True, cooking from scratch with the freshest ingredients is a surefire way to create a delicious and nutritious meal. But then there’s dinnertime reality: Getting home from work and needing to put a meal on the table in not a lot of time. Happily, not every store-bought item that makes it easier to prep dinner is overly processed or full of suspect ingredients. Here are some shortcut foods nutrition experts say they rely on when they’re in a hurry.
Prewashed baby spinach: Keep this in the fridge (if it’s kept dry and sealed it should last close to a week) and add a handful to salads, omelets, soups, pasta, stir-fries, pizzas or just about anything else. “It’s an easy way to add some fiber, iron and vitamin A to your meal,” says Libby Mills, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Recipe: Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach (18 min)
Organic canned tomatoes: “I use them in my favorite dishes, from three-bean chili or zesty sloppy joes, to fresh marinara sauce,” says Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, a spokesperson for the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Tomatoes have stores of vitamin C, potassium and lycopene.
Recipe: Whole-Wheat Pasta Puttanesca (17 min)
Rotisserie chicken: Roasting a chicken isn’t difficult, but it does take time. A precooked one from the grocery store can be a simple solution. Mills recommends removing the skin, which will scale back on a bit of the sodium the chicken may be seasoned with (as well as knocking off some calories), and then serving the meat with a fresh green salad or other vegetable.
Recipe: Romaine Salad with Chicken (20 min)
Frozen fruit and vegetables: Fresh fruit and veggies are not always practical or available. But you can stock your freezer with bags of chopped vegetables and always have them on hand to make into a side dish, stir-fry or to toss into pasta. And during the winter, when fruit choices are more limited, use frozen berries, mango and pineapple to liven up breakfast cereal, a smoothie or dessert.
Recipe: Quinoa with Chicken and Frozen Green Beans (40 min)
Canned beans: Beans are an easy and inexpensive way to add protein, fiber and essential nutrients to a variety of meals. “They’re so versatile and nutritious,” Mills says. She suggests using them in salads, pastas, soups or pureeing them to create a dip or sandwich spread.
Recipe: Weeknight Two-Bean Chili (30 min)
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.