Cooking Healthy Meals Using Prepackaged Foods

Check nutrition labels to find the healthiest options.

Check nutrition labels to find the healthiest options.

Approximately 90 percent of Americans get too much sodium from their diet, with around 65 percent of this sodium coming from store-bought foods. Don't worry, this doesn't mean you have to cook everything from scratch to keep your sodium intake where it should be, you just have to choose your packaged foods carefully.

Nutritious Options

Prepackaged foods can make it easier to cook a healthy meal quickly. Stock up on whole grains such as oats, whole wheat pasta and brown rice to use for the starch portion of your meal. Canned beans and canned and frozen seafood are nutritious ways to meet your protein needs, and buying canned and frozen fruits and veggies can reduce food waste because you can store them for some length of time. Frozen and canned fruits and veggies are usually similar in nutrition to fresh. For a quick way to add fruits and veggies to your meals, buy salad in a bag or precut veggies and fruits.

Choosing Prepackaged Foods

Not all packaged foods make for healthful meals. Some of them have added fat, sugar or salt, so check labels before you buy. Opt for fruit that is frozen without sugar and fruit canned in water or juice, not syrup. Choose low-sodium versions of canned beans and vegetables, and avoid the frozen veggies that are topped with butter or cheese sauce.

Putting Them Together

Portion sizes and the amount of each type of food that you eat are important considerations when planning healthy meals, whether you use prepackaged foods or make everything from scratch. One simple way to get the right amount from each food group is to follow the USDA's Choose My Plate recommendations and fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies and split the other half of the plate between a protein and a starchy food. Add a glass of milk or other serving of dairy product.

Considerations

The healthiest prepackaged foods are those that are only minimally processed. Stay away from the meal-in-a-bag options and the foods that have ingredients you can't pronounce. Also keep in mind that convenience comes at a price. Those pre-cut veggies may be handy, but they are more expensive than buying the whole vegetable and cutting it up yourself.

 

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