During our busiest days, finding the time to prep a healthy meal can prove a Herculean task. Eating foods made from home instead of dining out spares calories, fat, sodium, and money—great for your health and your wallet. A little planning and prep work will give you a huge leg up on conquering weekday dinners, busy morning breakfasts, and grab-and-go lunches. But, inevitably, we still find ourselves in the middle of the market without a clue as to what’s in store for the week. Here are ten staples you can find at the store and keep in your kitchen for quick meal and snack prep:
Citrus fruits outlast many others, staying fresh in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Eat oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines on their own as snacks or peel sections to add to salads. Lemon and lime zest and juice make fabulous flavor additions to many dishes.
When making quick grocery store decisions, versatility of ingredients is key. I always pick up a bunch of greens, knowing that I can chop them to use as a raw salad base or cook them up for fast vegetable additions at dinner. If you choose varieties like kale or chard, do the prep work as soon as you get home from the store, removing the stems and rinsing the leaves before storing in the refrigerator. This makes them that much easier to use when you need them!
03. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Making fruits and vegetables half of what is on your plate at meals is made far easier when you stock frozen varieties. In addition to having a significantly longer shelf-life than their fresh versions, frozen fruits and vegetables also have just as many nutrients. Blend frozen fruits into a morning smoothie or simply add to plain yogurt for a quick breakfast on-the-go. Frozen vegetables can be microwave-steamed for added healthful color to any meal.
04. Canned Beans
Legumes add a protein and fiber boost to a meatless meal. Fresh beans and dried beans are also healthful additions to any meal, but you can’t beat the ease of low-sodium canned beans. Grab a variety like black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and white beans to give yourself some mealtime options.
In the mood for Mexican food? Sauté fresh or frozen vegetables such as chopped onion and diced peppers, with chili powder, salt, and pepper. Add one can rinsed and drained black beans and toss. Put the mixture over corn tortillas and enjoy the tacos topped with any fixings you’ve got on hand, like sliced avocado, salsa, sour cream, or goat cheese.
05. Whole Grains
This is a huge category of foods. My advice is to pick up one pre-prepped version (like whole grain bread or whole corn tortillas) and one dry grain (such as quinoa, whole grain pasta, or brown rice). Whole grains pack more filling fiber and more vitamins than their refined grain counterparts. They are the perfect foundation for a quick and healthy breakfast. Whole grain pasta, brown rice, and quinoa are excellent dinner options and cook up with little prep work. Quinoa, which is a protein-rich grain, cooks in about twelve minutes and can be added to salads or made into stand-alone dishes.
For an easy dinner, boil whole grain pasta and then sauté frozen vegetables (like artichokes and broccoli) in oil, garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Toss cooked pasta with vegetables with one can drained and rinsed white beans, and top with a sprinkle of parmesan or dollop of goat cheese. Ta-da!
06. Goat Cheese (or Other Soft Cheese)
In addition to adding flavor, protein, and calcium to your meal, soft cheeses like chevre or ricotta are quite versatile. Dollop onto vegetable and pasta dishes, serve with crudité and whole grain crackers for an impromptu appetizer or snack, or puree to use as the sauce base for dishes like cauliflower mac and cheese.
Rethink eggs as just breakfast! These little guys are nutritional powerhouses and make an excellent source of protein for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks. Eat them hard-boiled, sunny-side up, or scrambled, or use them for dinner frittatas or gratins. They’re truly a multi-purpose kitchen essential.
Whatever your mood, grab a new spice each time you hit the supermarket, and start spicing up your meals. Spices pack powerful antioxidants and help flavor foods without added salt—a boost for cardiovascular health! Try combinations like curry, cumin, and coriander for all the great taste of take-out without the added fat and salt, or try basil, oregano, and caraway to add Italian flare to dishes.
These little guys are great on their own as snacks or chopped into a variety of dishes. I typically grab one nut butter (like peanut or almond) and one package of raw, whole nuts, like walnuts or cashews. Nuts are packed with healthy fats and fiber, which help keep you satisfied after your meal or snack. But keep in mind that they do have quite a few calories, so portion control is key. Buy pre-portioned packs or use small containers or baggies to create your own perfect portions.
You can easily take your toast up a notch by spreading natural peanut butter on toasted whole-grain bread and adding sliced bananas and a sprinkle of cinnamon (sprinkle a pinch of cayenne, if you dare). It’s the perfect breakfast or midday snack.
Whatever your milk choice (and they do seem to be growing these days!), milk can be used in a variety of dishes. I love unsweetened soy milk with breakfast cereals or added to smoothies. Most women do not get enough calcium in their day, so if you choose non-dairy varieties, be sure to pick up almond, soy, or rice versions that are fortified.