School is out for summer, and for millions of families that means an increase in extracurricular activities. Parents are busy mapping out the logistics of camps, practices, tournaments, and more, so any time savings are usually encouraged and taken.

Finding ways to prepare meals and snacks ahead of time presents a potential shortcut for hectic lifest‌yles, but healthy fare can sometimes seem burdensome or out of reach in favor of processed alternatives, which are often cheaper. It’s tempting to grab a box of prepackaged, processed snacks off the grocery shelf, but a little planning can actually help you save money in the long run—not to mention the real-life health benefits you can reap from eating fresh, high-quality food.

How We Got Here

The prevalence of processed foods in our pantries has been a shift many decades in the making, and many factors have combined to create it. Daily trips to the market for fresh produce have become weekly errands. To improve the sustainability of processed products, we’ve needed to produce foods that can survive the journey from factory to distribution warehouse to store shelf, where foods will sit for even more time.

To remain edible during the long wait from creation to consumption, processed foods are infused with preservatives such as sugar, sodium, and fat. Science has found that the downside is steep, and it’s well-known that eating too much of these nutrients can increase health risks. In generations past, we simply didn’t eat these types of foods like we do today, and we’re really feeling the detrimental impact in ourselves, our families, and our communities.

These are reasons enough to limit our consumption of processed foods, but they’re still staples in our kitchen and on the go, especially with our overloaded lifestyles. We all do so much. Whether as individuals or as families, schedules are packed morning, noon, and night. Trying to find the time to create nutrient-rich foods and snacks can seem like a barrier to the pace of life.

Budgets are also a factor in choosing processed foods. Inexpensive food is hard to pass up when looking at a lengthy grocery list. Processed foods are also easily accessible and on virtually every corner at retail and grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies. Understanding how to access and create healthy meals and snacks that are affordable is a critical component to overcoming this challenge. Natural ingredients can be delicious, and once you include them in your cooking and lifestyle, the energy and enrichment you gain often outweigh hard-to-resist processed foods.

Quick and Better-for-You Alternatives

One easy way to combat the adverse effects of processed foods is by focusing on simple, fresh, nutritious options that won’t monopolize your time or break the bank. Knowing where to start can help get the ball rolling, so here are a few ideas that we like to share from our honey farm:

Berries. No doubt one of the most versatile foods, berries are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C. Toss a handful of blueberries over your cereal, whip up a bowl of balsamic strawberry salsa or mix together a variety of berries with a dollop of honey, and you’ve just added a kick of vitamins to a snack, dessert, or meal.

Yogurt. Most people turn to coffee for a midday pick-me-up. But what if I told you there’s a better option? Natural yogurt contains calcium, protein, and probiotics, which help boost energy. Throw in some berries, and the added fiber keeps those engines running even longer. Just make sure to read the labels, as some brands are loaded with added sugar.

Grapefruit. Sure, grapefruit may be seen as grandma’s meal of choice for breakfast—but the wise lady was onto something. For one, it’s packed with vitamins A and C. It’s also loaded with water. Grapefruit helps the body ward off many illnesses and aids in hydration. Instead of sprinkling grapefruit with sugar, try drizzling it with honey to boost its sweetness.

Smoothies. You’ve probably heard the saying “never drink your calories,” but I’d like to add a caveat: smoothies. Unlike juices, smoothies contain fiber to help fill you up. And you’ve got a vitamin-packed, grab-and-go snack if you choose nutrient-rich ingredients like dark, leafy greens; berries; squash; or protein powder.

Bagels. While not all bagels are healthy, those of the whole-grain variety can provide you with nearly one-third of your recommended daily intake of fiber. You can build an even better version by topping your bagel with nut butter, bananas, and a bit of honey for a truly delicious energy-boosting snack or meal.

Convenience will always be a big thing with food choice, and each one of these alternatives to processed foods provides that—plus many of the vital nutrients your body needs. As with anything in life, it’s all in the preparation. If you plan ahead and add healthier food options in your kitchen, you’ll find yourself gravitating away from those easy-to-choose processed foods.

Making these changes don’t have to be extreme shifts in your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing commitment. Start small! Find easy recipes for meals at home and on the go through a blog that you enjoy or an influencer who connects to your cooking preferences and lifestyle. Begin to make easy substitutions and slowly make changes that will be lasting in your house.

If you slip up one day, week or month, don’t consider it a failure. This is a lifetime journey, and you can expect bumps along the way. Just give yourself a little grace and get back to those healthy choices when you can. This summer, power those activities and long days through natural food and see the difference it can make in yourself and your family.

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