Let’s face it, we’re all busy! Sometimes convenience is the name of the game when it comes to meal preparation. Making a home-cooked meal from scratch may be ideal when it comes to putting a nutritious meal on the table, but here’s some guilt-free good news: There are shortcuts that pair convenience and nutrition for healthy meals for you and those you love. What’s better than eating well and saving time?
Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager at Texas Health Sports Medicine, and Emily Bullard, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Texas Health Fitness Center HEB, shared some sound advice for creating a nutrition-packed meal with convenience foods when you’re hard-pressed for time.
“No one has the perfect diet, but we should all strive to eat healthy the majority of the time, even with busy schedules,” Bearden says. “When I meet with clients, we talk about the importance of a balanced plate that includes a lean protein, a quality carbohydrate source and colorful vegetables. That’s true for quick meals with convenience foods, too.”
Bearden says her convenience food staples include microwavable steamed veggies, microwavable grains, canned beans, whole grain bread, tomato sauce, canned tuna and salmon, and pre-cooked chicken, and she shared three quick and easy meal ideas that require little preparation and still deliver a big helping of nutrition:
- Rotisserie chicken, microwavable quinoa and microwavable steamed veggies
- Burrito bowl using canned black beans, microwavable rice, pre-cooked chicken, microwavable steamed veggies, guacamole and salsa
- Adult snack plate of deli turkey, low-fat string cheese, whole-grain crackers, sliced veggies, and almonds
“Hit the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store for bagged salad greens, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, mini peppers, baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower that can be tossed together into a fast salad,” Bullard says. “Look for berries, apples and stone fruits like peaches and plums, and nuts packaged in individual servings. For protein, grab plain yogurt to mix with your own fresh fruit or granola-type cereal. Don’t forget about beans — a nutritious addition to a big salad or main dish.”
Another tip: supplement your grocery store shopping with a trip to a membership warehouse store for bulk items. Not only can this shopping method prove economical, but you’ll have quick nutritious options in your fridge and pantry. Nutrition-approved favorite bulk food items include frozen fruits and veggie and fresh meats — either individually vacuum packed or larger quantities that are easy to separate in smaller freezer bags for easy defrosting. Also shop for dried fruits and nuts but sort the food into individual packages to keep a check on portion control. One warehouse store caution: Avoid processed snacks and sides loaded with calories and little nutritional value.
There’s even a third option for grabbing food on the go — the aptly named convenience store! If you’re really pinched for time and need to swing by a corner quick-stop store for a quick meal, look for pre-made deli turkey sandwiches, prepared salads, and protein packs that may contain ham, cheese, and nuts. For snacking, look for sunflower seeds, trail mix, beef jerky, fruit, hard boiled eggs and string cheese — as an alternative to typical convenience store items like candy, soft drinks, pastries and other processed snack foods. Bearden tells her clients that convenience stores may yield good pre-workout options like granola bars, cereal cups, dried fruit, fig bars, bananas and fruit snacks. After a workout? She suggests milk and even chocolate milk.
No matter where you’re buying your convenience foods, remember it’s smart to pay attention to nutrition labels. Start at the top of the ingredient list and see how servings are measured per container. You may be shocked to see that a can of soup is really two servings. Look next at calories and be advised that nutrients will vary on the item being evaluated. Cereals, for example, should contain less than 10 grams of sugar and more than 3 grams of fiber per serving. Shy away from items that contain trans fats, which can increase your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.
Although meal planning takes time, it is essential to eating well. Bullard suggests taking time to build three to four weeks of menus that can easily be rotated to add variety to your meals while not reinventing the wheel each week. In your planning, mix meals that are quick to assemble with family favorites that may be a little more time-consuming. On nights when there are late meetings or soccer practice, you’ll have a plan in place for a quick, nutritious meal instead of a spontaneous stop at the fast-food drive-thru window on the way home. Refer to the convenience food tips in this blog — pre-prepped fruits and veggies, for example — to make a quick meal that also delivers a nutritional punch.
Texas Health Sports Medicine offers specialized sports nutrition counseling available by appointment. For more information or to schedule an appointment with a sports dietitian, visit Texas Health Sports Medicine.