I’ve sung the praises of eating real good food before, but it’s no secret that getting good food on the plate involves some behind-the-scenes action. Things like planning, prepping and strategic executing are all necessary steps for streamlining the healthful eating process.
But let’s get real about eating real for a second.
There will come a day when the glorious garden-fresh foods of summer will no longer be available (well for me, anyway). There may even come a day when meal planning will slip through the cracks and leave you, well, stuck. In such situations, when you need to cut corners and save time, you need to know that there are some whole foods options that you can use as a safety net.
So today I thought I would share 5 of my favourite real food shortcuts. A few healthy convenience foods that I feel every kitchen should have and that can help you achieving healthfulness on a plate.
5 healthy convenience foods
Why they’re convenient: Unlike most other products in the frozen foods section, these don’t deserve dirty looks. Frozen vegetables are picked in their prime and frozen immediately. This means that the product you’re getting out of the bag has maintained all of its nutritional integrity. Granted, the flavor and texture of frozen vegetables isn’t ideal, but they certainly do the trick when you’ve got nothing else around and warrant a definite spot in your freezer.
What to look for:
- An ingredient list containing only the veggies, no added salt.
- Organic produce when possible.
- Whole vegetables. We want to avoid vegetables that have been pre-cut, peeled or mashed, since the nutritional value of the food takes a hit at each level of processing.
- Frozen peas: Add to frittatas, soups or pastas
- Frozen artichoke hearts: Enjoy as a side dish tossed with lemon and parsley, pair with chicken or enjoy blended into a dip
- Frozen corn kernels: Toss into salads, salsas, serve as a side dish or toss into a white bean chili
- Frozen spinach: Use for dips, omelets, smoothies or for stuffing pastas
- Frozen vegetable blends: Use for a quick stir-fry or as a side dish with a dollop of pesto
Why they’re convenient: Like vegetables, frozen fruit are packaged in their prime. In fact, from a nutritional standpoint, frozen fruit (and vegetables for that matter) are a better alternative than out-of-season produce sold at the grocery store. When fruits and vegetables travel, their nutritional value deteriorates as they are exposed to heat and light on their way to the store.
What to look for:
- An ingredient list containing only the fruit, no added sugars
- Organic varieties, when possible
- Frozen blueberries, strawberries, raspberries: perfect for smoothies, homemade sorbet, thawed and topped over yogurt or granola, used in muffins or baked goods.
- Frozen mango: Purée and serve as a coulis with greek yogurt, use in smoothies or in savoury applications like chutneys and salsas
Canned (or jarred) fish
Why it’s convenient: Canned (or jarred) fish is a good alternative to fresh when you’re in a pinch. It provides quality protein, healthy fats, is inexpensive and can easily be transformed into a meal.
What to look for
- For tuna: look for canned light tuna from brands who source their tuna sustainably
- Look for water-packed fish. If packed in oil, look for extra-virgin olive oil
- Tuna: Toss into tomato sauce with olives and capers and serve over pasta or make a good ol’ tuna salad
- Salmon (buy with bones!): use for making salmon cakes or toss the salmon into a salad
- Sardines: drizzle with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and thinly sliced onion.
Why they’re convenient: Beans are often overlooked, but they’re plant-based powerhouses loaded with protein, fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium and health-boosting phytonutrients. They’re very affordable and although the flavor of canned beans pales in comparison to their dry counterparts, having them canned and ready to go comes in handy when you haven’t had to time for soaking and boiling.
What to look for:
- BPA-free lined cans
- Low-sodium varieties
- Kidney beans and black beans: use in bean fajitas, burritos, brownies (yup!), chili or tacos
- White cannelini beans: add to soup or purée into creamed soups to thicken. This is a great way to add protein and fiber with none the wiser!
- Chickpeas: use for making a quick hummus or toss into a salad
Ready-to-eat leafy greens
Why they’re convenient: when it comes to doing good for the body, nothing comes close to leafy greens. But if you just can’t get around to washing and drying your leafy greens for the week, ready-to-eat greens can be a time saver. A bit pricier but a convenient way to get your veggie party started.
What to look for:
- Dark leafy green vegetables that are not wilted
- Organic leafy greens, when possible
- Note: Unless the packaging says “washed” “triple washed” or “ready-to-eat”, you need to wash your greens before you can enjoy them. Ready-to-eat varieties do not need to be re-washed.
- Spinach: toss into a smoothie or a green juice, toss into scrambled eggs or sauté simply
- Arugula: Use as a salad base, top homemade pizzas or serve as a side salad
- Baby kale, baby swiss chard: Toss into a stir fry, sauté with garlic and oil, blend-up into a pesto or add to a pasta
What are your go-to healthy convenience foods?