We are living at a time when food manufacturers make it so very easy to eat so very unhealthfully, from drive-thru buckets of chicken to pre-packaged Lunchables. Luckily, the options for convenience foods that are actually good for you appear to be on the rise. Some have been around for generations (hello frozen spinach), while others are newer to the supermarket scene (greetings "riced" cauliflower). Sure, in the ideal world we'd all have time to buy our goods from the farmers' market and do the prep work in our spare time. But life doesn't always make that an achievable goal, so I have no problem relying on what is healthful AND handy. Here are my top 10 healthy convenience foods that I keep stocked in my fridge, freezer and pantry. I'd love to hear your favorites, too, so please share in the comments section below.
Frozen, prepared fruits, such as peaches, mangoes, strawberries, and pineapple are immensely handy for smoothies and shakes, since there's no peeling, pitting, stemming, or chopping required. My kids even like to munch on the fruit straight from the freezer, especially on warm days.
The nutrient quality, fiber, and flavor of canned beans and chickpeas hold up pretty darn well. They can easily transform into breakfast underneath a fried egg, lunch served warm in a thermos, or dinner as part of a pasta, salad, or Mexican side. If concern about BPAs is on your radar (a chemical sometimes used in the lining of cans) head on over to the Environmental Working Group for a list of BPA-free brands
CANNED TUNA AND SALMON
Canned fish is one of the most versatile, affordable, and tasty convenience foods I know. Whether made into a salad for snacks or sandwiches or stirred into a pasta, it's a terrific source of protein and healthy Omega-3 fats.
Plain Greek yogurt is a refrigerator stable that I am rarely without. High in protein with a dreamy texture, it's terrific for any meal of the day. We eat it for breakfast with fruit and nuts, and just as often in savory preparations, such as these Roasted Carrots or this Afghan Spinach.
Store-bought pesto is a quick and easy flavor game changer. Keep a container on hand for simple vegetable pastas, to stir into soups for a flavor boost, spread on pita for pizza, or smeared on a turkey sandwich in lieu of mayonnaise. I prefer the brands sold in the refrigerated section over those in shelf-stable jars. Store what you don't use in the freezer.
FROZEN CHOPPED SPINACH
A handy bag of frozen spinach within reach is a quick way to up the health benefits of everything from smoothies to stews. The nutrient values stay largely intact when produce is put under the deep freeze (and no stemming or chopping required). This Greek Spinach and Feta Pie is one of my favorite ways to use frozen spinach. Look for organic spinach, since it's a vegetable thought to be high in pesticide residues.
The ingredients in store-bought hummus tend to be pretty straightforward and it's an excellent staple for snacks and lunches. Key ingredients in hummus are chickpeas, tahini, and olive oil, which collectively are good sources of fiber, B vitamins, calcium, and healthful fats. Whirl a cooked sweet potato and squeeze of lemon into your hummus and it gets even more flavorful and nourishing.
Trader Joe's stocks lentils that are cooked and sold in the produce section. I imagine other markets do so as well. I often serve them in simple lentils salads or in lieu of beans for tacos. Lentils are an enormously nourishing food and this is the time for them, since the United Nations named 2016 the International Year of the Pulses (who knew?).
I don't know what it is about those darned shredded carrots, but I find myself tossing them into everything. I love the crunch in a Lettuce Wrap, the color in a salad, and the texture in a stir fry. Sold in bags in the produce section of many markets.
I almost always have a couple varieties of greens stocked in the fridge. Often I'll buy them in a bunch and do the stemming and washing myself, but pre-washed greens are awfully handy in a pinch, and most appreciated by my kids who like to make salads for their school lunches.