By Elisa Zied
April 20, 2014

Have you thought about banning canned foods from your kitchen, thinking that consuming them will harm your kids' nutritional or overall health?

Perhaps you're concerned about the potential dangers of Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical widely used to line food and beverage cans and in plastics (eg reusable water bottles) to prevent contamination and spoiling. Recently linked with obesity in young girls and miscarriage risk in pregnant women, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says BPA is safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods. The FDA also "supports reasonable steps to reduce exposure of infants to BPA in the food supply." In fact, in 2012 the FDA mandated that BPA could no longer be used in baby bottles and sippy cups, a practice that manufacturers had already phased out. The FDA also vows to "work with industry to support and evaluate manufacturing practices and alternative substances that could reduce exposure (of BPA) to other populations."

While a report by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) found no direct evidence for health effects of BPA in people and confirmed that human exposure to BPA is very low, the organization is currently working with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to "optimize BPA-focused research investments to more effectively address data gaps and inform decision making." If you're concerned about BPA, click here for some things you can do to limit your family's exposure.

Maybe you steer clear of canned foods because you think they pack in too much sodium—a mineral all of us, including kids, should try to curb in our diets. True, canned soups, beans and vegetables tend to be notoriously high in sodium. But while they still have their work cut out for them, many companies including Campbell Soup Company, Goya Foods and White Rose have pledged to reduce sodium in canned and other packaged foods as part of the National Salt Reduction Initiative. Although this move can certainly help, you can further reduce the sodium you find in canned foods when you drain and rinse them. One study found that doing so lowered the sodium by 9 to 23%. On the downside, draining and rinsing can also lead to some loss of other valuable nutrients, something worth noting.

Maybe you steer clear or minimize intake of canned foods because you don't think of them as nutritious options. But according the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, research shows that canned and frozen foods are as nutritious as fresh. A recent study published in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that nutrient scores for fresh, frozen and canned vegetables were similar and that processed—canned or frozen—fruits and vegetables are nutritious options for meeting daily quotas.

Although I'm all for making more mindful and healthful choices when grocery shopping, and for emphasizing fresh foods, I think canned foods and other processed foods have a place in the diet—especially when they pack in a bounty of nutrients that are important for growing kids. I also think it's important for us to choose our battles when it comes to feeding our families. Canned foods, for example, are so convenient, have a long shelf life and can add key nutrients to meals that growing kids need. So I say mix it up and don't feel guilty about giving your kids—and yourself—some foods that come in a can. Stock up on foods that come in a variety of forms—fresh, frozen and canned items, especially those that pack in a lot of nutrients and are low in or have no sodium or added sugar. If you're concerned about BPA, buy items packaged in BPA-free cans. And if you want to lower your family's sodium intake, look for reduced-, low- or no- sodium options. Here are more tips to help your family reduce it's sodium intake.

Here's a great recipe for black bean soup from the brand new book, Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide: Feed Your Family. Save Your Sanity! by registered dietitian Sally Kuzemchak. It features canned unsalted black beans, one of my family's favorite dinnertime staples. According to Kuzemchak, "Canned beans are especially great because they're a terrific source of meatless protein and iron that's ready to go and totally affordable." Enjoy!

Black Bean Soup*

Hands-on time: 20 minutes. Total time: 36 minutes.

Using canned beans and ready-made salsa streamlines the prep on this simple Southwestern soup. Pick your favorite toppings to add color and flavor: shredded cheddar, crumbled tortilla chips, green onions, and sour cream also work well. Half the soup is puréed to give a mix of chunky and creamy textures.


1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

2 cups organic vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

2 (15-oz) cans unsalted black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup refrigerated fresh salsa

3/8 teaspoon salt

1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained

1 diced peeled avocado  (optional)

1 tomato, chopped (optional)

Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)


1. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add broth and next 4 ingredients (through beans); bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

2. Place half of bean mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Add puréed soup to remaining soup in pan. Stir in green chiles, salsa, and salt; cook over medium heat 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

3. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with avocado, tomato, and cilantro, if desired. Serves 4 (serving size: 1 cup).

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories: 182; Fat: 1.2g (saturated fat: 0.8g, monounsaturated fat: 0.8g, polyunsaturated fat: 0.2g); Protein: 10.6g; Carbohydrate: 32g; Fiber: 9.4g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Iron: 2.9mg; Sodium: 1005mg; Calcium: 95mg

*Source: Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide: Feed Your Family. Save Your Sanity! (Oxmoor House, 2014) by Sally Kuzemchak.

Note: To lower the amount of sodium in the recipe, you can use low- or no-sodium broth and less salsa and/or table salt.

Do you use canned foods? What are your favorites?

Image of tins with bean, red bean, corn via shutterstock.

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide by the publisher.


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