Add these healthy convenience foods to your kitchen and pantry to pull together healthy meals in minutes. While cooking everything from scratch is nice, it’s not always possible. And it’s not necessary.
While it’s nice to cook from scratch, it’s NOT required to make healthy meals.
In my work as a registered dietitian, women ask me questions all the time… Are frozen foods are OK? Are canned foods bad? What about microwaveable rice?
I hear you. You want to eat healthily but you don’t have the time or ENERGY to do it. Or maybe you do but it’s more fun to sit on the couch than it is to cut up a bunch of vegetables.
Well. This is your permission slip to take some shortcuts.
Stock these top healthy convenience foods to easily make delicious meals no matter how busy you are!
Though fresh fruits are great, they are not in season all of the time. And really… what could be easier than opening a bag of fruit that’s already cut and ready to use? Not much.
And did you know? Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen immediately. This helps preserve nutrients like vitamin C that may decline during transport. So take advantage of frozen fruit when on sale to make some easy recipes.
Frozen fruit is also delicious pureed into a sauce or cooked down into a compote for a waffle or pancake topping or stirred into yogurt or oats.
Frozen chopped spinach can be used for a variety of different dishes from pasta to dips like cheesy spinach dip or stirred into hummus. And believe it or not, you can saute frozen broccoli to use as a side dish. I don’t recommend it for roasting though.
Frozen butternut squash will save you at least 10 minutes on slicing and dicing the squash. Use it for soups, stews or this Instant Pot Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese.
More faves: frozen lima beans and edamame
Grape tomatoes may not immediately come to mind when thinking of healthy convenience foods. But the small size makes them a natural. You can slice them if you wish but these only require a quick rinse. Cutting board optional means less clean up – a big part of getting in and out of the kitchen fast.
Roast fresh grape tomatoes to create a flavorful tomato sauce for pasta as in this Roasted Tomato Linguine. Add grape tomatoes to salads or alongside scrambled eggs for breakfast. You can also toss them with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper for a toast topping.
Eggs are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And they cook in as little as 3 minutes!
Here are my favorite ways to use eggs:
- Make breakfast tacos
- Vegetable omelets or frittatas for breakfast or dinner
- Make-ahead egg muffins
- Scrambled eggs with leftover or fresh vegetables
- Egg Sandwiches with cheese, spinach, and tomato
- Topping everything from fried rice to leftover roasted brussels sprouts
TIP: Boil a batch of eggs at the beginning of the week. Refrigerate with the shell on. Boiled eggs will last up to 7 days in the refrigerator.
I think homemade pesto is far superior to storebought. Yep.
But, if you can find a great pre-made pesto, you’ll save yourself some time – and cleaning the food processor. Pesto is perfect added to hot or cold pasta. Here are my favorite ways to use pesto:
- Add to warm white beans for a warm salad.
- Drizzle pesto onto scrambled eggs or deviled eggs for a punch of bright flavor.
- Spread pesto onto flatbread for a quick and easy pizza like this Easy Kale Pesto Naan Pizza.
- Pour over grilled summer vegetables or roasted vegetables for a tasty side dish.
TIP: Scope the refrigerator section at the supermarket for the best options. Check the ingredient list before you buy a storebought pesto. Choose ones that use parmesan and extra virgin olive oil versus soybean oil, for example.
Beans, peas, and lentils are at the top of my list of healthy convenience foods. They are a good source of protein and fiber.
And it’s easy to make a batch of beans in a pressure cooker or even on the stovetop. I’m a huge fan of slow cooker beans. I usually make a large pot and freeze the extras for firmer pulses like chickpeas.
But sometimes, you need to make a quick meal and you don’t have those on hand. So, keeping canned beans in the pantry is a must for healthy, plant-based meals.
Go for the no-salt added or low sodium ones without any added seasonings. I usually buy an organic store brand, Simple Truth, for a dollar each!
TIP: Rinse canned beans in water before adding to your recipe to remove up to 40% of the sodium.
Cooked or parboiled grains
It’s easy enough to cook a pot of rice during Sunday meal prep. But what if you forget or never get around to it?
Frozen brown rice, quinoa, and other grains come through in pinch! Buy the ones without any added salt, sugar, or sauces. You can also find parboiled grains like quick steel cut oats or 10-minute farro that cuts the cooking time down by as much as 75%.
Use cooked brown rice or quinoa to build a quick and easy grain bowl, toss farro into a green salad for a more filling finish, or use them to add bulk to veggie burgers and patties.
The Fig & Farro Salad above is a good one for meal prep!
Yes. It’s awesome if you are able to get fresh greens from a farmers market and wash, dry, and chop them yourself. But if you don’t have that luxury, packaged greens work!
Triple-washed spinach and salad greens are regulars in my kitchen. While salads are obvious, these greens can also be tossed into pasta, smoothies, soups, sandwiches, scrambles and stir-fry dishes. One of my favorite ways to use spinach, chard, or baby kale is in my Smoky Chickpeas and Spinach recipe.
Are bagged salad greens safe?
As a registered dietitian, I often get questions about food safety on these. And for good reason. I recommend keeping the greens dry (whether you buy and dry them yourself or not). This could mean adding a paper towel to the bag (or box) after opening. But one of the most important tips I can provide is to buy the freshest ones and use bagged salad greens as soon as possible. Don’t let them hang out in the fridge for too long. And skip packages with excessive moisture or greens that appear slimy.
Canned tuna, salmon, and sardines are pantry staples – perfect for quick, protein-packed lunches or these Baked Salmon Cakes.
For a healthy lunch option, mix chunk light or white albacore tuna with lime juice and avocado like I did in this Avocado Lime Tuna Salad or add some chopped vegetables to make these Mediterranean Tuna Salad Bites.
Sardines are certainly polarizing. And I get it. But this smelly little fish is packed with heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids and protein. Enjoy them with crackers and mustard for a filling snack or go all in with this Pasta With Sardines, Bread Crumbs and Capers Recipe from the New York Times.
And though I say canned, pouches also work. Choose the ones with lower sodium and unless you really love the flavored ones, I recommend buying plain tuna, salmon, and sardines packed in water or olive oil. Add your own seasonings.
Plain Greek yogurt works as a quick breakfast or snack with fruit or granola. You can also enjoy it with a savory spin by adding a stir of pesto. Use it as a substitute for sour cream for nacho night or to add creaminess and protein to smoothies and soups.
Yes. You can make your own corn tortillas. I’ve done it. They taste great. And it’s very easy. I don’t know how easy it would be to make cassava or other specialty ones though. In any case, I don’t know a ton of people rolling out the masa every time they want tacos. If you do. Invite me over!
But if not, feel free to buy a pack next time you’re at the supermarket. Many soft corn tortillas flaunt a clean and simple ingredient list: corn, water, and lime.
Soft corn tortillas are higher in fiber than flour ones and add lots of flavor. You can also try chickpea flour and other grain-free tortillas like almond and cassava. These tortillas can be used for quesadillas, breakfast tacos and more.
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