14 Healthier Packaged Foods Dietitians Use for Easy Dinners
After a long day of work or errands, you might feel too drained to get into the kitchen and cook up a full meal from scratch. But, you can still enjoy a tasty, nutritious lunch or dinner by using some store-bought, packaged foods that can shorten prep and cook times.
Packaged foods might get a bad rap for having too much salt, too little fiber, and a whole host of other nutritional deficiencies, but that's not always the case. Indeed, there are many packaged, prepared foods that even registered dietitians turn to for their own meals and for their families.
Save yourself some time and stress by stocking up on these store-bought ingredients that RDs say make healthy cooking a cinch. These ingredients are not only affordable, they are also easy to find, too. We've linked to online stores where available so you can add to cart and get dinner done faster.
The Best Shortcut Ingredients for Healthier Dinners, According to Dietitians
1. Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower Stir-Fry
Cauliflower rice is a great low-carb option. You can buy it frozen and keep in your freezer for when you need it, or use it fresh if you are going to enjoy it right away. It's only 25 calories per serving and it has four grams of filling fiber! "I use this to make a stir-fry with chicken or shrimp. The cauliflower is filling and has a good amount of vitamin C, which makes it a great choice as a veggie to have with your dinner," says Ilyse Schapiro MS, RD, CDN.
2. Green Giant Zucchini Veggie Spirals
Zucchini noodles are a great substitute for pasta, as they are low in calories and carbs. "Zucchini is also rich in fiber to fill you up, and it's great for digestion, so I love using zucchini noodles with turkey meatballs, or I pair it with chicken Parmesan instead of pasta," says Schapiro.
Buy it: $3.59/12-ounce bag; target.com
3. Applegate Pre-Cooked Organic Turkey Burgers
"I'm not always in the mood to cook or grill, so these are a great time-saver when I need a protein at dinner," says Schapiro. They are organic, high in protein, and low in sodium. Plus, they're a great option if you are looking to cut down on red meat. "I pair them with veggies or put on top of a salad or enjoy with a whole-wheat bun," says Schapiro.
Buy it: $9.99/16-ounce box; target.com
4. Banza Plain Frozen Pizza Crust
"One of my go-to packaged foods for a dinner shortcut is the Banza pizza crust, as I love that it has more protein and fiber and less sodium than leading traditional and cauliflower pizza crusts, and it's made with real foods like chickpeas, olive oil, and oregano," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. Plus, it tastes crispy and doughy, and it is sturdy enough to hold a ton of toppings, like traditional tomatoes and cheese, or more creative options like Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, and Parmesan cheese.
Buy it: $50/pack of 8 crusts; amazon.com
5. Lightlife Organic Vegan Tempeh
"I use tempeh as an easy plant-based protein because it's savory, nutty, and ready in just a few minutes," says Rizzo. Plus, three ounces has 18 grams of protein. Just slice tempeh and marinate in your favorite sauce. "I like a traditional barbecue or mixture of sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic, and ginger, and I'll cook it in a hot skillet for about five minutes, then flip and cook on the second side for another five minutes," says Rizzo.
Buy it: $3.49/8-ounce pack; target.com
6. Bush's Black Beans
"I always have a few cans of beans in my cabinet for easy weeknight meals," says Rizzo. First, drain and rinse the beans to excess added salt. Then, use them as a plant-based protein staple in tacos, soups, veggie burgers, or grain bowls. "One of my favorite ways to use a variety of beans is in a hearty chili," she says.
Buy it: $1/15-ounce can; target.com
7. Good & Gather Frozen Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is a nice addition to any weeknight meal, but peeling and cutting it takes a lot of time. "Instead, I buy frozen butternut squash that is already peeled and chopped, and frozen veggies are picked at the ripe of freshness and flash frozen, which locks in nutrients like vitamin A and other antioxidants," says Rizzo. Throw butternut squash in a pot with coconut milk, chopped onion, vegetable broth, cinnamon, and salt to make a soup, she suggests, and cook until the veggies are tender, then puree until smooth.
Buy it: $1.99/12-ounce bag; target.com
8. Mission 100% Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas
"One of my go-to weeknight dinners is a simple quesadilla, where I'll throw veggies — like zucchini, peppers and spinach — beans and cheese in a whole-wheat tortilla, fold it in half and cook it on the pan until it's hot," says Rizzo. A whole-wheat tortilla provides an added fiber boost.
Buy it: $2.69/pack of 10; target.com
9. Silk AlmondMilk Yogurt Alternative
"I think the key to spicing up a weeknight dinner is a simple homemade sauce," says Rizzo. "We have a vegan in my house, so I use Silk Almondmilk Yogurt Alternative to make creamy plant-based sauces to throw on top of anything that needs a little extra flavor," she says. Try a mixture of almond milk yogurt, tahini, chopped parsley, lemon juice, and garlic. "It's a yummy green sauce that tastes great on everything," she adds.
Buy it: $4.98/24 ounces; walmart.com
10. Sprouts Farmer's Market Frozen Organic Spelt & Red Quinoa
This can be paired with any leftover protein, or if you don't have any, quickly cook up some eggs for dinner in minutes. "It is well-seasoned without going overboard on sodium, so you won't feel the need to add extra sauces or condiments and it also provides four grams of fiber and five grams of plant protein per serving," says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
Buy it: $3.99/10-ounce bag; sprouts.com
11. Melissa's Steamed Lentils
"I always have steamed lentils on hand to add to grain bowls, salads, wraps, and even to make quick and easy lentil tacos," says Jones. These have 10 percent of your daily iron needs per serving, as well as 10 grams of plant protein. "Lentils are also a great way to promote fullness with six grams of fiber," she says.
Buy it: $12.49/3 pack; amazon.com
12. Mission Carb Balance Soft Tortillas
These high-fiber, lower-calorie tortillas taste amazing and are super versatile to make quick and easy meals. "There are several flavor varieties in different sizes as well so you can make a tortilla pizza, soft tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, or wraps with grilled chicken, veggie burgers or tofu," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. "You can slice them up and toast to make homemade chips for dipping in chili, hummus, or tuna or egg salad," she says.
Buy it: $4.49/8 tortillas; target.com
13. Tyson Black Pepper Herb Chicken Strips
"These chicken strips are so flavorful and microwave in a few minutes to add to a salad, pasta, roasted veggies, wraps, or to serve with a sweet potato and frozen veggies," says Harris-Pincus. "This chicken is also keto-friendly with no carbs, unlike many marinated options that are loaded with sugar," she adds.
Buy it: $6.68; walmart.com
14. Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers
These burgers make for a great meatless meal with tons of flavor, 15 grams of plant-based protein, and nine grams of fiber, which is more than one-third of the daily value. "It cooks in less than two minutes in the microwave, and you can enjoy it like a burger, on top of a salad, diced into tacos, or mixed with roasted or steamed veggies," says Harris-Pincus.
Buy it: $3.89/4 count; target.com