Healthy Convenience Foods to Save You Time and Energy

These healthy convenience foods are your path to eating and enjoying a wholesome diet without a huge time and energy drain. Eat well and still have a life!


Want a healthy diet but dread the notion of spending hours in the kitchen chopping, sautéing and wiping sweat off your forehead? And when your meal is finished, don’t you hate it when your kitchen looks like a team of teenage soccer players just took their snack break in your home?

You can have a healthy diet and your sanity.

When US News & World Report’s Best Diet Rankings 2021 came out, few were surprised by the results. (FYI, I am one of the proud panelists who rank the diets). The winners:

  • First place goes to the Mediterranean diet
  • Second place is a tie with the DASH Diet and the Flexitarian Diet
  • Also among the top scorers are WW, MIND, Nordic and Volumetrics

These are wonderful, wholesome eating patterns. Like others I know, you might think eating this way is an enormous time and energy vampire. Yes, it can be. But no, it doesn’t have to be. Healthy eating and convenience can go together.

messy kitchen

I bet this isn’t the look you’re going for! /©Brebca – Can Stock Photo Inc.

 

I, Jill the nutrition expert, hereby grant you permission to take shortcuts to healthy eating.

It’s guilt-free when you pick healthy convenience foods. According to a survey from the Food Industry Association, Americans crave something interesting to eat, and they want minimal food prep. I’ve got you covered with my list of healthy convenience foods I couldn’t stand to be without.

Healthy Convenience Foods for Your Pantry

  • Canned (and boxed) tomatoes: Love them for their versatility. They punch up pasta, soups, casseroles, and they’re terrific with fish, chicken, beans and lentils. I use them several times per week and would be lost without them.
  • Salsa: Yes, it counts as a vegetable! Add it to cold pasta for a fast salad, pour it over chicken or fish before baking, top your scrambled eggs, or mix it with nonfat Greek yogurt for a nutritious 10-second veggie dip.
    • Need a super-speedy meal? Pull the meat from a rotisserie chicken and heat it with your favorite jarred salsa. Serve it with 90-second microwaveable brown rice. Now that’s a simple way to a healthy meal!
  • Canned (and boxed) beans: Use these to put a meatless meal on the table quickly or add them to meat dishes. Here are lots of recipes and quick ways to use canned beans.
  • Dried lentils: Lentils, especially red lentils, are quick to cook. Make a quick soup, stew or side dish.
Bowl of vegetarian black bean soup topped with herbs

Canned black beans rescued dinner! Enjoy Smokey Black Bean Soup

  • Tuna and salmon: Make a nutritious sandwich or a simple salad lickety-split. I always have several flavored varieties as well as plain ones.
  • Reduced-sodium broth: Cook with broth to cut back on salt and fat. Simmer rice, quinoa and other whole grains in broth instead of salted water with butter. When I don’t have reduced-sodium versions, I use regular broth and half water. It’s perfect!
  • Whole grains:  Have instant and quick-cooking varieties on hand for a speedy side dish or nourish bowl. Check out these healthy and convenient whole grains.
  • Whole-grain bread products: Choose flatbread, sandwich bread, pita, English muffins, bagel thins, crackers, tortillas or any favorite. For portion control, choose bagel thins, small corn or flour tortillas, mini pita breads and thinly sliced breads.
  • Tomato or vegetable juice: This is my lifesaver when I’m hit with hunger pangs before a meal. An 8-ounce glass is only about 50 calories. I’m lucky because my husband likes to treat me to a spiced up, nonalcoholic cocktail, complete with a celery stick or slice of cucumber. The low-sodium variety is ideal.
  • Nuts and nut butters: Add crunch to salads and whole-grain pilafs with plain or seasoned nuts. And nut butters make a quick breakfast, lunch or snack when spread on whole-grain bread or tart apple slices.
  • Marinated artichoke hearts: Put these in the “something interesting” category. Shake off the extra oil and toss these into a green salad. They’re so flavorful you can omit or reduce the salad dressing. Brighten up tuna salad, flatbreads, or any dish short on wow.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes: These also liven up a variety of foods, including fish, chicken and lentils.  I prefer the marinated variety because they pack a flavor punch of umami. Shake off some of the extra oil to keep the calories down.
Healthy Hashbrown Casserole is great confort food.

This Hashbrown Casserole is made with healthy convenience foods.

Healthy Convenience Foods for Your Refrigerator & Freezer

  • Hummus: It’s a ready-made dip for veggies or whole-grain pita bread.
  • Frozen vegetables: When you’ve got these in your freezer, you’ll never be without veggies for supper.
  • Edamame beans: These are my favorite no-fuss addition to a meal. Edamame beans are high in both fiber and protein, making them an especially good snack or tag-a-long to a meal. I prefer them still in the pod, boiled on the stove and then sprinkled with salt.
  • Tofu: The magic of this weird-looking white blob is that it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with. Try it with this lemon-mustard marinade.
  • Frozen fish fillets: These are also magical because they’re so versatile and defrost quickly. Fish is an important part of both the DASH and Mediterranean diets. And it fits in perfectly with the Flexitarian diet.
heart healthy fish with lemon mustard and capers

Frozen fish fillets defrost in about 15 minutes. Try this simple lemon mustard caper dish.

  • Frozen easy-peel shrimp: Defrost it quickly under running water. Then sauté or stir-fry with your favorite veggies for a fast, easy meal.
  • Frozen meals: These are better than most fast food choices for when you’re running late or suffering from cooking fatigue. Like now! Frozen meals are exactly what the respondents to the Food Industry Association survey need to minimize that dreaded food prep. Plus, easy cleanup! Sounds like a winner. But don’t forget to read food labels.
    • Personalize frozen meals by bulking them up with extra veggies (think frozen!), or add frozen edamame beans or canned kidney beans to boost the protein and fiber.
  • Ready-to-eat beets: Just open the refrigerated package and add delicious, nutritious bright purple beets to your salad.
    • Try this: dice a couple beets and toss with a chopped scallion and walnuts. Top with a dollop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Something interesting? YES!
  • Bagged lettuce or baby spinach: What could be a faster start to a health-boosting salad?
  • Frozen fruit: I love them in smoothies and straight from the freezer for a fun, cool treat.

Healthy convenience foods help you eat a wholesome diet without the time- and energy-drain of scratch cooking. Round out a meal with microwaveable whole grains, boost your veggie intake with frozen vegetables and get something interesting with your favorite healthy convenience food.

You’ll have more time and energy to throw a post-game party for that teenage soccer team.

When you join this community, you’ll discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time — and drop the guilt when you don’t.

If you’re ready to discover more tips and strategies, sign up for my email list. As a bonus, I’ll send you The Super Simple Strategy to Keep You From Falling Off the Healthy Eating Wagon.

Cheers to healthy convenience foods for keeping your sanity!

Jill-Weisenberger_about-image-2
Jill Weisenberger

I'm Jill, and I believe simple changes in your mindset and health habits can bring life-changing rewards. And I don't believe in willpower. It's waaaay overrated. As a food-loving registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes care and education specialist and certified health and wellness coach, I've helped thousands of people solve their food and nutrition problems. If you're looking for a better way to master this whole healthy eating/healthy living thing or if you're trying to prevent or manage diabetes or heart problems, you'll find plenty of resources right here.

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2 Comments

  1. Vince Mattaliano on January 5, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    Great list! And artichoke hearts (which my family uses with pasta, in salads and with other veggies) also comes without oil (canned) and even frozen!

    • Jill Weisenberger on January 5, 2021 at 2:41 pm

      I love the frozen ones. I often use them in cooked dishes and the marinated jarred ones in cold dishes.

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Hi there! I'm Jill, a nutrition & diabetes expert and the author of 4 books.

Jill Weisenberger

I believe simple changes in health habits can bring you life-changing rewards.

And I believe willpower is way overrated.

Right here is where you can discover the mindset and habits to stick with healthy lifestyle choices most of the time - and drop the guilt when you don't.

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