06/28/2011 - Articles

Convenience Foods

By: The Swiss Association for Nutrition (SAN)

Convenience Foods

Foods that you buy which require little or no preparation before eating (a lot of the work has been done for you) are called 'convenience foods'. Here, the Swiss Association for Nutrition has summarized the pros and cons of convenience foods, and gives some recommendations on how to buy and prepare them.


Convenience products - that is, prepared dishes - have been enjoying great popularity for several decades now. Because of advances in food preparation technology, different foods now have a longer shelf-life and a more attractive appearance. 'Convenience' indicates that they satisfy a consumer need: to speed up or even avoid preparation of meals altogether. Prepared foods therefore are at a premium among professional women, singles, people with little cooking experience or sufficient time, and also among the elderly. Even restaurants depend on prepared ingredients when serving large numbers of clients, as this requires less space and allow more rapid processing.

The phrase "convenience food" describes a variety of hot or cold foods and dishes that require little or no effort in preparation. They may be classified according to the level of preparation necessary.

Categories Example: potatoes
Fresh raw product

Unprocessed product without any preparation
Unpeeled potatoes
Category 1: Basic product

The product requires some preparatory steps before cooking.
Peeled raw potatoes
Category 2: Ready-to-cook product

The product requires no further preparatory steps before cooking.
Peeled raw potatoes, sliced and frozen, oven fries
Category 3: Ready-to-use product

The product must be prepared and perhaps warmed up.
Dehydrated potato puree (in flakes)
Category 4: Precooked product

This is often a complete dish or menu. It only needs to be warmed up before consumption.
Frozen cooked potatoes (croquettes); Bagged potato pancakes
Category 5: Table-ready product

The product can be consumed immediately.
Chips; potato salad; complete meal (potatoes, broccoli, meat)

Advantages of Convenience Foods


  • These quick and easily-prepared products can save time and require few cooking skills. Vegetables, for example, are already cleaned; washing, peeling, and cutting are unnecessary.
  • Convenience products are always available and ready to use.
  • The production, storage, and sale of industrially prepared products are subject to strict regulation and controls. Properly stored ready-to-use products are bacteriologically safer than fresh goods. The shelf-life can be extended through additives.
  • Modern production techniques and preservation methods minimize the nutritional loss of precooked products. No more vitamins or minerals are lost than in the home kitchen.
  • Frozen vegetables have the same nutritional value as fresh products since these foods are frozen immediately after harvesting. Nutrients, vitamins, and the food's sensory-stimulating properties (taste, smell, mouth-feel etc) are in most cases preserved.
  • Convenience foods are already divided into portions.
  • With suitable supplements, these precooked products are very useful, especially for the elderly, sick, or handicapped persons, or for people who can devote little time to cooking.


Disadvantages of Convenience foods


  • Convenience food often contains a lot of fat so that its energy content is also very high.
  • The fat quality may not be good (animal fats). Products with vegetable fats should preferred.
  • The salt content is also high. Imported products are usually not prepared with iodized, fluoridated salt. It is therefore important to use correspondingly treated salt for self-prepared foods.
  • Most prepared dishes do not provide a full meal. The small amount of vegetables (or their complete absence) contradicts nutritional guidelines. In addition, their content of minerals, vitamins, secondary vegetable materials, and bulk fibers may be inadequate.
  • Ready-to-use products are often very expensive.
  • People who are allergic or sensitive to certain substances or additives (artificial preservatives, color additives, taste enhancers) must study the labels very carefully.



Currently there is a trend to enrich convenience products with a range of nutrients. The consumer should evaluate such products using the same criteria (listed below) as for dishes without such additives.


  • At most, plan one complete precooked meal per day, and do not fall back on them more than three times a week.
  • Preferably select ready-to-use foods, since the ingredients contain less fat and salt. It is critical to compare products by studying the labels:
    - not more than 5 g fat per 100 g of ready-to-use product,
    - or at most 15 g per portion, i.e. 300-400 g per person (protein source and side dishes).
  • Buy only products which have their fat content on the label.
  • Combine a high-fat convenience dish (e.g. starchy potato pancake) with low-fat foods (protein and vegetables).
  • Plan grocery shopping: prepare a list with suitable supplements to the purchased ready-to-use dishes.
  • Do not buy anything in damaged packaging.
  • Transport frozen and chilled foods in protective bags, take them home as quickly as possible, and place them in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Observe storage instructions.



  • Cooking temperature and time are essential factors for a successful meal. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Add vegetables and/or fruit to the meal. These may also be in the form of prepared foods: spinach, peas, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, legumes, frozen or preserved mixed vegetables. Bagged raw vegetables: celery, bunch of carrots, green salad, beetroot.
  • Vary the products consumed.
  • The manufacturer often suggests recipes to improve taste. It's better to ignore these since many of them simply involve the addition of extra fat.
  • Water and low-fat ingredients (full or low-fat milk) are best for preparing dehydrated convenience foods (sauces, soups...).
  • Prepare foods that match your taste: for example, add fresh cabbage and onion to a bagged salad.



Schweizerische Vereinigung für Ernährung / The Swiss Association for Nutrition (SAN). Merkblätter zur Ernährung, Vol. II. Main Editor: Herr Hansjörg Ryser, Bern.Website at : http://www.sve.org/english/index.html


Created on: 05/26/2003
Reviewed on: 06/28/2011

Your rating: None Average: 3.8 (19 votes)
Anonymous wrote 1 year 50 weeks ago

very good one for information

Anonymous wrote 2 years 20 weeks ago

Many people use convenience foods in their diet plan, but it's important to note that they're not all equal. Depending on your diet, some convenience foods will be much better than others. This is why it's important to have as many information as possible. We can't tell tha only some kind of foods are convenient, you need to buy the variety that best fits your dieting needs