If you follow me on social media or browse my site you know I enjoy meal prep. While I love meal prepping and believe it is a wonderful tool to healthy eating it requires time to plan, prepare, and clean . It would be unfair for me to not share that along with meal prepping I use a variety of other strategies to provide healthy options when cooking just doesn't fit the schedule. Today's post focuses on these strategies.
1. Frozen dinners....yes I said it. I know for years frozen meals were cringed at by most dietitians with their high sodium content, high calories, tons of preservatives and additives, and flat out horrible taste. However, over the past years with consumer demand and the popularity of quality ingredients, less additives, and overall healthier options several manufacturers of frozen meals have stepped up to meet the demand. As always when searching out the best options refer to the nutrition label and ingredient list. Several guidelines and nutrients to examine when selecting a frozen meal include calories, protein, sodium, fiber, and fat.
General Guidelines For Choosing a Frozen Meal-
~350-450 calories (varies by individual needs)
~10-15 grams or less (<30% total calories) of fat
- Sodium ~600 mg or less
- At least 15 grams of protein
- At least 4 or more grams of fiber
If a meal you enjoy doesn't meet your calorie needs or falls short on other nutrients below are healthy and simple ways to boost the calorie and nutrient content and round out your frozen meal.
For example: Pair Newman's Own Frozen cheese pizza with a frozen vegetable or salad. With 2 slices of pizza at 260 calories adding a vegetable will boost the calorie and nutrient content to turn a frozen pizza into a meal.
- Protein: For a boost of protein add a serving of dairy to your meal. Examples include adding a glass of low fat milk or a string cheese.
- Vegetables: For frozen dinners short on vegetables considering mixing additional vegetables to the meal, having a vegetable side, or serving with a side salad (using bagged or bin of pre-washed lettuce makes this an easy side). Another great option is snacking on a side of edamame as an appetizer. Simple pop a steamer bag of edamame in the microwave and sprinkle with your favorite seasoning.
- Nuts/Seeds - Add a serving of nuts to your meal or as a dessert to round out your meal with healthy fats to keep you feeling full longer.
Several examples of frozen meal brands with minimal additives (and some of my favorites) include Amy’s Light and Lean, Healthy Choice Café Steamers Simply, evol, Luvo, and Saffron Road.
2. Convenience Items are great time savers when it comes to choosing healthy foods at home. Stock up your fridge, freezer, or pantry with these items to always have a healthy meal on hand.
- Pre-cut vegetables
- Bagged Salad or salad bins
- Frozen vegetables
- Steamer vegetable bags
- Cauliflower rice
- Low sodium canned tuna or tuna pouches
- Canned or pouches of salmon
- Canned low sodium beans
- Dry roasted chickpeas
- Pre- cooked natural minimal or preservative free chicken or beef patties
- Cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, low fat milk
- Ready to eat fruits that do not require slicing or peeling such as apples, bananas, peaches, pears, blueberries.
- Canned or single serve cups of fruit in natural juice or no sugar added
- Dried fruit
- Freeze dried fruit
- No sugar added applesauce
- Microwave brown rice cups
- Steamer brown rice
- Protein plus pasta
- Whole grain cereal
- Whole grain crackers
With these pantry staples there are a variety of combos that put a meal on the table in 5-20 minutes. Examples include:
- Microwave bag of brown rice + Microwave bag of steamer vegetables + low sodium canned beans. Served with a side of Applesauce sprinkled w/ cinnamon.
- Whole wheat crackers + tuna pouch + raw pre-cut carrots. Served with an apple
- Protein Plus pasta + frozen vegetables. Served with canned pears.
- Oatmeal prepared with milk (or water if no milk available) + smashed banana (for sweetness) + sprinkled with crushed nuts and cinnamon.
- Scrambled eggs + bagged spinach + Peaches