Convenience ... I could use some of that.
I have decided that we live in a world that necessitates convenience. After a brief session of complaining to a friend about all the demands on my time that friend told me to simplify my life. REALLY? It sounds good, doesn’t it?
If it were only simple to simplify. This line of thinking reaches into the nutrition world, too, and sounds something like this: “eat more wholesome food," “have slower-paced meals," “eat home-baked goods" and “less packaged food." I am all for that concept and have said those same things myself time and time again, however, I do believe there are times in our lives that necessitate the use of convenience foods.
Time is a precious commodity and working people (parents most certainly included) have less and less of it as the economy stretches our dollars and extends our work days.
While time is a precious commodity, health is -- just as, if not more -- precious. This is where the concept of “healthy foods that are convenient” get a staring role. Healthy convenience foods are important for people who have little time for cooking or little cooking skill. Whatever the reason, making the healthiest convenient food selections will set you up to save both time and health.
In addition, I release you from guilt when using healthy foods that are convenient. I admit to you a small pet peeve of mine -- judging someone based on what they eat. Maybe I find that offensive because people think, as a dietitian, I judge them for their food choices. The bottom line is that there is no room for guilt in the world of food. Food is good!
Healthy food makes you feel good and we should eat it every day! Your body doesn’t care if it took you 45 minutes to cook the brown rice or if it took you 90 seconds, as long as it is brown rice served up with delicious veggies.
My favorite healthy convenience foods are fruits and vegetables. Many of them come ready to rinse and eat or peel and eat. Rinse and eat: apples, pears, nectarines, plums, berries of all types, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots and sugar snap peas. Peel and eat: banana, cucumbers, carrots, avocado and oranges.
Other produce comes packaged and ready for us, such as bagged lettuce/salad and spinach, pre-chopped onions, celery and carrots (these come frozen, too), bagged and ready-to-steam vegetables and pre-cut fruit of all types. In the produce section you can also find cooked ready to heat lentils, baby beets steamed and ready as well as fresh salsa and guacamole. The quality of convenience foods also continues to improve both in quality and in nutrient composition. Use the list below to improve your pantry stock of these time saving foods.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of healthy foods that are convenient, but it is a great start. Good luck with all that you juggle in life -- I hope this helps you shop well and eat well!
-Brown rice: Boil in bag, microwave, frozen. Look for lowest sodium and season yourself with herbs and spices.
-Pasta sauce: Buy it by the jar. Look for 450 mg sodium or less.
-Broth/stock: Chicken, beef, seafood, vegetable. Look for reduced sodium and no-added salt.
-Tomatoes: Canned or fresh. No-added salt canned, fresh grape tomatoes are easy to rinse and eat.
-Beans: Buy it by the can. Look for reduced sodium.
-Oatmeal: Pre-measured packs. Look for no sodium.
-Cereal: High fiber.
-Peanut butter: Individual pre-packaged. Great for on-the-go snacking.
-High fiber bread and crackers: Individual packs of crackers. Look for whole grain not just high fiber.
-Tuna and salmon: Buy it by the can. Look for lower sodium and sustainably caught.
-Frozen entrees: Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine are typically good choices. Spa Cuisine by Lean Cuisine has whole grains.
-Hummus: Individual cups or larger. Makes a great sandwich with veggies and the cups are great snacks.
-Fruit cups: Individual cups (or larger cans). Look for no sugar added or packed in juice.
-Veggie burgers: Frozen aisle. Add whole wheat bun, lettuce tomatoes and salsa and you have a meal.
-Cheese: Individual portions, block cheese or shredded. Look for reduced fat.
-Yogurt: Individual or larger containers. Look for lower sodium and vitamin D fortified.
-Popcorn: Microwave or regular for air popper. Look for lower fat/sodium options.
-Rotisserie Chicken: Deli section of the store. Serve with reduced sodium sides, as it will have more than if you cooked it yourself.
-Shrimp: Frozen section. Can get pre-cooked but raw in shell (easy-peel) has a better flavor and texture when you cook it yourself.
-Nuts: Individual or larger container. Look for lightly salted or unsalted.