Packaged food: Can it be used to create healthy meals?

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

First off, most people agree healthy eating and nutrition are important for overall well-being. Secondly, most people agree that it can be hard in today’s world to get healthy family meals on the table.

How best to achieve the quick, healthy family meal is sometimes debated -- and I suspect -- different for each family.

Typical advice from dietitians and health professionals alike goes something like this: “Plan ahead," “stock the pantry with healthy foods," “cook once and eat twice," etc. In addition, people are told to try and “use less processed foods” and “use more fresh foods."

All of those rules and well-meaning nuggets of advice can be overwhelming and make it seem impossible to actually get a quick and healthy meal on the table.

So I began thinking: “What about some of the packaged foods that are supposed to help people get food on the table fast? Can they be used to help decrease time and yield healthy meals?”

I bet they can and so began my investigation into packaged meal starters. Perhaps the answer is not always less packaged and fast food but rather “healthier” packaged and fast food in combination with as much fresh produce as possible.

A few of my favorite packaged meal starters and sides are:

  • McCormick recipe inspirations

  • Mrs. Dash marinades

  • Shake-n-bake (or store brand)

  • Philadelphia cooking creme

  • Prepared polenta

  • Frozen vegetables, fruit, chicken breasts and whole wheat rolls

  • Canned beans, vegetables, and fruit (light syrup or juice packed)

  • Bagged salad

  • Steam in the bag vegetables (frozen or fresh)

When looking for meal starter ideas, choose those with the lowest sodium levels and modify other ingredients to be leaner or healthier (lean ground beef vs. regular, two cups of vegetables vs. one or whole grain pasta vs. white).

Similar to packaged meal starters are packaged snacks. Certainly, it would be nice to think we all have time to bake our kids healthy treats each week. But reality sets in and reminds us that we need some things to “throw” in the lunch sack and cooler more often than we would like. Here are some of my favorite packaged snacks:

  • Low fat (reduced fat) string cheese

  • Individual peanut butter or almond butter packets plus crackers or an apple

  • No sugar added individual portions of fruit

  • Chocolate-covered dried cranberries (these are more of an occasional treat really). These have no partially hydrogenated oil and therefore no trans fat, while some of the chocolate-covered raisins and yogurt covered dried fruits do contain partially hydrogenated oils.

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