or nutrition stand point. Cold pressed olive oil delivers a lot of flavor for bread dipping or salad dressings. Canola oil is an excellent source of Omega 3's. And there are times that a nob of butter is just what the dish needs to be truly enjoyable. And butter is not really all that evil either. The steric acids found in butter actually do help to reduce cholesterol.
I'm automatically suspicious of anything processed or modified. I'm part of the generation that was told that margarine was good for us and 25 years later we find out about trans fat. I highly suspect that we will find out similar information about other food additives. I do not use any artificial sweeteners or fake products.
On the other hand, eating is a real source of enjoyment for us humans. There is a fine line to be walked between eating well and enjoying what we eat. If it's not enjoyable, no one cares how good for you it is. I don't nit pick every ingredient, I look at the big picture. If this is a little higher fat than what is considered healthy, I'll serve it with a big salad or a stir fry that is healthy to help balance it out. And sometimes, one just plain craves that big old hamburger or cheeseburger cooked on the grill. So I grill a bunch of veg right along side or we do a fruit salad with.
You are on the right track but don't drive yourself crazy with it either. Look at the big picture. And probably the next thing that we all should be doing is getting more exercise on a regular basis. That has as big an impact if not bigger than the foods we eat. And I'm as guilty as the next person on that one!