So, what’s the answer on days that you don’t have an hour to devote to preparing a fully home-cooked dinner? You can incorporate some convenience foods into your menu without sacrificing too much, health-wise. Here are a few hints:
- Pick up a rotisserie chicken from the deli section of your grocery store. While they may contain more salt than you would add to a chicken you roasted yourself at home, this is still a healthier option than fast food nuggets! Boil up some “minute” brown rice or make real mashed potatoes, and nuke a bag of sauce-free frozen veggies as side dishes.
- Pasta is a good quick meal, and a weekly standby at our house. Jarred sauces often contain large amounts of salt and sugar, though. If you have absolutely no time to make your own sauce, then at least opt for the reduced sodium variety. If you have a little bit of time, “cheat” by using canned salt-free crushed tomatoes. Sprinkle with basil and other Italian seasonings, a teaspoon of sugar (to take some of the acidity away), a bit of salt and pepper, and maybe some garlic powder. Simmer for 20 minutes while you’re waiting for the water to boil and your pasta to cook. Open a bagged salad mix, slice a tomato and a cucumber on top, and you have a complete meal in under a half hour.
- Sometimes you might have nothing thawed for dinner and don’t have much time for a real sit-down meal. Try picking up just burgers from the local fast food joint and serving with sliced veggies (cucumbers, peppers, carrots and mushrooms are my family’s favorites) instead of fries. You can even pick up bags of sliced vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower florets, in the produce section of the grocery store.
- If you need to rely on frozen chicken nuggets, pizza or pre-made lasagna dinner, try to serve fresh fruits or veggies to offset the fat and sodium content of the main dish. While your frozen food is cooking, cut up a pile of fruit for a fruit salad, or serve veggies and hummus as an appetizer. That will help everyone get the edge off of their hunger and makes it less likely that they’ll overindulge on the less-than-healthy dinner food.
- Remember balance! If you find yourself relying on convenience foods 5 nights out of 7, then figure out where you can make extra time to cook healthy foods instead. Eating fast food once per week is probably not going to make a huge negative impact, but three or four nights certainly will. Consider cooking ahead on the weekends, cutting back on an activity or using your slow-cooker more often.
What are some ways that you’ve incorporated convenience foods into your menus without sacrificing health?