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Is Canned Food a Healthful Option?

March 2, 2018

“What’s for dinner, Mom?” one of my daughters asked on a weekend evening.

I was in the middle of a house project and I hadn’t even thought about dinner.

Then I heard the click of our dogs’ nails on our wood floor as they trotted around nervously. I glanced at the clock and saw it was approaching 5 p.m. They wanted their dinner, too.

I had seven mouths to feed: four humans and three dogs. I filled the dog bowls with dog food and got the dogs settled with their dinner.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a bag of “people food’ to fill bowls for my family. That night, I was like about one-third of Americans who decide what to make for dinner at the last minute.

I went to our pantry and freezer. I noticed I had a fair amount of canned food available, including black beans, kidney beans, diced tomatoes, chili peppers and tomato sauce. I gathered my canned goods because I had an idea to get food ready quickly.

I thawed a pound of ground beef in our microwave oven, browned the beef with a chopped onion, drained and rinsed the beans, and added the tomatoes and some chili powder. I had some bread that was a little stale, so that became garlic toast. We had chili and bread on the table in short order.

According to current dietary advice, we all should aim for at least 4 1/2 cups of vegetables and fruits per day. All forms of fruits and vegetables, including canned, fresh, frozen and dried, count toward the recommended amount.

The good news for my family: The canned beans and tomatoes in our chili counted as vegetables, so we were well on our way to the goal.

We also had a meal that cost under $10 for four people and I had enough leftovers to top baked potatoes a couple of days later. Canned food is a convenient option that also stretches our budget.

In an interesting cost comparison, researchers determined the number of portions of food that could be purchased for $10. At the time of the study (2012), the researchers purchased 15 portions of fresh fruits and vegetables for $10. They purchased 18 portions of a mix of fresh, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, and they purchased 23 portions of canned food for $10.

But what about the nutrition? Does canned food have fewer nutrients than their fresh, frozen or dried counterparts?

Actually, they are similar in nutrition. Fruits and vegetables are canned at their peak ripeness and best flavor, so sometimes canned food comes out better than fresh, depending on how long the fresh food was transported and stored.

Look for reduced-sodium options and canned fruit packed in juice to maximize the nutritional value with less salt and sugar. By draining and rinsing canned beans with water, you can rinse away about 40 percent of the added sodium.

Researchers analyzed the cost per nutrient in another study of 10 different canned foods. For example, canned pinto beans offered a lower cost per nutrient for fiber, folate, potassium and protein than other forms of beans. Canned tomatoes had a lower cost per nutrient for fiber and folate, and tied with fresh or frozen in potassium and vitamin A content.

Canned food has a fairly long shelf life, too. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the shelf life for canned vegetables is up to five years for best quality, and 18 months for acidic foods such as canned tomatoes and fruit.

Explore all the alternatives for reaching the goals for fruits and vegetables as you plan menus. Visit for a wide variety of ideas, including menu plans and easy, healthful recipes to get meals on the table quickly. Sign up for the free monthly e-newsletter.

This creatively named, easy-to-make recipe is courtesy of the Canned Food Alliance at

Potato Volcanos

3 large baking potatoes (about 10 ounces each), rinsed and dried

1 tsp. canola oil or other oil

1 pound extra-lean ground beef

1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning

1 (8-ounce) can peas, drained

1 (8-ounce) can sliced carrots, drained

1 (8-ounce) can cut green beans, drained

1 c. canned diced tomatoes, drained

1 (15-ounce) can or jar fat-free beef gravy

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place the potatoes in a microwave-safe, oven-proof glass baking dish. Microwave the potatoes at full power for 10 minutes (the amount of time the oven takes to preheat). Transfer potatoes to the conventional oven and bake until tender, about 20 minutes. About 15 minutes before the potatoes are done baking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook until lightly browned, chopping and turning as needed with a spatula so the beef browns evenly, about five minutes. Add the seasoning to the skillet, followed by the drained peas, carrots, green beans, tomatoes and gravy to make the stew. Stir gently to combine and simmer for five minutes. Keep warm. Cut each potato across its equator and set each half, cut-side down, on a plate so that it looks like a small mountain. Cut a slit in the top of each potato half and squeeze the sides gently, forcing some of the potato to “erupt” from the top. Ladle 1 cup of the stew over each potato to resemble slowing lava; serve immediately.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 330 calories, 8 grams (g) fat, 27 g protein, 39 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber and 770 milligrams sodium.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Dakota State University