Healthy processed foods?
OK, so maybe its an oxymoron. But here's what I am looking for:
simple, easy to prepare food easily available at a major supermarket that doesn't contain huge amounts of sodium and most importantly, doesn't have corn syrup as one of the top ingredients. I am trying to avoid both those products for health and other reasons, but its hard to do. EDIT: is it really necessary to add good tasting as a criteria?
DH travels a lot during the week, and I find myself fixing dinner for one more often than not. I have been slammed at work, and I just want to go home, heat up something simple, and put my feet up. But I don't want to eat junk. Even canned "healthy" soups are amazingly high in sodium....I have found some frozen soups that are good (in the organic food section of Albertson's).
Any ideas? I would love a general discussion of ready-made food items that don't contain corn syrup...so many of the cookies and crackers and even pretzels do!! Today I discovered that low-sodium goldfish crackers fit the bill....but woman cannot live on goldfish alone. Ideas??
(Actually, I'm glad that summer will soon be on us. Sure, it'll be hot, but at least then a simple salad or maybe some fruit might be the perfect dinner. In the meantime, I'm still looking for suggestions...)
(And don't suggest the "cook in advance" idea. Until my freezer makes the move down here to Vegas, the little one on top of my refrigerator is already overstuffed...)
I consider Trader Joe's a "major" supermarket but I realize not all do. Their hummus, black bean & corn enchiladas (frozen), dolmas (fridge section), precooked lentils (fridge section) all came in handy when we were in the midst of kitchen renovations. We also like their unsalted blue corn tortilla chips. I just looked at the date on the original post, so maybe you have your freezer by now.
I heat up frozen broccoli and tofu in the microwave when I’m in a rush, ssooo easy and high in protein and fiber. I also love imitation crab because it’s a protein that I don’t have to cook it (I just put some marinara sauce and heat it in the microwave) and it’s made from white fish so it is easy to digest and much lower in cholesterol then real crab. Edamame for snacking.
My usual 'don't want to cook' meal is scrambled eggs with frozen vegetables mixed in, served with a large dollop of salsa, stuffed into a Kangaroo pocket (high-fiber pita bread)... or else 2 cups of frozen vegetables cooked in the microwave with some virginia ham crumbled in and more salsa... frozen dinners all seem to be incredibly high on sodium and low on taste so they're saved for dire emergencies.
For shelf-stable items
I like the tinned sardines that are just fish and olive oil, and Rye Krisp crackers.
There is a shelf-stable tofu. It's in the tetra-packs, although they might sell it in the refrigerated section.
Easy to find: no salt added veggies and beans.
For frozen, frozen fish filets can be cooked pretty quickly in the microwave from the frozen state, just give them a minute on each side and turn. You may need to repeat or reduce the time depending on how thick they are.
Frozen veggie mixes are handy.
Cheese and smoked salmon are high in salt. Most cheeses are high in saturated fat. Use them for flavor, not as the main protein.
tj's has some excellent smoked herring; two fat herrings in olive oil. Drained on good crackers with some carrot and celery sticks or a wedge of iceberg is a favorite hot-weather meal.
I also like to pick up cooked meats (lengua, pollo, etc) at the Mexicatessan along with uber-fresh corn tortillas for a quick put-together. I heat a tortilla in the toaster oven, sprinkle on some queso fresco, some meat and salsa and pop back in the toaster oven to warm up. easy peasy. 2 minutes max.
bagged baby greens (tj's albertson's) etc make a quick veg side.
Cottage cheese with fresh fruit like peaches and pears sprinkled with a spoonful of nuts makes a well-balanced meal if served over some of the baby greens. fast and very satisfying..
Low sodium chicken broth and the LS canned beans makes a good soup base. Whiz in a food processor, add chunked up raw veggies and nuke for 5 minutes. Serve with whole wheat bread or crackers.
ahh--poached egg on toast. pure comfort food.
whiz frozen or fresh broccoli in the blender, add some pre-grated cheese and equal parts chicken broth and milk. Nuke for 5 minutes. not sure anything so simple can count as cooking, but as Paula Poundstone says, "PopTarts?! Hell-llo-o-o-o, COOKing!"
**did you get your freezer yet?
In addition to (and in dupication of) some of the things that have been mentioned already, here are some healthier "processed items" I try to keep on hand that I am able to turn into something pretty quickly:
Whole wheat pasta
Ready made polenta (in a tube) similar to this http://www.chefswarehouse.com/Catalog/DisplayDetail.aspx?prd_id=BC700607
And when I'm really strapped for time: Uncle Ben's ready rice: http://www.unclebens.com/rice/ready-whole-grain-rice-whole-grain-brown.aspx
Whole wheat pita bread (I keep mine in the freezer and pop them in the toaster when I'm ready to use).
Frozen shrimp is easy; keeps in your freezer until you're ready to use it
Tofu--has a long storage life and is quick in stir fries, on the grill, etc. I'll find a link to a fantastic and easy tofu recipe EDIT: Here it is http://www.chowhound.com/topics/434103#3399907
Smoked salmon (or other fishes)--can be crumbled and put over salads, etc. Not sure how low-sodium it is, though. Same with high-quality tinned sardines etc.
Eggs (not really processed, but you could buy them already hard boiled, I guess, which technically counts).
Cheese (keeps a long time).
Walnuts, almonds, cashews (I keep mine in the freezer, but if you have small quantities, pantry is ok).
Fruits and vegetables to keep on hand:
Frozen vegetables of all varieties. Easy to grab a handful and throw into whatever
Frozen blueberries--easy to grab a handful and throw into whatever
Salad mix from your grocer's produce section
Other pantry items:
Cans of whole black beans (you can look for the low-sodium).
Cans of whole garbanzo beans
Salsa (read labels carefully).
Pasta sauce (read labels carefully).
Dried mushrooms (can be rehydrated in about a half hour or so--while you're prepping everything else).
Hijiki (similar to the dried mushrooms can be rehydrated in about a half hour or so--while you're prepping everything else).
Here's an old thread you might find helpful: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/351532
EDIT: also, to add additional interest to salads, etc. used sparingly marinated artichoke hearts, mushrooms, red bell peppers, etc. in a jar can be quick and easy. Again, you'd have to read the labels to see what it's marinated in to see if you agree it's "healthy."
EDIT: one more thing--frozen ravioli--again, depending on the ingredients. Read the label...
re: The Dairy Queen
I have 2 suggestions. tapas and Amy's soups. Amy's (in your organic section) has a good variety of canned soups that are low sodium and they are pretty tasty. I do sometimes add a little bit of salt to them with my own hand, but that doesn't even approach what would be put in if it were made that way at the manufacturer's level. As to "tapas," I think you should stop thinking of dinner as some one-dish thing you have to prepare or heat or cook. When I have no time or energy to cook, I just put together whatever I have in small amounts and call it "tapas dinner." I keep high quality canned tuna on hand for this and might chunk up half a can of it onto a plate, drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil and cracked pepper. Put some multi-grain crackers with it. Pull out some carrot sticks or celery and dip the celery into natural peanut butter in a little dip dish. Cut up a tomato and drizzle a little vinegar on it. Open a can of artichoke hearts and throw that in with the tomato and maybe a little feta cheese. I try to keep hard boiled eggs in the fridge too, those can be the protein if I don't want tuna. Cut up half a bell pepper and throw that on there. These unstructured dinners are often way better than anything I could buy and microwave.
re: The Dairy Queen
P.S. I hope these are the kinds of recommendations you were looking for...I realize that only a couple of my recommendations are "branded" items, but I figure the brand you prefer might depend on what's available in your area or your personal preferences...
I'm reminded of one more thing and that's frozen edamame--makes a great snack!
EDIT: also, I like those marinated "baked tofus" you can get in the fridge section of Whole Foods or co-ops. Very quick and versatile. Check the labels to make sure the sodium count isn't outside your preferred range as it varies widely by brand and flavor, as it does here http://www.quonghop.com/products/nutr...
Another "cheat" if you're cooking in a hurry are those packets of "True Lime" or "True Lemon" are good to have on hand to add to a dish if you don't have time to shop for and squeeze a lemon or a lime.
I like a lot of Amy's frozen dinners. I know some come in low sodium but haven't tried them. I particularly like the indian entrees, matter tofu, palek paneer, vegetable korma.
For quick bites, also, (hoping this doesn't count as cooking), I'll use low sodium boxed soups from Trader Joe's, creamy tomato, butternut squash, etc, add vegetables and their meatless meatballs. It's really filling and great when it's cold out. If you don't have a Trader Joes, I've seen the boxed soups in major supermarkets but they cost more and don't necessarily carry the low sodium version.
Not to be flippant, but buying good cheese, good bread, and good fruit, and then eating it all together, is the ultimate healthy, easy "processed" food meal.
You could also buy corn tortillas, shredded cheese, and tomatoes. Place corn tortillas on a griddle / in a pan. Slice tomatoes thin, arrange with cheese, add garlic powder and salt. Cook/bake until the tortilla is crisp. You're all set for a healthy processed foods meal.
Buying a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store also works.
So does going to a Trader Joe's near you and browsing the frozen foods isle.
Now that spring is on the way, what about individually freezing fish fillets or chicken breasts, and then doing them on the bbq? We marinate large batches of chicken breasts and then freeze them in packs of one or two, and take them out as needed. In the oven, its 20 minutes, but im sure on the bbq, it would be less.
Thanks for all the suggestions.....I especially appreciate rw's long post, thanks!! I'm not really looking for cooking tips; I can cook just fine...I'm looking for suggestions for those days when I just don't want to cook and don't want to go out. The bbq idea would be fine if I had a gas grill, but I don't: and starting coals and waiting for them to cook is not my idea of fast and easy.
I've been trying potatoes "baked" in the microwave and with various fillings..that works pretty well. Still looking for your favorite frozen and/or canned items that aren't ridiculously high in sodium and have no HFCS......
Try http://heateatreview.com They review mostly frozen foods, basically anything that can be heated and served. Every review includes the nutritional information and a picture of the cooked product. You can also browse the reviews by brand, rating, Weight Watchers points, and particular diets (vegan or gluten-free, for example).
What a great site. Thanks I love the description of Trader Joe's BBQ Shredded Chicken under the heading "Meat Purgatory" . Talking about the site photo ...
"It is meat mush, protein without texture, baby food with the slightest hint of tomato sauce ... isn’t even the actual shredded meat ... when I started this sorrowful journey ....a pale, quivering mass of shredded pink chicken flesh, held together by a taste-free barbecue sauce ...while I was heating this sorry excuse for barbecue on the stove, I tossed in a half cup of real barbecue sauce ... finding that the meat was more appropriate for people who’ve recently had surgery on a fractured jaw than regular well-toothed adults, I was compelled to snack on fresh sugar snap peas and hummus for the rest of the evening."
For people recommending Trader Joe's it is surprising to see how high sodium that stuff is. What is worse is they do those tricks with the nutritional info ... 2 servings for something most people would consider one. So a 450mg serving is really 900mg of sodium.
Nice tagging to find things by product, rating, special diet etc. Just wish they had a summary report feature.
You can get quick light charcoal that has lighter fluid in them. You can have the BBQ fired up and ready to go in less than 10 min.
I go with Amy's burritos when I am feeling lazy. I don't care too much for their pizza, but others seem to like it. It just not my type of thing, not having anything to do with the product.
Easy non-cooked food I go with cheese and crackers or make quacamole. I get a sack of 4 or 5 avacados and use 2 at a time to make it. Totally satisfying and not much to it.
About Amy's pizza, I've tried and disliked various varieties of the cheese pizza, but I like the cheeseless pizza quite a bit. It uses super soft carmelized onions as a "sauce" and is topped with artichoke hearts and bits of red pepper. It's not going to satisfy a pizza craving (no cheese, no sauce), and I tend of think of it more as a bruchetta kind of thing. As a mid-week meal with some bagged salad on the side it's pretty tasty, pretty healthy and so easy.
OK ... since you mention Albertson's (now Lucky in California ... with little change) ... During my grocery shopping this morning, I refreshed my memory of the quick stuff that I used to buy when slammed in the past with work and home responsibilities.
BTW, they have Romaine lettuce on sale for 79 cents this week which ... at least for my local store ... was quite impressive. Good taste ... not brown at the cut.
My favorite frozen thing was Lean Cuisine's salmon with basil ... Not the height of gourmet-ness but tasty enough and salmon is good for you. I'd stock up on sales.
While I was shopping today, Moosewood organic and Kashi's frozen meals caught my eye ... haven't tried them but the sodium content was about 300 whatever per dinner. I mean to try Organic Bistro dinners which have sodium numbers around 300. Organic Bistro wasn't at Albertson's though.
Healthy Choice isn't really.While they are slightly lower sodium-wise than regular dinners ... the sodium is still in the 500-900 range. I've never been inpressed with the canned or frozen line.
Amy's is pretty good sodium-wise but I haven't been crazy in love with the line frozen or canned. I guess you could doctor them up a bit.
Haven't tried Annie's line yet but the ingrediants look good and the sodium content is low.
Progresso low sodium and light soups not only have a decent ingrediant list but taste pretty good for a canned soup ...though these are pretty much my fall backs for being dead-sick with the flu. I like the barley the best.
For heaven's sake ... skip Wolfgang Puck's junk ... even organic ... the sodium content soars ... and with all that salt one would expect they taste better ... nope.
Because I've been getting 1/2 price deals at a local discount store, I've become a fan of Aidell's sausages. They heat up easy (blush ... I microwave) but if you have some sort of side ... good. The chile habenero is my favorite. There's a good simple recipe for making a chile out of them on the pack. The ginger mango breakfast sausages are quite excellent. I microwave and toss in a plain roll. The plain mango or apple are at the bottom of my list. The pesto or the artichoke are nice enough.
Ruth mentioned their new Char burgers which are also very good and and not sodium heavy. Whatever you do ... do NOT buy any of Aidell's meatballs ... I've tried them all and they all suck.
I'm not such a fan of Niman Ranch sausages so far.
You can pretty much rely on any of Paul Newman's products. I have yet to see HFCS in any of them and the ingrediants are good.
This is my REALLY lazy low-calorie dinner ... Italian green beans. I buy no sodium canned green beans and drain. Dump spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce or tomato paste on top ... doctoring with wine and dried herbs ... throw in the microwave for 4 minutes ... top with good grated cheese ... eat. A whole can of beans makes a very satisfying meal on the quick.
Again, Newman's has the least junk. Prego has an organic line, Other good lines that are labelled natural or organic ... Bertoli Rinaldi, Barilla, Classico ... but do keep in mind I add stuff to them.
As far as snacks ...
Planters peanuts has a good unsalted nut mix. Also you can buy packages of various nuts at markets like pecans, walnut halves, peanuts etc that are not salted.
This is obvious ... but dried fruit makes a good snack.
Also ... plain old popcorn. You can dress it with spices and toss with olive oil. I make up a big batch on the weekend ... put it in glass jars or plastic bags ... and have snacks all week when I want them.
Canned pineapple never has anything in it if you get the juice version.Dole sells little pineapple snack cups that are packed in juice. I also like canned fruit that is packed in juice. Mott's Healthy Harvest no sugar applesauces (like blueberry apple) really have no sugar just juice. Beware of Del Monte which puts artificial sweetners in the no sugar fruits.
junk food wise ... sort of'
There are some jarred salsas that seem to have a good ingrediant list that I've been meaning to try ... maybe someone else can comment
- Newman ... as mentioned
- Pace ... yep pace ... has come out with a fancy upscale line like tequila-lime. The organic line from pace doesn't have junk or a lot of sodium ...but it still looks like Pace ... I'd go with the fancy dancy top-of-the line Pace.
- Santa Barbara salsas look good ingrediant and sodium-wise
Out of curiosity, I asked on the General Board
You could pair those with tostadas. Albertson's/Lucky sells Tia Rosa which are ok taste-wise and good for sodium content
Haven't tried them but Tostitos came out with an organic line of corn chips where the sodium wasn't awful and the ingrediants good. They have blue corn chips ... aren't blue foods supposed to be good for you? Ok, I know I'm pushing that.
Doritos have 100 calorie packs.
Lucky's had Flat Earth baked fruit crisps that were real low on calories and salt that seemed interesting with flavors like berry or mango.
Cookies ... as mentioned the imported are better
- Walkers shortbread is a shining star ... if you don't mind butter ... but the ingrediant list is pretty much butter, flour,sugar. No preservatives ... excellent too.
- Lu cookies use real sugar. Love them all but the Le Petit Ecolier is my favorite .. tho skip the white chocolate version if they still make them.
- Newman's have reliable ingrediants and while they don't ring my chow bells like the junk version ... a fig Newman ain't bad.
- For a USA cookie ... while Stella D'Oro uses preservatives ... they use sugar and the calorie count ain't bad ... the breadsticks make a nice snack.
- Pepperidge Farm cookies use sugar ... some with corn syrup but not HFCS. PF also has 100 calorie cookie packs ... the chessman which are good. I like all the various company's 100 calorie packs. Sure ... occasionally I open more than one ... but I still eat less than if a whole regualar bag is opened.
- Yan Yan and Pocky sticks have sugar and are light on the calories ... and fun
- skip Mexican cookies ... I looked at the ingrediants of some of my favorites ... it ain't pretty
Crackers ... I usually get them around the holidays so look for the better options
- Milton's ... they have flavored versions ... the roasted garlic is nice. Not much junk
- Carr's water crackers are a good choice. They came out with a rosemary version that is good.
- Rye crisp is still out there ... but to me they are too healthy.
I usually buy plain an mix in stuff like organic jelly or fresh fruit. Dannon has some sort of new 'natural' yogurt ... plain that is ok ... but only the whole milk version ... so there you go.
- Hershey's single origin dark chocolate and Lindt's are not bad for what they are. A little square at night ... good. They are one dimensional but pleasant with no junk. Beware though ... both companies sell what look like fancy chocolate bars ... but they have junk in them ... especially the milk chocolate line. Stick with the dark chocolates that are 65, 70 or over chocolate.
This is sort of 'cooking' but one of my favorite snacks has been making 'jell-o' out of fruit juice. Two cups 100 percent juice, one packet of gelatin ... Sprinkle one cup with gelatin ... bring the other to a boil ...mix ...add fruit if desired ... put in little cups in the fridge. Five minutes work ... literally ... will stay fresh in the fridge for a week. Albertsons has boxes of orange-tangerine juice which is excellent for this purpose. Each box is a cup.
Sheer lazy chowhound trash dishes when I'm just exhausted but not real, real ... real bad
- Michalena's lean line of frozen stuff
- Country Crock stuff like the mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. all the other refridgerated rather than frozen stuff like Hormel ... just too much sodium.
Then again ... I'll eat any mashed potato ... even the cups that you add water too ... so in that genre ... Country Crock is ok.
I think it's easier to prepare something at home that is simple and you can control the sodium and fat, rather than buying prepared food. I go to Whole Foods and buy chicken breasts and freeze them individually. An easy nutrisous one pan meal for me is a chicken breast pan cooked in a little olive oil, italian parsely, lemon, alt and pepper, when it's just about finished, I throw in some cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, or some broccoli, or pea pods, whatever i have handy. I eat this with some Fage 0% yogurt on the side. Sometimes I'll buy a few sea scallops for a treat instead of the chicken, but basically the same set up. Fast, easy, low fat and delicious.
Kashi entrees have gotten some good reviews here and elsewhere, although I haven't personally tried them (and I haven't looked at their nutritional info). The Moosewood frozen products have caught my eye a couple of times at WF, but I never brought myself to buy them. Same with other ready-made products (e.g., Amy's, etc.) for the exact same reasons you mention, I guess: too many ingredients, too many unknown variables, too much salt.
I try to stay away from frozen meals, although I can certainly relate to an incredibly hectic schedule and the limited time one can devote to cooking. In our case, it's typically a compromise: getting the ingredients from a can/bottle, and mixing them on the spot with some fresh add-ons. Not terribly original, but do-able given the circumstances.
Janet, would it be possible to prepare some great foods from scratch during the weekend and then enjoy them during the work-week? If you roast a very large chicken for Sunday dinner, you would have the roast chicken to enjoy in a variety of healthy ways during the week and you'd have the carcass to make your own healthy soup or stock from.
I believe she asked that we not suggest cooking ahead...
Even Healthy Choice and organic frozen foods from the grocery tend to have large amounts of sodium. I have had some luck with Trader Joe's prepared foods. Just be sure to skip the frozen veggies which have sauce. The 'sauce' is actually frozen rounds of butter and salt that invariably tastes nasty.
heh, I had to re-read the OP twice to see that in her last paragraph...sorry everyone! But, okay...my son is on a low-sodium diet...I've been going to a variety of low-sodium websites and this one is run by a medical doctor; he reviews convenience foods and rates them, so for what it's worth, you might peruse his list of foods, link below.
Here's one more website that lists "angels/devils" as far as nutritious frozen foods that might also be helpful to Janet:
If your supermarket has an in-store bakery, you could check there for cookies, breads and other products. It's possible that they won't have corn syrup and you can buy what you need for a couple of days or freeze things.
Packaged baked goods use corn syrup, and now often HFCS, to extend shelf life because it prevents crystallization and retains moisture so the products maintain quality. That's why bakery cookies get stale after a few days and Chips Ahoy last 6 months on the shelf.
There is a difference between plain corn syrup and HFCS. Many fine bakeries use corn syrup or similar products for good reasons, including as I said above - avoiding crystallization and moisture retention - so you should look at it on a case-by-case basis.
I totally agree with you however that it has no place whatsoever in about 80% of the places where it is is lurking. Salad dressings, soups and meats? Gimme a break?
My standby meals in your situation were often eggs, eggs and more eggs. I loved eggs on top of asparagus. Eggs on top of pasta. Omelets. Scrambled eggs.
Good frozen veggies are frozen without salt in bags and I can heat as much or little as I want.. I roast a chicken and have several days of meals (and lunches to carry to work) from it - plus stock from the bones, with no extra sodium.
Individually frozen fish filets defrost in minutes under water and cook in minutes.
If you want to avoid additives you object to, you'll have to do some work. Most stuff is put into food to maintain quality or to extend shelf life. Without them, most people would open the packages and find the products unappealing and not very tasty. Sad to say, a lot of people won't even think to add salt before saying something tastes flat. They want it OK right out of the package so manufacturers make it to the general market.
<< If your supermarket has an in-store bakery, you could check there for cookies, breads and other products. >>
I used to think that the products baked in-store would be better for you than the packaged stuff, but if you look at the labels, you can see they are not. Actually, what I have found is that many of the in-store bakery bake the products only, they are not made in-house.
Depends in the in-store bakery. Most of them do use par-baked products so that there is consistency from store to store. Can you imagine the nightmare of teaching every new employee how to scratch bake every cake and bread they offer? Yikes!!!
But the quality of the in-store bakery products offered by some stores/chains is still better than many or even most mass market products that have to last weeks or months on store shelves.
Read the labels. They usually have far fewer stabilizers and preservatives since they don't have to keep for so long.
One regional chain here has in-store bread that has almost nothing in it but the basics and they're all organic. You have to find the right store and the right bread.
Yup. Read the labels. I have to say, though, that when I did, I was surprised how many house-baked goods did have HFCS.
Just a reminder: as far as I know, there is no organic HFCS (the whole point of HFCS is that it's a way to use excess cheap corn -- which may become a thing of the past). So any organic product will be HFCS-free.
Like MakingSense, I have just keep the staples for a 10-minute meal on hand. Sausages (there are so many good/interesting ones these days), pasta, potatoes I can cook fast in the microwave, good quality frozen veggies (from TJ's), a bunch of jars of sauces/condiments in the fridge, etc.
Actually, Janet, since I know there are Trader Joe's in Vegas, that's where I'd start. Their convenience products are generally higher quality with fewer additives than the average supermarket, and in fact they just came out with some lower sodium soups (in the one-quart tetrapak) -- I think because many customers (including me) requested them.