By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian, for SparkPeople.com
You’ve probably heard this advice before: For a healthy grocery trip, shop the perimeter of the store. But if you stick to this advice completely you’ll be missing out on some of the nutritious items that do come in packages. These packaged foods—not to be confused with “processed” foods—can give you some great nutrients and make meal planning easier, saving you precious time.
Here’s a list of the healthiest convenience foods you can buy from the center aisles of the grocery store.
1. Canned Beans
Though dried beans are cheaper than canned, they can take a lot of time to cook. Canned beans pack an impressive amount of fiber and protein and can be a quick addition to many meals. Pinto, kidney, cannellini (white kidney), black, Great Northern—name any bean, they’re all great sources of nutrition for your body. When you’re choosing your beans, look for ones without added salt or seasoning. Before using your beans, drain and rinse them in a colander when you’re ready to cook. This will help wash added sodium down the drain–40% of the sodium to be exact.
2. Oats and Flaxseed
Prepare to have a heart-healthy breakfast by combining old-fashioned oats and ground flaxseed, both found packaged in either cartons or bags. One cup of cooked oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed will give you 8 grams of much needed fiber, as well as a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which each protect the heart. Choose old-fashioned oats over quick oats or instant oatmeal to ensure you’re getting the maximum amount of fiber without added salt and sugar.
3. Brown Rice
For a boxed fare that is both versatile and nutrient packed, pick up brown rice on your next grocery trip. This fiber-rich grain is a great side for nearly any meat, bean, and vegetable–or combination of all three! Try it with kidney beans, diced tomatoes and cilantro, or top it with shrimp, streamed carrots and broccoli with your favorite low-sodium sauce.
4. Tuna Fish Packed in Water
When it comes to getting a bang for your buck out of canned food, this is almost as good as it gets. This convenient food is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and also gives you a good amount of vitamins D and B-12, too. Top a bed of greens with tuna, veggies, fruit and nuts or scoop it onto whole wheat pita, crackers or bread for a healthy combo on-the-go.
5. Frozen Berries
When it comes to meeting your daily fruit requirement, you can’t beat frozen. Many frozen berries do not have added sugar, but some do. Double check that the ingredients list contains berries to make sure you’re not getting extra calories from refined sugars. Then, add them to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or make a smoothie.
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Written by Alexa Cortese, web intern
Many of us don’t consciously consider packaging and marketing when it comes to food shopping, but it can be a huge factor in what we decide to pile into our carts. Food companies make health claims so often that it’s hard to know which ones are true and which ones are simply trying to sell more items! Even more important than understanding these health claims, however, is understanding exactly how to decipher the nutrition labels. That’s right, that panel on the back or side of the box you’d rather not look at (or maybe you look but don’t fully understand).
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when grocery shopping, courtesy of Jill Marie Hively, R.D.
- The most important thing to keep in mind when reading nutrition labels? Serving size and servings per container, Hively says. This gives you a clear label of the nutrients included relative to the amount of food you are consuming. In other words, a food that’s only 100 calories may sound like a smart option until you realize that a serving size is only ¼ cup (or not enough to really fill you up!). Use MyPlate as a good example of proportions, Hively recommends, and familiarize yourself with visual cues—a three-ounce serving of protein should be about the size of the palm of your hand. (Check out more handy portion size tips here.)
- Percent daily values (DV) can also be helpful. Generally, aim for foods that contain less than 5 percent of the daily value for cholesterol or saturated fat. If the label says one serving contains 20 percent or more of your DV of a vitamin or mineral, that a food is a “good source” of that particular nutrient.
For the scoop about “natural,” “made with whole grains” and more, keep reading.