I’m sometimes asked for recommendations for healthy convenience foods. Okay, honestly, I’m asked that A LOT! And it’s completely understandable. With the pace of life we’ve all become accustomed to these days, there are times when it’s helpful to be able to open a box or a bag and know that a healthy meal or snack is moments away. It’s not impossible to find healthy packaged options, but it does require some solid investigation and a little label reading know-how.
Before I get to that, let me just say that my overall recommendation is still to limit packaged and processed foods as much as possible.
Can you challenge yourself to find ways to get fresh, whole foods on the table quickly? You’d be amazed by how quickly a shrimp stir fry can come together, or a big dinner salad with pre-cooked chicken, or even a healthy sandwich loaded up with extra veggies!
Can you expand your definition of convenience foods to include things like:
– Nuts and seeds
– Dried fruit
– Quick cooking whole grains
– Frozen vegetables
– Frozen fruits
– Plain yogurt or cottage cheese
These can become the basis of healthy meals and snacks and often take just as little time to prepare as a more processed option!
And yet…there are times when packaged foods seem like the only solution. For those times, I’ve compiled a few thoughts for you on how to make the best choices possible.
Self Magazine Healthy Food Award Winners
I was intrigued by the list of Healthy Food Award winners in this month’s issue of Self Magazine. I think there are some real winners on that list (and some i may not have given quite so glowing an endorsement to myself). But all in all I think the staffers at Self have been thorough and have produced a good list of ideas for your review.
Fitness Magazine Healthy Food Award Winners
In the same vein as the Self List above, here is the list as judged by Fitness Magazine. The link takes you to a set of slideshows with Top 10 lists by category.
Eat This, Not That Recommendations
Additionally, I think the editors of the Eat This, Not That empire (and I do mean empire – have you COUNTED how many books they’ve published?) do a great job of helping to highlight better packaged food choices. They also have books on restaurant menu choices, food for kids, and other topics. For the record, I find their website a bit confusing and not very user-friendly but the books are much simpler to navigate!
A few thoughts of my own:
Beyond those lists, I’ve compiled a few principles to follow when navigating the aisles of prepared foods. Leveraging these principles will let you explore various brands and flavor combinations, looking for what appeals to you vs. buying something just because it showed up on a “list”.
– Choose packaged foods with the shortest lists of ingredients, and with ingredients you recognize
– Read nutrition labels! Don’t be fooled by marketing claims on the front of the package (e.g. Whole Grain! Low Carb! All Natural!) Those words are often meaningless. Instead, read the actual nutrition label and keep meals within reasonable caloric limits, taking note of fiber, sugar, fat, and sodium content (as well as anything else you are watching for your health)
– Limit consumption of packaged meals to once or twice a week “crutches” vs. making them everyday fare
– When selecting packaged meals and snacks, check out the organic section of your grocery store or shop in a health food store like Whole Foods – they’ve done some of the work for you in narrowing down your options to some of the best ones!
– Build your list of trusted brands and shop their selections first (A few examples: I like Amy’s and Kashi in the frozen meals category, Amy’s and Healthy Choice soups, Annie’s and Back to Nature for snack foods, etc.)
Happy shopping! I’d love to hear some of your personal favorites in the comments section below!