How to Use Healthy Convenience Foods for Faster, Easier Cooking

Keep these pantry and freezer staples on hand to get healthy dinners on the table ASAP.

You're ready to eat better this year, but where to start? One tip you'll often hear is to throw out all the processed foods in your kitchen. But there's a piece missing from this well-worn advice: how do you replace the convenience of those foods? Healthier habits need to be realistic to last; going suddenly from pre-made foods to a lot more prepping and cooking can make that hard to do.

Luckily, we're in a golden age of convenience foods with many better-for-you options available. These ingredients are wholesome, minimally processed, and (dare we say it) exciting. Try these healthier, time-saving swaps the next time you shop.

Best Healthy Convenience Foods to Buy

1. Steam-in-bag fresh and frozen veggies

You don't have to dirty a pot or even open a bag to make a vegetable dish these days… the packages are designed to go straight in the microwave. It's as fast as any frozen precooked veggie, but without the salt- and sugar-heavy seasoning. Turn it into a quick side by tossing with a little butter and fresh herbs or dried ranch seasoning.

2. Simmer sauces and curry pastes

The international aisle teems with good-for-you ingredients that are also shortcuts to great meals. Instead of syrupy sweet condiments, heat jarred simmer sauces to pour over steam-in-bag veggies and quick-cooking rice noodles or microwaveable rice. Combine a can of coconut milk with curry paste for a sauce or soup that's ready in minutes.

3. Frozen fish and seafood

For a main that's just as fast as chicken fingers and better for you, head to the sea. Many fish are sold as individually frozen fillets so you can cook as many as you need. Shrimp and scallops cook from frozen in minutes. This is also a more affordable way to add fish to your meal rotation, and an easy way to make a sustainable choice.

4. Frozen veggie tots and sweet potato fries

We've loved watching vegetables transform again and again. (Noodles out of squash? Rice out of cauliflower? Who knew?) Now they're popping up in frozen snacks. Frozen cauliflower and broccoli tots taste just as good, if not better than their plain potato cousins. Speaking of spuds, try frozen sweet potato fries instead of classic potato fries for a nutrient boost.

5. Whole-grain chips and fresh dips

It turns out chips can be made out of just about anything, from fiber-rich beans and lentils to whole grains and vegetables. Try one of these alternative chips instead of potato or tortilla chips. Instead of jarred dips, head to the prepared produce section or the deli for fresh alternatives like pico de gallo, guacamole, and hummus.

6. Bottled vinaigrette

The best way to eat more salads? Make them more interesting. Instead of that same-old creamy dressing, find a flavor-packed vinaigrette, like sesame-ginger or jalapeño-lime. While you're at it, replace boring croutons with toasted pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes, or crushed whole-grain crackers for crunch.

groceries with grocery bag illustrationgroceries with grocery bag illustration
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3 Tips for Easier, Healthier Cooking

1. Instead of cutting out ingredients, add flavor

Rather than focus on what you need to cut out, think about how you can add more flavor to your meals. Try adding salt-free seasoning to veggies, brushing a sweet-and-spicy glaze on kebabs, or adding fresh herbs to soups.

2. Balance frozen and pantry staples with fresh foods

If frozen meatballs or canned beans are the star of a dish, add a fresh component like zucchini noodles or a bagged salad mix for balance. You can also think in terms of color: Add vegetables that will make your dish look vibrant so it's exciting to your eye and your taste buds.

3. Get confident with a recipe you love, then adapt

You don't need to reinvent the wheel each time you set foot in the kitchen. Find a recipe you love—one that's balanced, flavorful, and easy to prepare—then switch up the vegetable, the protein, or spices to make it feel new.

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