In an ideal world, we would all be making healthy homemade muffins and from-scratch soups and stews. But between busy jobs, personal commitments, and trying to have a semblance of a social life, leaning on foods that allow us to take some shortcuts in the kitchen is necessary.
And while some pre-packaged and prepared foods are not always the most good-for-you options, there are some healthy convenience foods that can help you stick to your health goals with very little effort. As a registered dietitian, I lean on some convenient staples all the time to help me eat well while I am juggling everything that is going on in my life. Many options are just as healthy as fresh counterparts, but I can enjoy them with little effort.
So, if you are on a health journey, no need to avoid all convenience foods under the sun. Ahead, you’ll learn how to identify which foods are worth keeping in your home and which should stay on the grocery shelves.
Are Convenience Foods Always Unhealthy?
The words “processed foods” and “convenience foods” seem to get a bad rap. It is true that there are some pre-packaged foods that aren’t going to offer much in the health department — think cheese puffs, cinnamon rolls, and red licorice twines — but there are other foods that are on the shelf that are absolutely a-ok for you to lean on.
So, how can you know which convenience foods are great choices and which belong far, far away? Here are some “watch-outs” you should be aware of when considering which to pick.
On the food label, the food should be trans-fat-free. Ideally, no salt will be added. If salt is included, only a small amount should be in there. Choose options that contain fiber, protein, and/or healthy fats to help keep you satisfied. And, avoid snacks that contain added sugars.
5 Healthy Convenience Foods To Have Stocked
It is possible to find convenience foods that are good for you and taste good too. And no, we are not talking about that one unicorn find in a sea of junk. There are plenty of foods that can make your life a little bit easier when it comes to meal prep that also helps you live a healthy life.
Here are healthy convenience foods you should consider having stocked all the time — each one checks the “good-for-you-food” boxes, and they can certainly elevate your dishes in a super simple way.
#1 Whole Grain English Muffins
For a quick breakfast vessel or a simple pizza template, whole-grain English muffins are a game-changer. Loaded with heart and gut-healthy whole grains and low in calories, these bread options are filling, simple to prep, and utterly satisfying. Top a toasted muffin with a smear of natural peanut butter and fresh berries for an early morning nosh, or layer homemade pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese over the muffin for a simple and low-cal pizza treat. Plus, they freeze well, so you can keep these muffins on hand for months.
#2 Frozen Fruits & Veggies
If you think that frozen fruits and veggies aren’t as healthy as fresh, think again. Frozen produce is often frozen at the peak of freshness, meaning that your body may get even more vitamins and minerals than if you were eating the fresh counterpart.
As long as the fruit or veggie you are picking is free from added sugar, large amounts of salt, and any artificial colors or flavors, opting for frozen produce is a healthy, convenient, and cost-effective way to eat your colors.
So, feel free to nuke that bag of frozen broccoli when dinnertime comes along or toss those frozen berries in your blender when you are whipping up a smoothie. You will still get a boost of nutrition even though the food you are eating was frozen.
#3 Jarred Marinara Sauce
We know that nothing compares to your mama’s sauce, but sometimes we simply don’t have the time to simmer and stir all day long. Enter jarred marinara sauce. As long as the sauce you are choosing does not contain added sugars and is lower in salt, a sauce that goes well on a quick bowl of whole-grain pasta or a breast of chicken can save you a ton of time in the kitchen. Plus, since marinara sauce is chock-full of real tomatoes, enjoying this condiment will give your body a boost of important nutrients like vitamin C and lycopene.
#4 Canned Salmon
Eating low-mercury fish is one of the best things you can do to support your health. But having fresh options on-hand isn’t totally realistic. Keeping canned salmon in your pantry can help you get a boost of important omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, and more in a pinch. Pick a salmon that does not contain any added salt.
Whip up a salmon salad using Greek yogurt, cook salmon croquettes, or simply top your salad with pieces of this convenient protein to help you meet your weekly seafood quota in a super simple way.
#5 Nut Butter
Whether you top your oatmeal with it, add it to your morning toast, or use it as a dip for your carrot sticks, nut butter is a staple for many healthy diets. And while you can whip up your own homemade nut butter relatively easily, it’s even easier to snag yourself a jar of the pre-made good stuff. As long as you are opting for nut butters that are free from added salt, sugar, and hydrogenated oils, having a jar of peanut butter, almond butter, or really any type of nut butter can make eating healthy a breeze.
Healthy Convenience Food Does Exist
Finding and keeping healthy convenience foods on hand is not impossible. Foods like whole-grain bread, frozen produce, and nut butter can be just as healthy as fresh, and using them can make your life so much easier. As long as you are staying away from the sugary, salty, trans-fat-rich options that are made with artificial ingredients, including some convenience foods in your busy day can actually help you achieve your health goals in an approachable way.
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