Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa amp up your fiber intake and lower your risk for heart disease, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes. But you don't have to wait out the long cook time to enjoy their perks. You can find precooked grains in the frozen food case or in ready-to-microwave bowls or pouches -- just look out for added sodium. Serve as a tasty side or mix with veggies or precooked meat for a complete meal.
Frozen produce, like green beans, have the same nutrients as fresh and sometimes retain them even better. No shelling, shucking, or soaking required -- just heat them on the stove or in the microwave. Plus, they don't pack the sodium that most canned items do. Use them in salads, add to canned soups, or serve with microwaved brown rice.
Especially if you're cooking for one or two, precooked chicken strips are more handy than a whole fryer or even frozen cutlets. Balance their higher sodium count with the rest of your meal. Lay them on a salad or next to a whole-grain side and veggies. And stick with the lean grilled types -- breaded strips will bring more fat, sodium, and other additives.
Easy-to-slice produce like tomatoes and cucumbers make it a cinch to bulk up a yummy wrap for lunch. Mash low-sodium canned chickpeas and stuff in veggies and sprouts too, if you like. Flatbreads such as lavash make great wraps. Hold it all together with hummus or reduced-fat mayo.
A savory rotisserie chicken can be a great buy that makes more than one no-cook meal. Be aware that not all chicks are equal, though. Delis often inject their chickens with sugar, sodium, and other additives that make the birds stay moist and look better longer. Look for USDA-certified organic chickens with low sodium. If there's no label, ask the store manager.
Even some "healthy" soups have a lot of salt -- that's what makes them the shelf staples they are. But there are plenty that boast less sodium these days. You can also make canned soup heartier and bump up the health factor with a handful of veggies from your fridge, leftover brown rice, or chopped rotisserie chicken. Garnish with shaved Parmesan cheese for an extra flavor punch.
Tuna fish is always a handy go-to, but did you know most salmon in pouches and cans is wild-caught? This makes it lower in calories and saturated fat than the farmed kind. Spoon it onto a salad or dress it up with frozen veggies and pesto for a filling meal.
It doesn't take long to boil an egg. But sometimes you just want something to eat right now. Cue prepackaged hard-boiled eggs. They still boast protein, low saturated fat, antioxidants and minerals like copper, zinc, and iron. Slice them onto your salad or toast, into a breakfast bowl, or munch as is.
Serve raw veggies -- crudités if you're feeling fancy -- as an appetizer. Think celery, carrot sticks, sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes. Add your own spin with romaine lettuce, bell peppers, pickles, fruit, whatever you like. Round out your tray with store-bought hummus, salsa, or a savory yogurt dip.
Apples are yummy whole, but so many things pair well with them.
- Dip wedges in nut butter, such as cashew, sunflower, almond, or peanut, or munch with bites of cheese for a filling treat.
- Chop apples and dates into quick-cooking oatmeal. Mix in seeds like chia or hemp. Add a dash of your fave spice.
- Make a raw apple or pear dish. Slice, add nuts and dried fruits, a sprinkle of oats, a squeeze of lemon, and a dash of cinnamon.
Pop open a few cans of beans -- green, cannellini, garbanzo, and kidney are top choices -- to make a complete meal. For a twist, stir in chopped veggies and avocadoes. Drizzle on your fave dressing. Or make your salad into a wrap with large leafy collard greens.
It's the ultimate no-cook food: takeout (or delivery). And it's pretty simple to decide what's healthy to take in. Many restaurants help out with special "healthy" symbols on their menus. But good rules of thumb include ordering skinless, lean meat cooked almost any way but fried; whole-grain bread or pasta; a baked potato or salad instead of a fatty side. Skip the fried and "loaded" appetizers and the calorie-laden desserts.
Lots of services ship healthy precooked meals to most locations. When you consider what you may waste in cooking and storage, they might fit your budget better than you think. Choose from budget, gourmet, plant-based, low-calorie or low-carb, breakfasts, and even dishes for special dietary needs. Many companies offer both à la carte or subscription plan options. Some ship 100% fresh. Most meals range from about $8.50 to $18.
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- Sarah Simental, MS, RD, CNSC, CSPCC, dietitian, Los Angeles.
- Consumer Reports: "The Guide to Making Healthy No-Cook Meals," "8 Packaged Foods That Are Actually Healthy," "Is Store-Bought Rotisserie Chicken Good for You?"
- Cooking Light: "30 Healthy No Cook Lunches (Because It's Just Too Hot Outside!)"
- The Spruce Eats: "The 7 Best Canned Soups in 2021: What To Look For in Canned Soup."
- American Heart Association: "4 Tips to Eat Healthier When Ordering Takeout or Food Delivery."
- Forbes: "The Best Meal Delivery Services: Prepped Meals For Every Diet & Preference."