12 Healthy Convenience Foods
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. This is all why I have no problem relying on what is healthful AND handy. Here are the top 12 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.
Top 12 Healthy Convenience Foods
1. Frozen Fruit
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.
2. Canned Beans
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. One little tip: empty canned beans into a colander and rinse under the tap. This can eliminate up to 2/3 of the added sodium.
3. Greek Yogurt
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 Roasted Carrots served on Harissa Yogurt or Sabzi (an Afghan spinach dish).
4. Prepared Pesto
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.
5. Frozen 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. If it’s available and budget-friendly, consider opting for organic spinach.
6. Pre-Cooked Grains
For speed and ease, it’s hard to compete with shelf-stable pouches of grains (like these). You can find pre-cooked quinoa, rice, farro, and grain blends everywhere from Trader Joe’s to mainstream supermarkets. A brief heating in the microwave and they’re ready for everything from a quick grain salad (add diced vegetables, chick peas, olive oil and vinegar), to burrito bowls, to a simple side dish for fish or chicken.
7. Cooked Lentils
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, packing 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber, not to mention vitamins and minerals, in a 1/2 cup serving.
8. Prepared Hummus
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, protein, and healthful fats. Whirl a cooked sweet potato and squeeze of lemon into your hummus and it gets even more flavorful and nourishing (find the recipe here). You can also use it in place of mayo on a sandwich or wrap and to make an inventive pasta dish.
9. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a triple threat for the home cook: budget-friendly, widely available, and nutritious. You’ll also get the benefits of good bacteria if you buy cultured cottage cheese, such as Nancy’s or Good Culture. As for how to enjoy it, use it a dip for vegetables, a spread for whole-grain crackers, a base for breakfast or lunch toast topped with fruit or vegetables, for added creaminess to pastas, or as a robust source of protein in this Berry Smoothie.
10. Shredded Carrots
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, I’ll even add them to scrambled eggs for breakfast burritos. Sold in bags in the produce section of many markets.
11. Washed Greens
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.
12. Canned Seafood
Canned fish is one of the most versatile, affordable, and tasty convenience foods I know. Tuna, sardines, and salmon are three options I stock regularly. 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.