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.