Not all healthy foods have to be homemade. Here's how to use
convenience foods in your diet to snack healthy
IS ONE OF YOUR NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS to "eat
healthier" or "cook more often"? If so, you're probably dreading
carrying through with it. Proper nutrition is complicated and
The truth is, meals don't have to be made entirely from scratch
to be healthy. Using "convenience foods"-precooked meat, prechopped
vegetables and, gasp, instant oatmeal-will go a long way in making
simple meals healthy options. All you have to do is get a bit
"So many people want to be healthy- if they
can do it in a hurry," says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson
Blatner, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and author of
The Flexitarian Diet (McGraw Hill, 2008). "The good news is that
you can find healthy, timesaving foods in any supermarket. You just
have to do your homework."
Blatner's "homework" refers to reading the label. "The key is,
you can't just look at the front of the package," she says. "You
have to read the actual nutrition label to be an informed
Convenience foods can be used in many different ways, depending
on your nutritional needs and tastes. Here are some ideas to get
you started on a healthier, easier path.
Off to a Great Start
Go instant. "Instant oatmeal is a whole grain,"
Blatner says. Choose the plain variety and add your own fresh or
dried fruit or a teaspoon of honey for sweetness. If you don't
trust yourself to add the right amount of extras, choose flavored
instant oatmeal, but look for one low in sugar.
Waffle wake-up. Think waffles have no business in a
healthy diet? Think again, Blatner says. Buy frozen whole-grain
waffles and top them with pecans and banana slices for a comfort
Quick quiche. For a quick version of the gourmet
entrée, Blatner recommends pouring egg substitute and chopped
peppers and onions into muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to
20 minutes, or until tops are no longer wet. You'll get individual
quiches that you can eat on the go or freeze for another day.
Healthy Noontime Noshing
Raid the rotisserie. Get a rotisserie chicken at
the grocery store and remove the skin. The meat can be used in a
number of lunchworthy ways: on a green salad, in a pita pocket with
spinach and barbecue sauce, or plain with a side of fruit and
Go veggie. If you're in the mood for a burger,
choose a veggie burger, suggests Blatner. "They're not just for
vegetarians." Top it with avocado and sprouts and serve on a
Just freeze. Frozen meals can be quite healthy,
Blatner says. "Look for one that has about 300 calories. Then, add
a side of fruit or vegetables to round out the meal."
Dinner Done Right
Roll it up. Make a burrito with a wholegrain
tortilla, low-fat refried beans, vegetables, salsa and low-fat sour
cream for a Mexican treat that tastes fattening but isn't.
Chicken out. Heat up precooked chicken or turkey
sausages, slice into tomato sauce and serve on whole-wheat
Add an Asian flair. Buy frozen precooked shrimp and
stir-fry it with frozen vegetables. Add instant brown rice to
complete the meal. And, yes, "frozen vegetables are just as
nutritious as fresh," Blatner says. They may be even more so since
they were frozen at peak freshness.
Get popping. Popcorn is a whole grain, Blatner
says. As long as you watch the toppings, it can be a very healthy
Go nuts. Purchase 100-calorie packs or measure out
your own almonds for an easy, go-anywhere snack.
Bean me up. Edamame is a great choice between meals
because it's high in fiber and protein. Just toss it in the
microwave and it's ready to eat.
-By Shelley Flannery