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7 Ways to Avoid Canned Food

Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.

Over the past several years, our family has transitioned from a diet filled with processed foods to one filled with fresh, real foods. One of the first items in my pantry to make that transition was canned food. Canned goods are not only cheap, they are convenient. But they are also filled with sodium, added sugars and a dose of BPA.

Last year, former editor, Katie Fox, wrote a great intro to BPA, including all the potential risks associated with exposure such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, birth defects, and obesity. And this year, a research study found that families who eliminated canned food in their diet for just three days reduced the concentration of BPA in their body by over 60%.

I know avoiding canned food altogether may not feasible for every family. I still keep a couple cans in my pantry for those “just in case” moments. But, minimizing your use of canned foods may seem like a less daunting task. You can start by replacing one type of canned food by buying it in an alternative package or by cooking from scratch.

Alternative Packaging

1. Glass

Glass is one of my favorite packaging products because it’s safe, reusable and recyclable. Many products you might normally find in cans can also be found in glass such as spaghetti sauce, canned fruit, and olives.

Tomato products are acidic which makes BPA leach so I know people are often interested in finding an alternative to canned tomato products first.  I”ve found tomato products such as tomato paste and strained tomatoes from Bionaturae and crushed and diced tomatoes from San Marzano.

Photo by GoodNCrazy

2. Paper and Plastic

You can find a great variety of soups and broths in TetraPaks from brands like Pacific Foods, Imagine Foods, and Trader Joe’s. Tuna or chicken pouches can be found right next to the canned versions.

Trader Joe’s carries an Italian Tomato Starter Sauce in a TetraPak and Pomi has both chopped and strained tomatoes, along with a marinara sauce in TetraPaks.

3. Frozen

Pineapple, corn, sliced peaches and green beans are popular canned fruits and vegetables but you can find all of these in the freezer section of your grocery store.  Many of them are also available in organic versions.

4. BPA-Free Cans

Eden Foods is the only manufacturer that currently uses BPA-free cans. They sell chili and several types of canned beans including kidney, navy, pinto and refried beans.  You can find Eden Foods in natural food stores such as Whole Foods or the natural grocery section at your local store.

Start From Scratch

1. Buy dried beans, cook and store.

I recently started buying dried beans and cooking them at home, using this easy . It not only saves money but they taste so much better than canned beans. Every couple of months, I make a big batch and use glass canning jars to store the cooked beans in the freezer.

Photo by Two Gypsy Hearts

2. Cook from scratch.

One of the changes we made when we stopped buying canned food was to make soups and chili from scratch. I usually make a large batch for dinner, saving some for lunch the next day and freezing the rest for another dinner down the road. Some of our favorite soups include Beer Cheese, Vegetarian Black Bean and Chili. The chili is as easy as throwing some black beans, kidney beans, diced tomatoes, onions and cooked hamburger into a large pot, along with a few spices, to simmer for an hour. If I have extra veggies like carrots, green pepper or corn, I’ll dice those up and throw them in there, too.

Last week, I made chicken broth for the first time. We don’t often have whole chickens in our house but since we did, I thought I would give it a whirl. It was so easy and I was thrilled to be able to get more then just meat out of that chicken. I froze the broth in ice cube trays and then dumped them into a freezer bag for future use. I will definitely be doing it again.

Baking staples such as evaporated milk and condensed milk are typically found in cans but with a few ingredients you may already have, you can make them yourself.   I haven”t had an opportunity to try these recipes but they get high reviews from other cooks: Sweetened Condensed Milk from and Evaporated Milk from

3. Grow or pick your own.

Another great option to avoid canned fruits and vegetables is to plant a garden and grow your own or to visit a local farm and pick your own.  If you grow or pick enough, you can store them for future use either by canning or freezing.  Personally, I find freezing so easy that I freeze almost everything in either canning jars or freezer bags.

What canned foods do you use regularly? Does it seem daunting to remove canned foods from your kitchen? What types of canned food do you have a hard time finding replacements for?

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  1. melissa

    this is so helpful! we are in the very early stages of transitioning to a more whole foods diet! i’m excited to try a few of these things. and i will now be keeping my large deep freezer (i was thinking of keeping the smal one and giving the large one away).


    • Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)

      Way to go on starting th transition to whole foods! It’s fun, adventurous journey, and I think you’ll be happy with the results in your family!
      We currently don’t have the space for a deep freeze, but I’ve often thought it would be a great investment in the future as a way to save money eating whole foods – you can purchase whole or half cows from local farms for a much better price than you can buy individual cuts of meat; you can stock up and freeze tons of fruits and vegetables while they’re in season, etc.
      The possibilities are fantastic!

  2. Sarah G

    I just made the “cream of ______ soup” substitute found here:
    two nights ago because I was out. It was so easy and my husband and I both agreed the recipe tasted better than ever. We’re not going back to campbells again!

    • Tiffany

      Sarah – I’m so glad you mentioned that. I forgot to add it to my list!

  3. Kara

    In the winter, canned tomato sauce and in the summer, baked beans. Although, it is easier to avoid canned products when we’re in the growing season because I’m not making a bunch of soups, stews, and casseroles. I am looking into canning my first tomatoes this summer…so hopefully it works!

  4. Kait Palmer

    We just started making and freezing can-size portions of beans, and its so simple (in a crock pot) and a heck of a lot cheaper! The one thing I wish I could find in wintertime is canned whole or diced tomatoes in jars. Its either canned or resorting to tomatoes hauled 1,500 miles…neither of which seems like a good choice. Hopefully this summer I can start learning to can some in season produce!
    And I love that you can find cream of chicken, mushroom, etc. soups in TetraPaks now!

    • Tiffany

      Thank you for linking to the article, Alice. It looks like there are some great options for seafood in BPA free cans. It’s interesting that TJ’s doesn’t advertise their BPA free cans. I shop there weekly and have never seen or heard anything about it. I wonder why they are so quiet about it?

  5. Magic and Mayhem

    That 60% stat is amazing! I love it when such big improvements happen in such a small amount of time.

    We’re like you — we have almost no canned goods in the house. I make most things from scratch and we preserve a ton of food via canning and freezing in glass jars. I do beans from scratch starting with dried beans too, but I am bad about forgetting to soak them the night before so I tend to rearrange my menus a lot! 🙂 It’s still worth it, and my family would never go back to canned refried beans after the way our homemade ones taste anyway. And it’s much cheaper!

  6. Kathryn

    I love your recommendations. I was blessed to grow up with parents and grandparents who cooked almost entirely from scratch. They also cooked a lot of dried pinto and black beans–I think it had to do with being from Texas. I’m always surprised by how few beans other people eat, LOL!
    I especially like your suggestion to buy frozen instead of canned. That’s always been my default–not just because there are no additives, but also because the fruits and veggies are usually frozen right after picking. If you live in an area where produce is typically trucked in from other states, that can mean frozen fruits and veggies are more nutritious than fresh!

  7. Leigh

    Don’t the lids for Mason Jars have BPA? I just found that out and I had no idea! I’ve been canning my own food for 2 years now and I love it, but I’ve now been looking into alternatives that are completely BPA free. The Weck Jars and the Tattler lids are good choices but so expensive. I may freeze more this year than I have in the past. Thanks for all the ideas.

  8. Cathy Giguere

    Hi Tiffany,

    I love your info and really appreciate you taking the time to get the good word out to the masses. Great stuff. I think it’s very helpful that you are trying to provide alternatives to us busy mom’s to keep things interesting for our families.

    Just a few things I have learned in my research over the past year that I found really surprising. I thought since I did not know about these things, then probably most of my peers would be surpised too. With my budget being a bit tighter these days, I found it comforting that I could find a few ways to save, while keeping health in the forefront. It’s funny what I learned that my local papes and news channel never bothered to mention.

    Unfortunately glass jar items also have BPA traces inherent in their packaging. Canned items have BPA traces in parts per billion in the can end, which is where the jars have it too. In fact the jars lids have just as much BPA as the can lids. The BPA traces are in parts per billion, and this industry is trying to get out of this compound, but are about 1 year from doing so completely.

    The organic manufacturer EDEN has mis spoken in their claim that their items are in BPA free cans. This is surprising, because you would think that a company such as EDEN would not have made such a claim on their website when the only can they have with such a claim is one item, an Eden Bean. All of their their other items in their line have BPA traces in the lidding. Another issue is that the EDEN BPA free bean can when tested, by consumer reports in 2010, had just as many traces of BPA in the product as Del Monte green beans.

    By the way, did you know that vitually all recycled paper is treated with BPA. We get more BPA on our hands from reading the morning paper or handling a cash register receipt, than we will get in a lifetime of consuming canned and bottled foods.

    Your opening statement that canned foods are filled with sodium and added sugars is true about things like many soups and canned meats, but is not particulary accurate with regard to canned fruit and many canned tomato and vegetable items. There are a number of no sugar added items on store shelves today that I have found, that have 100% juice and no sugar added. There are also no salt added tomato and vegetable offerings that are far less than the jar alternatives.

    Lastly, there is now a really cool study that I found out of Oregon State University by the Linus Pauling Institute that shows how canned fruit, because of the lightly processed techniques used and the fact that canners seal in nutrients of items picked at the peak of ripeness, that they are found to be on par in nutritional content with their fresh counterparts with regard to Vitamin E, Phelolics and Carotenes. Incredibly, canned peaches and pears are found to be higher than fresh peaches and pears in Vitamin A and antioxidants and 10 times higher in folic acid.

    Check out the Weight Watchers new campaign points system and the Produce for Better Health Foundation (More Matters). Both are touting canned fruit as a healthy, inexpensive and gratifying alternative as long as chosen in the No Sugar Added varieties.

    Thanks for helping us stay healthy. All the best,

    Cathy Gigure – Mother of two, cancer survivor and Kindergarden Teacher in Grand Rapids, MI

    • Tiffany

      Thank you Cathy for sharing all the research you’ve found. I do want to add to the conversation.

      I’ve read the Consumer Reports research and you are correct when stating that they found 1 part per billion of BPA in Eden Baked Beans. However, the Del Monte Green Beans had 36 – 191 ppb, a significant difference than than the Eden option.

      I’m glad you mentioned about BPA in receipts. I often decline a receipt unless absolutely necessary. I’ve found that most companies will return/exchange items by finding them on your debit card or they will email you a receipt. I’m hoping all companies will eventually do this.

      I personally disagree that “No Added Sugar” canned fruits are a good option since they contain an artificial sweetener, sucralose.

      Thank you again for contributing your thoughts, there is definitely a lot of research out there that is changing every day!

  9. Rothman @ Food Cart Franchise Philippines

    Oh! So that is the reason why sardines in jars taste way better than the canned types. I absolutely love the ones in jars, but I would have to have my girlfriend buy for me from the provinces.

    • Bob

      You honestly think food packed in jars tastes better because of the jar. Why not look at the manufacturer.

  10. Alaina Frederick

    I’ve always had a fascination with the Amish. I think it’s the simple living and the time spent as a family that draws me. My favorite is getting the jellies and jams from the Farmer’s Market packaged in their cute glass jars with homemade quilted lids. I’m hoping that our plants will produce something can worthy so I can try canning for my first time this fall!

  11. Homesure Services

    Nice tips!!Wonderful and helpful post! I’ve done minimal canning in the past but now I’ve committed to a packaging free trash free kitchen and condiments is one item that has stumped us. I look forward to canning soon!

  12. Mauimi

    Planting trees and vegies is a very great ideas.. I admire how you come up with this tips.. Thanks for sharing..

  13. Carinya

    I just read on another site that the tetra packs are lined with BPA-laced plastic. do you know whether this is true, since you suggested choosing that sort of packaging? Thanks!!

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