Who has time to cook anymore? Fortunately, with more and more supermarkets catering to harried, time-strapped shoppers, it’s easier than ever to find healthy, heartburn-friendly dinner fixings without resorting to overly processed convenience foods.
Start by walking the perimeter of the store, advises Elizabeth M Ward, registered dietitian and author of several nutrition books, including The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to the New Food Pyramids (Alpha 2006). Processed foods are generally located in the interior aisles. The perimeter is where you’ll find healthful whole foods, like produce, dairy, eggs, fish, meat and bread. Then follow these four steps to put together meals that are quick, easy and nutritious:
1. Pick your protein
“Pick a source of protein and work around that,” says Ward, “because that’s the hardest piece of the puzzle.” Good places to start:
Rotisserie chicken A deli department staple and a favorite of the swoop-in-just-before-dinner shopper. Add veggies and brown rice for a complete hot meal.
Steak strips Buy a few strips of this flavorful store-cooked beef, and use it to top a mixed green salad.
Fresh fish Many fish departments will steam fish for you while you wait, providing a healthy centerpiece for any meal.
Roasted chicken breast strips Fully cooked -- serve cold right out of the package, reheat in the microwave or toss into a quick stir-fry.
Cheese Make a healthy open-face sandwich by top-grilling reduced-fat cheese on whole-wheat bread, pita or English muffin.
Beans and lentils A valuable vegetarian source of protein, even when canned. Tip: Rinse well to halve the salt content and get rid of the carbs that contribute to gas.
2. Choose your whole grain
Once you’ve nailed down your protein source, wrap it in a tortilla or pita, surround it with slices of bread, enjoy it on crackers or serve it with a crusty roll or rice pilaf. Whichever you choose, make it a whole grain. Tip: Multi-grain breads often aren’t 100 percent whole-grain - so when buying bread, look for “100% whole grain” rather than “multi-grain” on the label. And when it comes to rice, look for quick-cooking 10-minute brown rice mixes as well as combos with wild rice.
3. Don’t forget your veggies
Produce aisles, salad bars and the frozen food section are great places to find interesting add-ons to complement your meal. There, you’ll find things like:
Precut vegetables, including broccoli florets, cauliflower and bell pepper slices (often packaged as a colorful trio of red, yellow and green peppers)
Salad in a bag Choose an arugula blend for maximum nutrition, or combine with Romaine or mixed baby greens
Spinach Steam right in the package
Frozen vegetables Pop in the microwave and they up the nutrition of just about anything you add them to. Consider green peas or butternut squash -- colorful on the plate, which means nutritious, too
Precut fruit, including melon, pineapple, mango, papaya and kiwifruit
Dried fruit Go beyond raisins and try apricots, bananas, cherries, cranberries, mango, papaya and pineapple
4. Put it all together
Use quality ingredients like extra virgin olive oil and Pecorino Romano cheese to infuse flavorful appeal. Fresh herbs, such as basil leaves or a sprig of cilantro add gourmet appeal. See? Once you have a plan, you really can shop and eat in less time than you think!
Susan Male-Smith is a registered dietician and freelance nutrition and health writer. She has written for Family Circle, Redbook, Child and American Health, and she is a former editor of the Environmental Nutrition newsletter and co-author of Foods for Better Health.
(Health24, November 2010)
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