As much as I love cooking, I love more knowing that dinner will be ready in 30 minutes or less. Some days I have the patience and time to hand dice all my veggies and hover over the stove, putting in all my love into my meals, then there are some days that I just say no. This is where convenience items really help me out. I try to pick items that can help build a balance meal at home, instead of completely throwing in the towel and picking up burgers and fries (which, hey, still happens too some days).
When I’m looking for convenience items, I know they will be pricer and likely have more packaging waste than say whole vegetables. I also keep in mind sodium levels and generally avoid pre-seasoned items. Again, my key here is balance and try to have the most nutrient-dense meal possible.
Using pre-cut or pre-washed veggies, such as lettuce, Brussels sprouts, garlic or onion, can help cut down prep and clean up time significantly. This also comes in handy for to-go snacks, such as apple slices or veggies trays. Frozen steamer veggie bags are also very handy to have veggies on the table fast. Make sure you look for unseasoned and varieties without added sauces to cut down on extra sodium and calories.
Regular rice can take 20-30 minutes to cook, so to cut down on time, once in awhile I buy Minute Rice, which has no added salt, and is ready in 10 minutes. Trader Joe’s also carries pre-cooked, frozen, unflavored rice that is ready in 3 minutes in the microwave. These are sometimes a splurge for me in term of cost, but are so worth having on hand for those rushed days. Also look for pre-cooked quinoa, farro, and barley.
Some nights are just not made to wait for defrosting meats. This is where precooked chicken stips and rotisserie chicken come to help. Usually around $5 for 3 pounds, rotisserie chickens are super versatile and require no prep. You can eat the breast right off the bone, use in your favorite chicken recipe, and can use the bones to make stock for later. Another favorite Trader Joe’s find is their “Just Chicken” strips, found in the refrigerated meats section, that are great for salads, wraps, sandwiches, and just as they are. Canned chicken and canned tuna can also be the star of the meal when in a time crunch. Try our Spicy Tuna Bowl, or Crab Cauli Mac & Cheese, both featuring canned seafood. Frozen veggie burgers, another great find at Trader Joe’s, can also help balance your meals when you’re short on time.
Salad kits have been my savior recently. It can be hard to keep a lot of fresh, exciting ingredients around to make a good salad, especially if you’ve been traveling a lot and not home like I have recently. I’ve had these as my lunch at work and even for dinner if it’s just me or if I want something on the lighter side. I try to find ones with some sort of nut or seed, a little carb crunch, such as tortilla strips, and prefer a vinaigrette dressing.
Low-Sodium Canned Items
From veggies to stock, canned items are ideal to have on hand for their shelf life and price. In a pinch, you can easily add veggies to your meal by just opening a can, or easily whip up our Low Sodium Italian Tomato Sauce to have with pasta. These are also included in our 10 RD approved pantry staples and 10 More RD approved pantry staple.