My first experience of ‘instant food’ was camping as a kid. It seemed like magic adding boiling water to a bowl of ‘Deb Potato’ and ‘French onion soup’ and, in just 30 seconds, tucking into dinner.
Sure, it wasn’t a balanced meal, but it ticked so many boxes. Light to carry, easy to pack, no chance of bruising and going off, no cooking skills needed, few utensils required, quick and easy to prepare. It was tasty and filling, too.
So why when we are all crying time-poor don’t we have more options when it comes to food that simply requires added boiling water?
Let’s look at my childhood camp food favourite – instant potato. The ingredient list includes 87 per cent potato (including emulsifier 471 and preservative 220), whey, skim milk, sunflower oil, salt, flavours, cream and spice extracts.
“Instant foods are more highly processed and while they are not necessarily devoid of nutritional value they will generally not be as rich in nutrients as the fresh or frozen option,” says Aloysa Hourigan, Nutritionist and national media spokesperson for Nutrition Australian.
“During food processing there is often a loss of key nutrients like vitamins C and B, and food additives and sodium are added to help maintain the taste, texture, appearance of the food and to increase shelf life,” Ms Hourigan explains.
“Instant foods are not necessarily less expensive per serve. Given a serve of potato is 75 grams, you will get a lot more serves for $1.99 of fresh potato than you will with instant potato”, says Ms Hourigan.
“Instant foods do come with a high price tag. The added processing costs and the packaging would add to these costs compared to fresh produce,” says William Angliss Institute Food Processing Coordinator Bronwyn Graham.
While, another point to consider is whether the production of ‘instant’ foods is good for the environment. Potentially there will be high energy and water usage involved in this – along with additional waste, says Ms Hourigan.
“I don’t think the market for instant foods is that big and that would be the main driver for the limited numbers of product available currently,” says Ms Graham.
“Instant foods have a place such for camping, but for everyday convenience they are competing with many other options such as fast foods, pre-cooked foods like roast chickens and pre-prepared fresh options such as salads,” she says.
Perhaps if there was greater variety and more appetising options then there would be an increased demand, so what we need is new food products created.
Melbourne’s William Angliss Institute, established in 1940 and specialising in food and hospitality, teaches the Diploma of Food Science and Technology.
“This would be the best place to start if you wanted to create your own instant food product,” says Ms Graham.
Of course, instant food could be as simple as reaching for some fruit or veggies (carrot, celery, cucumber or red pepper), a small handful of raw nuts, boiling an egg, or blending some milk and fruit and veggies into a wholefood smoothie.
So, if you are short on time and cooking skills and utensils, here’s an instant menu for you to try…or save it for your next camping trip.
- Coffee – add 1-2 teaspoons coffee and 1-3 tablespoons powdered milk. Add boiling water and stir.
- Porridge – Add 1/3 cup of instant oats and 2 tablespoons of powdered eggs to 1/3 cup of boiling water to create porridge with a protein hit. Stir and eat.
- Cappuccino sachet or a cup of green, white or herbal tea.
- There are loads of different brands and blends of ‘two minute’ noodles, nasi goreng and miso soup.
- Try a teaspoon of Vegemite or miso paste in a cup with hot (not boiling water) or a single soup sachet – chicken noodle, pumpkin or French onion – with boiling water.
- A protein shake plus instant potatoes and dehydrated peas topped with instant white sauce or gravy.
Dessert or midnight snack
- Choc vanilla pudding – place 1 level teaspoon Cottee’s Instant Vanilla pudding and ½ cup of cold water or milk in a small jar or container with a secure lid. Shake vigorously for 1 minute and pop in fridge for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of cocoa powder and eat!