Food Network Staffer Diary: I Ate Only Convenience Store Foods for 3 Days
Eating on the go can be a real struggle. Healthy eating on the go can feel virtually impossible.
I consider myself an above-average eater when it comes to incorporating healthy foods into my diet. I am an avid supporter of all things Brussels sprout and make a mean oven-baked salmon. But when it comes to making quick, convenient decisions, I’m definitely one to reach for a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Fine, two bags.
When you pop into a convenience store only minutes before the last train home takes off, you have mere seconds to make a game-time decision. Ninety-nine percent of the time you’ll reach for the Sour Patch Watermelon candy. You’ll tell yourself it’s a fine choice — you’re “in a rush,” and there’s simply no time to sift through 7-Eleven looking for real options. But … what if there was?
I posted up in a 7-Eleven for 41 minutes of my life to see if “healthy eats” actually exist in convenience stores. I entered the 7-Eleven located only two blocks away from my apartment on a Sunday morning at 9:46 a.m. There were approximately four other people “shopping” in the store, and I grabbed a shopping basket to start my search. The store had a total of three shopping baskets, none of which were being utilized by any of the other customers. After taking my first lap around the joint, I became very aware of how bizarre the edible options at these stores are. I expected to see chips, I expected to see nuts and I definitely expected to see candy. But canned tuna was … a questionable surprise. In that moment, staring at a rather large supply of canned fish, I knew I had underestimated this establishment.
While the store had a relatively wide range of foods, there was a deflating lack of legitimate options. I almost dropped dead when I saw they still carry Lunchables but was extremely disheartened to realize they sold only the “Turkey & Cheddar with Crackers” variety. (Everyone knows Lunchables pizza is the move.)
Lunchables aside, there were some relatively healthy options at my disposal. Greek yogurt, oatmeal and cereal were all seemingly normal breakfast choices. Premade fruit salads, hummus and pretzels, protein bars and “skinny popcorn” would make do for snacks. Finding produce to make legitimate meals, on the other hand, was going to be a real challenge. This was going to require some really questionable creativity.
I was surprised to see 7-Eleven sells deli meat in addition to some very simple premade salads. I tossed both in my basket with plans to make a more sophisticated concoction on my own, along with a bag of crunchy roasted chickpeas to use as a salad topping. I then threw a dozen eggs and a low-fat cheese stick in the basket, figuring I could use both to make an omelet for dinner one night.
I checked out of 7-Eleven with four angry, confused customers (all of which were probably buying only one bag of Doritos) waiting in line behind me. It was officially time to make convenience a lifestyle.
Here’s what my three-day diet looked like.
8:30 a.m.: Kashi GoLean Crunch Topped with 1/2 Banana
Boxed cereal is not a typical breakfast staple of mine. I’m not very fond of super-sugary cereals, but I do quite enjoy the more grandma-esque brands. Special K and Kashi are two brands I can definitely get down with. I scored two giant 7-Eleven bananas for a whopping $1, so I topped my cereal with half a nanner and called it a day (or rather, a meal). I feel slightly thrown off my morning routine, but I’m not too peeved about this breakfast.
10:47 a.m.: Small Fruit Salad with Strawberries, Mango and Kiwi
I decided to try one of my 7-Eleven fruit salads, packed with strawberries, mango and kiwi. After opening the container, I was relieved to see it’s not that dangerous. I had to rid my container of one ugly strawberry, but such is life, right?
Okay — I know I was supposed to be eating “healthy,” but I could not resist this purchase. In middle school, my diet essentially consisted of Toll House cookie dough, Mallomars, Cheese-It crackers, and microwavable macaroni and cheese. Not including this in my diet would’ve been an insult to my childhood, and that just wouldn’t be right.
The two minutes it spent living in the microwave were the longest minutes of my entire life, but it was everything I’ve been dreaming of for the past 12 years.
The Annie’s macaroni was beyond delicious, but it wasn’t exactly a hearty meal. By mid-afternoon, my stomach started to growl, and I knew there was only one way to settle it. It was time for another snack, and a protein bar was just what I needed to hold me over until dinner. I told myself this is healthy, but let’s be honest, I was eating a cookie.
7:28 p.m.: Romaine Salad with Turkey and Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
Finally, my body was going to receive an actual vegetable. I started to slice my turkey deli meat, and without even tasting it, I knew it wasn't the freshest bird in my neck of the woods. For that night, though, it would have to do. The crunchy roasted chickpeas added a much-needed kick to the extremely bland dinner I willingly subjected myself to, and somehow I managed to get through dinner without shedding a single tear.
I would kill for a single Brussels sprout right now.
8:11 a.m.: Chobani Greek Yogurt, Coconut Water, and Small Fruit Salad with Strawberries, Mango and Kiwi
This breakfast was definitely more my speed, though had I been shopping at my local supermarket, I would have invested in Greek yogurt and fresh berries for toppings. Given that fruit-flavored Greek yogurt is loaded with sugar, I tried my best to steer clear of it. But, hey, ya gotta work with what 7-Eleven’s got. Blueberry it is.
FYI: Nothing was “grape” about these grapes. They looked as though they’d been through an actual war. These were weathered pieces of fruit that had seen too much and as a result, were stuck in a convenience store and left in a lonely container to die.
I bit into a single grape and threw the other 19 soldiers in the trash. Some things are simply not to be eaten.
I was extremely unsatisfied after my terrifying grape experience, so I “rewarded” myself with an early lunch of canned chicken noodle soup. It may not be gourmet, but it’s the comfort food my body clearly needed. My apartment lacks a couch, so I was forced to enjoy my lukewarm soup in the comfort of my own bed. Each slurp serves as a flashback to every day I faked sick in 6th grade.
Unfortunately, there was no soda on the side this time.
I was feeling pretty yucky, likely because I hadn’t eaten any real, nutritious food today. My snack options were limited, as 7-Eleven’s vegetable selection was more than scarce. As an avid popcorn lover, I’m not too salty when I reach for a bag of “Boomchickapop.” Whatever that means.
I was so unsatisfied. More carbs it is.
7:15 p.m.: 1 Bag of Chicken Jerky and 1/4 Cup of Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
Despite the fact that I walked out of 7-Eleven with an array of “healthy” snacks, I was actually feeling like the grossest human ever. Of course, my way of life relies heavily on the “when things are bad, just make them worse” mentality, so I ended the night with the worst dinner possible.
Chicken jerky is not a meal. I can now say that with confidence.
8:15 a.m.: Chobani Greek Yogurt and “Fresh” Mango Salad
It was time to rise and grind. New day, new me who doesn’t eat dried meat for dinner. I started the day with another Greek yogurt and a container of mango, presliced and packaged, because that’s the “convenient” way to live.
Again with the pretzels and hummus. I would do bad things to good people to replace these salty, crunchy pretzels with a bag of fresh carrots. Now that I think of it, I was starting to forget what fresh vegetables actually taste like. The idea of them sounds quite nice, but I can’t picture them in their physical form. Help.
I Google “fresh vegetables” to remind myself of the life I once lived.
That’s right — you best believe I splurged on two hearty cans of tuna at 7-Eleven. (That's a sentence I genuinely never thought I would write.) Health hack: Replace mayonnaise with hummus when making your own tuna salad. It's a great calorie saver — and, no lie, it's a pretty delicious alternative to standard tuna salad.
I mixed together two cans of light tuna with 3 tablespoons of hummus, a dash of pepper and a hefty amount of salt. I toss my “homemade” salad on top of a 7-Eleven prepared salad, which is essentially just romaine, three tiny pieces of what must have been a carrot and a single grape tomato. I was living large.
Step 1: Carefully open bag of popcorn, making absolutely sure not to lose a single piece in the process.
Step 2: Place a beyond-aggressive amount of kernels into the palm of your hand.
Step 3: Shove kernels into the large orifice in your face.
Step 4: Repeat.
7:45 p.m.: 2 Scrambled Eggs with Cheese and a Slice of Whole Wheat Toast
I rarely eat eggs in the comfort of my own home. I almost always order them at diners (sunny-side up, obviously), but for whatever reason, I’m not one to whip up eggs myself.
I took a bite of the scramble, and the warm, cheesy eggs immediately soothe my soul. I inhaled my meal in a matter of seconds before remembering to photograph the evidence.
After this test, I realized how hard it can be for people who rely on convenience stores in food-desert areas to get really fresh, high-quality foods.
This diet was indeed convenient, meaning it required little or no physical effort on my end. However, there is a distinct difference between convenience and ease, and eating this way was anything but easy for me. In fact, eating only foods from convenience stores was a true test of mental strength (and arguably of mental health).
Supermarkets exists for a reason. Take advantage of them every moment you can. With that said, the next time you find yourself in a rush, popping into a convenience store with three seconds to make a decision, take a good look around to explore your less-obvious options. A healthier, semi-satisfying snack may be right in front of your eyes.
And if all else fails, you may find Lunchables.