Canned, frozen, boxed and otherwise packaged, prepared foods don’t always rank among the healthiest choices at the supermarket. But more and more food companies are taking steps to create convenience products that are not only good for you, but taste good, too. Overall, nothing beats whole, fresh food, but if you choose wisely, it’s possible to put together a nutritious, balanced meal in minutes using select products. Old-standby ingredients like canned beans and tuna, frozen fruits and vegetables, and high-fiber, whole-grain breadstuff still fit the bill, but here are some newer ideas.
Rotisserie chicken, frozen hamburger patties and cooked, peeled shrimp are old favorites but today’s supermarket offers tastier—and sometimes healthier—choices, such as pre-grilled salmon fillets from Gorton’s, nitrate-free, pre-cooked chicken sausages from Coleman’s, frozen SeaPak salmon burgers, and even packaged, hard-cooked eggs from Eggland’s Best that have already been peeled for you. And while tofu has long been the go-to fast food protein at the center of vegetarian meals, the question is often how to season it. Not a problem anymore with new built-in flavor varieties like sesame-ginger, chipotle and teriyaki from Nasoya.
Pasta shapes made with legume flours rather than wheat, such as Explore Cuisine’s edamame spaghetti or Pasta Lenti’s red lentil fusilli or black bean sedani, cook up in 5 or 6 minutes and pack 12-13 g fiber in a single serving. Talk about healthy carbs! Shirataki noodles, made with flour from the root of an Asian yam plant, often incorporate garbanzo or soy bean flour as well. This variety is super low-cal and low-carb. These pastas can take on a variety of toppings, including Asian seasoning sauce, your favorite tomato sauce or other ready—to-use shelf-stable favorites like LeGrand pestos.
Sticking to the outer aisles of the supermarket has traditionally been the best advice for finding the healthiest food, because that’s where you find the freshest foods, like meats, dairy, baked goods, and especially fruits and vegetables. These days, the produce section is packed with fresh convenience—prewashed greens, fresh salsas, and a wide assortment of cleaned and cut-up fruits and vegetables, even fresh-peeled garlic, store-prepped or packaged by companies like Christopher Ranch. Close by, you’re likely to find packaged nuts, dehydrated fruits and berries, sun-dried tomatoes and other “accessory” foods that add extra flavor and nutrition to your meals.
When time is of the essence, there’s always quick-cooking brown rice, pre-seasoned grain-rice combos, noodle-rice mixtures, and couscous but no need to limit yourself to the same grain products you’ve been cooking for years. Products like quick-cooking bulgur (cracked wheat) from Bob’s Red Mill, Roland’s roasted garlic-flavored quinoa packets, Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro, and Lightlife’s three-grain tempeh are ready to eat in 15 minutes or less. Be sure to check and compare sodium levels in all seasoned grain products and look for varieties with less than 300 or 400 mg per serving. If you’re favorite is higher in salt, pair it with other foods that are not.
A Change of Seasonings
The sheer number of ethnic-style products available in supermarkets now makes it easy to find fun and unusual sauces and seasoning mixtures for instant flavor, like Mrs. Dash’s salt-free fiesta lime and grilling blends; McCormick’s Japanese Seven Spice; Saffron Road’s Korean, Thai and Moroccan Simmer Sauces; and Frontier’s Chinese Five-Spice Powder. Since seasoning blends are often high in salt or sugar, compare brands to find lower- sodium and lower-sugar varieties, or use sparingly. Of course, you can always count on reliable flavor from classics like Indian curry powder or Hungarian smoked paprika (that makes almost anything taste like bacon).
Depending on what you find in your supermarket, we’re sure you can come up with plenty of fast and fresh meal combinations your family will love. Meanwhile, here are some ideas to get you started: