Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Grocery Store 101: Packaged Meats

While I generally don't like to buy lots of packaged meats, they are convenient to have once in awhile.  Not only are they processed (no matter what quality you buy) but they can also be pretty expensive.  I save these items for when I've got a busy day or when we're traveling.

Today I'll be covering hot dogs and sausages, lunchmeat and bacon.  The major problem with the standard grocery store versions of these products is the quality of meat they are made with and the additives used to make them.  Anytime a product is processed, it's easier for the manufacturers to use lower quality ingredients since the consumer won't see them- this is why it's so important to be vigilant in reading labels when you buy anything in a package!

I'd also like to remind you that, as always, I prefer to buy directly from a farmer or a local butcher and discuss their practices.  These options are for those of you who currently need to shop the grocery stores for these items.

A general tip of all of these items is to look for the natural meat section in the store.  Most larger grocery stores will have their organic or "green" packaged meats together in a section.  Bypass the standard brands and look for this section.  This should help weed out the most offensive of ingredients and give you some decent options.

Hot dogs and Sausage

Even my kids, who love kale and cucumbers, love a good hot dog.  We served these up to the crowd at Dakota's birthday- super easy and not full of terrible ingredients.  If you're buying standard grocery store sausages, you may be surprised to learn they contain some pretty scary stuff.  Besides being made with bottom of the barrel meats, the ingredient lists probably contain MSG, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial flavors.  Label reading is imperative here!

So about that meat quality... if you're buying a pork, turkey or chicken product, there's a good chance it contains mechanically separated meat. You know what that is right?

Gag! Yeah, that is definitly not on my list of "real foods." Mechanically separated beef is actually outlawed in the US so buying 100% beef products is one way to avoid this.

Avoid: mechanically separated chicken and pork, MSG, corn and soy ingredients 

An Improvement:  products free of natural and artificial flavors, HFCS and mechanically separated meats
Getting There: sausages made with no added nitrites and nitrates
Awesomeness: organic or pastured meats, made nitrate and nitrite free

Brands I like are Applegate, Blinski's, The Brat Hans and Aidell's Organic.


As a mom, I can definitely appreciate the need for some lunchmeat every once in awhile.  At our house, lunchmeat comes to the rescue when we need a quick lunch or something to eat on the go (i.e. not messy in the car).  Normal lunchmeats are strictly off limits at our house though.  Did you know many of them contain gluten and casein (a milk protein)?  Why, I ask you, why???  Besides these no-nos, many contain HFCS, modified food starch and mechanically separated meat.

Instead, look for brands with minimal ingredients and no artificial anything.  I avoid the deli counter since it's not easy to read their labels and I have never seen any that don't have added nitrates.  I prefer to find the packaged meats and read carefully!

Avoid: mechanically separated meats, gluten, casein, and HFCS.

An Improvement:  products free of natural and artificial flavors, gluten, HFCS and mechanically separated meats
Getting There: lunch meats with the qualities of the previous category and made nitrate and nitrite free
Awesomeness: organic or pastured meats with the qualities of the previous categories 

Brand's I like are Applegate and Fresh Fields.


If you're like my brother, you might have the urge to add bacon to everything.  He's a pretty huge fan.  I like to indulge in it on occasion but it's got to be quality.  I look for bacon that is uncured with minimal ingredients.  That means no sugar, no soy or corn ingredients and no artificial anything!  I specifically avoid corn and soy since those are almost guaranteed to be GMOs if they aren't organic.  And don't fall into the turkey bacon trap- that stuff is not "healthy."  Turkey bacon is highly processed and contains sugar, soy, corn and tons of processed salt.  

Avoid: turkey bacon, bacon with sugar, soy, corn, or added nitrites and nitrates.

An Improvement:  look for bacon with no added sugar, corn or soy ingredients
Getting There: uncured bacon with no added nitrates or nitrites 
Awesomeness: organic or pastured bacon with the qualities of the previous categories

The only brand I normally buy is Applegate, but there are many others, just read the labels!

When you're reading through your options, you'll want to keep in mind how often you eat an item.  The more often it's consumed, the more you should be concerned with the quality!  Happy shopping!


  1. Good tips! I struggle with reading the labels for these types of meats. I wasn't sure what to look for beyond making sure there were no nitrates.

    1. I'm glad you glad it helpful! I know how hard it is to read labels all the time!

  2. I found this post to be very helpful, thank you!

  3. What's your opinion on bacon that includes cultured celery?

    1. I haven't seen cultured celery in bacon here, mine has celery salt instead. In any case, I'd much rather have the natural celery product than the unnatural nitrites. Also, eat in moderation, just like everything else :)

  4. Is that carrageenan listed on the deli meat package? I've heard not so great things about carrageenan- what's your take?

    1. It is, and I'm not crazy about it but this is the only thing we eat it in. Carrageenan is in many products and if we were consuming large quantities I might be concerned. Since this is the "cleanest" lunch meat I can find, I accept its presence. If I could find lunch meat without it, I certainly would choose that option!