For anyone juggling a busy schedule, finding the time and energy to prepare meals from scratch can be near impossible. That's where we come in.
It's nice to have a few options in your back pocket (or more specifically, freezer or pantry) for busy days when you need a fast but healthy meal option the whole family will enjoy. We asked nutritionists to share the packaged foods they turn to for a quick, filling bite.
From frozen meat(less) balls and power bowls to salsa verde seafood and cauliflower pizzas, read on as they share some of their favorite foods and fixings for whipping up dishes in a flash.
Sameera Khan, RD, obesity expert and founder of LowKcalgal, liked these wraps from NewGemFoods as an alternative to typical wraps and tortillas. “They have only 25 calories, 5 grams of carbs and 35 milligrams of sodium ... and come in a variety of flavors, including mango chipotle, tomato, carrot and even kale-apple,” Khan explained. “Fill one up with tomatoes, baby greens, mozzarella and basil pesto to create a wholesome caprese salad wrap.” According to the brand, each wrap represents one serving of fruits and vegetables to boot.
When she’s looking for a low-carb or keto-friendly bread substitute, Khan said she relies on Plantpower. “These convenient thins are made out of fresh cauliflower, eggs and parmesan cheese, and contain only 50 calories per serving," said Khan. "Use them for sandwiches (I love a hearty grilled cheese for fall), mini flatbreads or as a complement to your favorite entrees. They also prove the perfect foundation for a heart-healthy avocado toast in the morning."
Void of fillers or additives, Khan suggested Evol's all-natural meals as a great option when you’re looking for simple ingredients and don’t have a lot of time to prepare. “The Butternut Squash & Sage Ravioli is my favorite," Khan explained. "The plump and sweet ravioli, immersed in a flavorful sage and roasted garlic sauce, is a rarity in frozen foods. Three minutes in the microwave and you have a rich, high-protein (13 grams) dish.” Each meal is also served in an eco-friendly compostable bowl.
"Especially ideal for vegetarians, Gardein offers plant-based protein meatless meatballs that are flavorful and super convenient to make — they heat up in 15 seconds! For three, you’re looking at only 160 calories and a whopping 17 grams of protein,” said Khan. One of her favorite meals includes a healthier version of spaghetti and meatballs — just add zucchini noodles and a jar of marinara sauce.
When it comes to jarred sauces, Megan Rigby, a certified nutritionist and founder of Macro MINI, considered this one from Rao's to be a pantry must-have. "With eight basic ingredients, this sauce packs a healthy dose of fats from olive oil (8 grams) and contains only natural sugar (3 grams) from the whole peeled tomatoes," Rigby said. "Whip up a bolognese sauce by adding grass-fed bison or beef. An outside-the-box pick for dinner is a low-carb, beanless bison chili with Rao’s being the star of the dish.”
Curb your pizza cravings sans guilt thanks to Cali'flour Foods. “Cali'flour Foods crusts use real ingredients that are simple and fresh! The plain crust is made of just cauliflower (rich in fiber and B-vitamins), eggs, cheese and spices — that's it," said certified nutrition expert Jayne Williams. "They are gluten and grain-free, packed with protein, contain less than 300 calories and 10 net carbs for an entire crust.” There are plenty of flavor options, including Italian, red pepper and spicy jalapeño.
Kelli McGrane, RD for Lose It!, loved grain bowls because they make use of leftovers and what’s in the cabinet. “These blends from Birds Eye are a good option for those wanting a grain bowl-like meal without all the prep time. Most options have less than 400 calories and around 20 grams of filling protein. Just make sure to pick one that has around 500 milligrams of sodium or less," McGrane advised. Her top picks include California style and Asian style.
Gabby Geerts, RD at Green Chef, recommended trout as a source of crucial omega-3s and lean protein. "Consuming fish/seafood regularly is recommended for weight control and improving blood lipid profiles. Low in calories, carbs and sodium, this flavorful meal defies all frozen food stigmas and is ready in about 20 minutes," she said. "The parchment paper and sauce tray are even compostable!"
This paleo and Whole 30-compliant meatloaf from Grandcestors is made with grass-fed beef and non-GMO produce. "A list of simple ingredients and well-balanced macronutrients makes this a satisfying, guilt-free microwavable meal," said Geerts. "It’s great at the office or when in a real bind, taking less than 10 minutes to prepare."
Geerts said she looks to these organic frozen sweet potato fries from Alexia as an easy way to add a vegetable to meals. "Sweet potatoes are good sources of fiber, iron, calcium and beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor, making them more nutritionally complex than a russet potato. Introduce them to kids in a familiar French fry form," Geerts suggested.
Serena Poon, a celebrity chef and nutritionist, said Siete Family Foods’ gluten-free, grain-free and vegan tortillas have become a lifesaver when working with clients who have dietary restrictions. “My absolute favorite is their Cassava & Chia flour blend because there is just enough pliability in their recipe that the tortilla doesn't become too stiff when heated," Poon explained. "They're perfect for tacos, mini burritos and a quick healthy quesadilla."
McGrane appreciated how these chicken breast portions from NatureRaised Farms are free of antibiotics and, unlike some frozen meats, aren't injected with high amounts of sodium. "They're individually wrapped for easy thawing and portion control," McGrane said. "Toss them (along with some vegetables) with avocado oil, chili powder and cumin and roast them in the oven to make easy sheet pan fajitas."
If you're really strapped for time, McGrane said Mountain House's Simple Sensation Bowls are an easy way to achieve a balanced meal, thanks to lean chicken, fiber-rich black beans, brown rice and vegetables. "With only 280 calories per bowl, you can also add half a small avocado on top for an extra 120 calories to provide healthy fats and a creamy texture."
Switch things up on busy days by having breakfast for dinner! "Van’s offers 5 grams of fiber, only 4 grams of sugar and just 170 calories for two waffles," said Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of "Read It Before You Eat It." "Pair them with a heaping scoop of cottage or ricotta cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon or a smear of almond butter topped with a sliced banana and/or berries."
Robert Ferguson, a celebrity nutritionist and Stayhealthy ambassador, said ramen noodles can come in handy when looking for a balanced, budget-friendly meal — with a few moderations. "Toss the enclosed flavor packet to cut back on the sodium and opt for herbs and spices to add flavor," Ferguson recommended. "To keep your blood glucose from spiking too high, I also recommend adding a protein source like egg, chicken, turkey or tofu, as well as low-cost vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots or broccoli. To the surprise of many, this meal provides a respectable balance of vitamins and minerals, along with an adequate intake of protein and carbohydrates. While low in fat, it's also really tasty."
For more stories like this, check out:
- 19 healthy frozen meals for busy people
- These are the trendiest new healthy food items in 2019
- 27 healthy and easy-to-pack snacks to take on-the-go