Lisa, please don't worry about what you feed your family! I definitely don't want to be fear-mongering here. And everyone has to do what is right and practical for their families. I didn't used to think about all of this stuff at all, but I am coming up on three years of being more aware of food, exercise, health, etc., and I certainly had no clue about it before. It's just been part of that process.
What makes it difficult is that there really is no ultimate word on what's good and what's bad. You can find anything on the internet to support any position. If you look up GMO (genetically modified organisms) you will find websites that say they are completely safe, and websites demonizing them. Some things are GMO just because they've been hybrid or bred for drought resistance...but some are because they've been infused with pesticides. And they aren't labeled as such, so it's hard to tell. So the best thing is to just educate yourself and draw your own conclusions. We can't do it all right all the time, and my motto is choose the hills you're willing to die on. If I'm "good" 80% of the time, then eating my frozen yogurt with 20 ingredients, aka a chemistry experiment (albeit a delicious one) is a trade off I can feel okay about making. I know diet soda's got to be bad, but every once in a while I drink it. And a lot of things like that...but where I can make a swap, I do.
In many cases, homemade stuff is much cheaper. I don't know how much a box of pancake mix costs, but I have a big bucket of homemade mix sitting in the pantry, and when I want a batch, I scoop a cup of that and mix with egg and milk and done. I have a recipe for granola bars that takes literally less than 10 minutes and just uses stuff you already have in the pantry. I don't know if you have access to farms/orchards, but we visited an orchard a few weeks ago and came home with fresh apples (not seconds, not bruised) for about .50/lb. They are 1.49/lb in our store right now. Canned soups can be pricey, so I take a chicken or turkey carcass, make stock, make huge pots of soup, and freeze in Mason jars; basically, when I make soup for dinner, I make a huge amount of it and then it's there. It's a great way to use leftovers as well...one of my pet peeves is throwing food out.
The lunch meat thing is new for me...I always did buy it before. Except one day I stood in the deli and looked at the lunch meat at 7.99/lb and it occurred to me that frozen turkeys are .89/lb (yes, I know, bones, skin, etc), but still...So Wednesday night I cooked a turkey, cut it up, packaged it, plopped it in the freezer, and boom. I can pull a package out when we want sandwiches. I do not know how long this will last, but I've done it often with leftovers and with ham also, so I think if I plan ahead and get stuff in there when I have time, it might work. My son loves meat. He will snack on meat. In my book, meat beats Doritos. I am also a pretty obsessive shopper with coupons and store sales and if something is buy one get one I stock up like crazy, especially if I have coupons also. Once you get into it and learn the rhythms, it does tend to be very gratifying. As you can tell, since I've gone on and on about it so much today.
As far as learning, just think about what you're interested in. I learned most of my stuff from the internet. I look at stuff in the store and go home and search the web for a way to make it. Sometimes it turns out great. Sometimes it's not a winner. Sometimes I'm late getting home and I drive through Chick Fil A for my son. Sometimes I just want to eat stuff with no nutritional value and I do, including plowing through chips and margaritas at the Mexican restaurant, and sometimes I try natural things and think, that's just too damn much work. But bit by bit, I'm adding a lot more good, healthy things into my repertoire. I think I chose the wrong career; I'm really just a frustrated dietician and/or chef, I guess, but the more I learn, the more fascinated I am with it and you will probably be the same way
. It is all about being willing to learn and personalizing it for you as you go along, and I think you will do great at it and have fun with it also.
I am going to settle down now and apologize again for hijacking the thread. I'll go search the Foods thread for the one I think I remember and then bump that up and maybe we can continue swapping ideas over there!