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 Allrecipes.com and Evaporated Milk from Food.com.

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?