Happy New Year! Let me get all my clichés out of the way: “How is it 2015 already?!”, “I can’t believe how fast 2014 flew by!”, and “THIS is the year I’m gonna stick to my resolutions!” I’m clearly kidding about the last one; I stopped making resolutions years ago…that ship has sailed. But even though I passed by Resolution Road miles ago, many of us are still clutching our one-way tickets with all the strength we have. There’s nothing wrong with setting nutrition goals for yourself; it’s a great way to stay invested in your health and wellness. But as soon as the soreness wears off from our first workout in 365 days, we quickly realize, “Oh right, I have a busy life.” And just as soon as you’ve made the resolutions, they are thrown out the window because a busy lifestyle gets in the way. So let me step in. I have some tricks up my sleeve to help you out with your nutrition goals. And they all involve…wait for it…shortcuts to making healthy meals. I’ll hold for your applause.
Thank you, thank you you’re so kind, I really didn’t expect a standing ovation…except that I DID. These convenient shortcuts will save you time in the kitchen, so I may as well be handing out gold. If you spend some quality time in the grocery store, you’ll discover there are a ton of whole foods that are packaged for quick preparation and cooking. Here is a rundown of some of my favorites:
- Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice
Forget having to pour uncooked rice into a measuring cup (inevitably at least 17% of it goes flying all over the floor), adding the appropriate amount of water, and cooking on the stove for 20 minutes. Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice is 2 cups of rice conveniently packaged and ready to eat in just 90 seconds in the microwave. This rice comes in many flavors, but I tend to prefer the Whole Grain Brown. Brown rice is a great way to add to your daily intake of whole grain foods, and naturally contains fiber, B vitamins, and iron. Even though this rice comes in other tempting flavors such as Long Grain & Wild, Red Beans & Rice, and Teriyaki Style; be careful of the sodium content. The Whole Grain Brown variety contains 15 milligrams of sodium per cup, while the Teriyaki flavor contains 870 milligrams per cup. Increased sodium intake can lead to dehydration and disrupted electrolyte balance, as well as high blood pressure over time. But as long as you keep the sodium content in check, this rice definitely gets an A+ from me!
- Bumble Bee SuperFresh
You probably know Bumble Bee from such classics as “tuna in a can”, but it turns out they have some stock in the frozen foods business as well! Bumble Bee SuperFresh is a line of frozen fish, and the convenience can’t be beat. Check it out: in one package, you get two fish filets that are individually vacuum-sealed. Simply remove the fish from the plastic, place each in the parchment envelope (included), and bake at 400° F for 20 minutes. Voila—no preparation required for a flaky piece of fish that has already been pre-seasoned for you. Try their Tilapia with Garlic & Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or Salmon with Garlicky Black Pepper & Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Lemon Shrimp with Garlic & Herbs. Each fish variety contains all-natural ingredients, and is high in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and important minerals.
- Express Bake PotatOH!
This handy trick is the perfect solution for all the times you wanted to cook a baked potato but stopped in your tracks at the thought of it taking an hour to bake in the oven. Here you have an individually-wrapped, pre-washed potato that you place in the microwave (plastic wrapping still on) and get a hot, fully-cooked baked potato in 7-8 minutes. There’s even a sweet potato variety as well if you’re feeling colorful. Use this shortcut as a side for your dinner, or load it up with fun toppers like low-fat sour cream, reduced-fat cheese, veggies, or chili for a quick lunch.
- Green Giant Steamers
I will say this now, and will say it over and over again: frozen veggies are your BEST FRIEND. Frozen veggies are there for you, always waiting patiently in the freezer, whenever you need them. They’re ready quickly, with just a flash in the microwave. And they won’t turn on you and suddenly go bad…like so many fresh vegetables that have come and gone in your refrigerator. Frozen veggies have exactly the same nutrients as fresh veggies, and the fact they can be steamed right in their package is a major bonus. If you’re choosing Green Giant, try something straightforward like Broccoli Cuts or Green Beans & Almonds. If you’re looking for extra flavor, go for blends like Healthy Vision (carrots, zucchini, green beans) or Healthy Heart (carrots, snap peas, barley). Just like I mentioned with the Ready Rice, watch out for sodium if the veggie blends come in a sauce. But when veggies are this easy, you’ll never cancel a lunch date with them again.
- Campbell’s Skillet Sauces
Whenever I think of Campbell’s, I immediately think of two things: chicken noodle and sodium. So when I discovered this line of Skillet Sauces, I was skeptical. But I came (to the international aisle at the grocery store), I saw (340 milligrams sodium per serving, which really is not bad), and I conquered (made the Chicken Marsala and it was serious hit). The Skillet Sauces are made from all-natural ingredients, and the cooking instructions couldn’t be easier. Just heat a little bit of oil in a frying pan, sauté 1 pound of chicken until browned and cooked through, and add the skillet sauce to simmer for 5 minutes. No measuring ingredients, no dirtying multiple dishes, and no messy clean-up. I even made chicken Marsala from scratch on a different night, and the taste was surprisingly similar—in a good way. Plus, the from-scratch recipe called for 4 tablespoons of oil and 4 tablespoons of butter, plus breadcrumbs to coat the chicken. So the nutrition content might actually be better for the Campbell’s version. Who would have thunk.
I agree that it’s difficult to cook a fresh and healthy dinner after a long work day and busy family schedule. But these time-saving shortcuts could very possibly change your life. I realize that’s a grandiose statement, but I’m not exaggerating. The nutritious choice can also be the easy choice by taking advantage of these handy products. So if you went for it and made the resolution to improve your diet in 2015, start off on the right foot by making a trip to the grocery store first before the gym. It’s going to be packed anyway.