Inside Scoop: There is such thing as healthy packaged foods. Here’s a list of our top favourite processed meals. 

If you want to eat clean, you know what you shouldn’t do…

You shouldn’t eat processed and packaged food. You shouldn’t eat white sugar, and you definitely shouldn’t eat mass produced meat.

You’re supposed to prep everything in advance and avoid the grocery store at all costs; you may as well go out and get a couple of chickens and learn to build a coop. Please, whatever you do DON’T feed your chicken GMO feed and don’t forget to use their ‘waste’ as fertilizer for your organic vegetable garden. Also, make sure you ONLY eat food within 100 km of your house, and that your yoga mat is made from wild harvested bamboo. Oh, did you see that new DIY article on how to extract salt from your tears?

Okay, we actually have NO issue with anything above (as a matter of fact we aspire to live this way- minus the salt and tears part), but something’s happened over the past of couple years that’s created a cloud of guilt around the whole ‘clean eating’ movement.

 

We’re going to give it to you straight, this isn’t a don’t do that because it’s bad for you kind of post. This is a let’s get HONEST for a second and come up with realistic solutions kind of post.

What is your life like? Are you busy? Starting a new career? A mom with picky kids?

IS YOUR TIME SACRED?

We might be nutritionists, but we definitely understand the reality that is a busy life.

Let’s just tell you now that a sanctuary where you can zen out on your wild bamboo harvested yoga mat drinking kombucha and marinating tempeh all day is not how most lives work. They are nice ideas, and we can dream, but realistically, most lives look something like this:

  • Project after project, oh wait have I even eaten today?
  • Running out the door on your way to work, oh wait… have I eaten this morning?
  • Finish work, pooched…. Do I really have to cook dinner?
  • Order in/ quick meals/ give me something delicious and fast

We get it. Because we blog about food and literally work in our kitchens, we have time to cook, but often enough our time spreads thin and when it comes down to actually cooking for ourselves, we need fast, quick and convenient as well.

Health is a priority, yes, but it’s also not linear, and you don’t HAVE to cook everything from scratch at all times. Savouring your evenings rather than spending 1.5 hours cooking an elaborate meal, we gotchya. That’s why we’ve put together this roundup of 10 Nutritionist Approved Healthy Packaged Foods.

So, if you’re taking a day off meal prepping or cooking, but still want to eat healthy and need something that’s maybe frozen, easy to prep, awesome and delicious then keep reading because this article is just for you.

Our 10 favourite healthy packaged foods for your hectic schedule

 

1) PASTA SAUCE

Pasta can be one of the easiest meals and no wonder people stock their pantries with Kraft Dinner or Sidekicks. Pasta is such a simple dish: cook noodles, pour sauce, voila! But, a lot of boxed pastas and common pasta sauces are loaded with artificial ingredients. That being said, there are some pretty amazing jarred sauces out there that are made with simple ingredients, no added sugars and make your dinners as easy as 1, 2, 3. We like to keep minced veggies handy to give the sauce a much nicer nutritional profile.

What to look for
  • Made with fresh tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • No added flavours
What to avoid
  • Added sugar, high fructose corn syrup
  • Hydrogenated oils, soybean oil
  • From concentrate/tomato puree

Ingredient list example: Tomatoes, roasted red bell peppers/red bell peppers, onions, carrots, extra virgin olive oil, fresh/roasted garlic, sea salt, citric acid-you may find it in some sauces and it’s ok.

 

OUR TOP CHOICE: Cucina Antica Gourmet Pasta Sauce

2) FROZEN VEGGIE STIR-FRY BLENDS

A little bit of stir-fried veggies with a side of brown rice can make for a healthy dinner that is easy to prepare and tastes delicious. But, if you are really crunched for time and want to get mowing down, then a prepackaged stir-fry blend with veggies gets the ball rolling pretty quick (the less prep the better, that’s for sure!). We like to cook our stir-fry with tamari, coconut sugar, ginger and garlic- a quick and simple sauce.

What to look for
  • Whole or cut veggies
  • Organic
  • Any sauce package involved on the side
What to avoid
  • Additives and preservatives: e.g. xanthan gum, modified corn starch, gelatin
  • Soybean oil, palm oil
  • Artificial flavours and colours
  • Added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin

Ingredient list example: Cut green beans, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, bean sprouts, diced onions.

 

OUR TOP CHOICE: Mr. Spice Organic Sauce & Marinade

3) PRE-PACKED QUINOA OR RICE MIXES

These are a rather new concept and similar to microwave flavoured rice, except on the healthier side. However, some still contain artificial flavours and preservatives so be careful what you are grabbing and don’t let the fancy packaging do the selling. We like to cook these quinoa dishes and add them as salad toppers. They give your salad a little bit more sustenance and flavour.

What to look for
  • Organic
  • Blends with other whole grains (i.e. barley, quinoa, amaranth blend)
  • Dried or frozen vegetables and whole spices and herbs
What to avoid
  • Additives, flavours, preservatives and added sugar: e.g. soy lecithin, corn maltodextrin, dextrose, modified corn starch, yeast extracts
  • Check the sodium content per serving as these blends tend to be high in sodium
  • Canola oil, soybean oil
  • Spice or herbs without specifications *as this label can be deceiving and often can hide artificial flavours and MSG under this title

Ingredient list example: Chopped kale, butternut squash, quinoa or rice, sea salt, olive oil.

 

OUR TOP CHOICE: Keen One Thai Curry Quinoa

4) VEGAN DESSERTS

Because, no one said you have to give up ALL sugar, forever! Every once in a while, it’s nice to have a cookie or a scoop of ice cream, keeping in mind emotional eating and overindulging. This is supposed to be a way of life, and no one wants to live life without a scoop of ice cream on a hot summer day. There are some pretty awesome brands out there that have done incredible things with their dairy and gluten free options.

What to look for
  • Organic
  • Only one type of sweetener
What to avoid
  • Sugar (the white refined stuff) or high fructose corn syrup
  • Hydrogenated oil, soy bean oil
  • Soy lecithin

Ingredient list example: Coconut milk (coconut, water, guar gum), agave syrup, fair trade cocoa, vanilla extract.

 

OUR TOP CHOICE: Endangered Species Chocolate

5) CHIPS, NACHO CHIPS & HEALTHY DIPS

Healthier chip options are out there and they pair perfectly with high protein and healthy fat dips like hummus or guacamole, or even a fresh and crisp pico de gallo or fruit salsa on a hot summer day. Traditional chips and dips are often cooked with vegetable oils at high heat and have a lot of preservatives, emulsifiers and modified milk ingredients. Lately, brands have been going out of their way to perfect this treat in the healthiest way possible.

What to look for
  • Bean or lentil chips
  • Organic corn
  • Cold-pressed oils or saturated oils such as coconut oil or avocado oil
What to avoid
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • MSG
  • Sweeteners: sugar, maltodextrin, dextrose
  • Artificial flavours and colours
  • Too many ingredients

Ingredient list example: Stone ground whole corn, sunflower oil, sweet potato, sprouted seed and grain blend (sprouted quinoa, sprouted chia seed), sea salt. OR… Whole black beans, sunflower oil, long grain rice, sea salt.

 

OUR TOP CHOICE: Way Better Sprouted Blue Corn Tortilla Chips

 

6) SOUPS MAKE A GREAT HEALTHY MEAL OPTION

When you purchase a pre-made soup, the effort you have to put into cooking it is minimal. Even making your own can be easy as pie, especially if you are using a slow cooker. The unfortunate part about souping is what’s happened to canned soups since the 50’s. They contain more additives, preservatives, sodium and sugar than ever, and yet advertising agencies have found some creative ways to convince you to buy their soup in promises of healthier eating… not to name names. There are dodgy brands out there, and great brands out there, it’s just a matter of knowing what to look for.

What to look for:
  • Vegetarian
  • Organic
  • High protein, high fiber
  • Legumes, beans, pulses
  • BPA free lining
What to avoid
  • Hydrogenated oils, vegetable oils (corn/canola/soybean)
  • White flour
  • Additives, preservatives, artificial flavours and colours, modified ingredients
  • Modified milk ingredients
  • MSG
  • Sweetens: sugar, glucose, high fructose corn syrup
  • Suggestive advertising with words like “healthier” and “natural”

Ingredient list example: filtered water, green split peas, onions, celery, carrots, sea salt, basil, garlic, spices (100% pure herbs and spices (does not contain additives), black pepper.

OUR TOP CHOICE: Amy’s Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup

 

If you’re digging this list of ‘Healthy Packaged Food’ so far, snag your full ‘Naughty Nutrition Approved Packaged Food Brands’ list here:

 

7) PRE-MADE SALADS ARE GREAT FOR GRAB-AND-GO MEALS AND ARE OFTEN READILY AVAILABLE

They’re usually made fresh and can be filled with delicious ingredients. When nutritionists are on-the-go, pre-made salads are one of our favourite healthy meal choices. Knowing what to look for and what to avoid is key to optimizing this healthy meal.

What to look for
  • Dark leafy green blends such as kale, spring mix, arugula
  • Cheese such as goat or feta
  • Vinaigrette dressings (olive oil, balsamic/lemon)
What to avoid
  • Cream based dressings such as Caesar or ranch
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Bacon or cheddar/cream cheeses

 

8) ASSEMBLED BAKING MIXTURES SUCH AS MUFFINS OR PANCAKES

Most of these mixes aren’t the best for you, like pretty much the entire aisle that is dedicated to pre-assemble baking mixtures are this way. But, if you sneak into the health food aisles of your local grocer you will find some healthy brands. A lot of these healthier versions contain whole grains or gluten free grains and take your baking to another level.

What to look for
  • Organic
  • Whole grain flours such as buckwheat, oat, rye or spelt
  • Gluten free flours such as oat, almond, coconut flours
  • Aluminum free baking soda
  • Real fruit
What to avoid
  • White flour
  • Several types of sugar and refined white sugar, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup
  • Soybean oil, modified palm kernel oil, canola oil
  • Artificial flavours and colors
  • Sodium aluminum phosphate (in baking soda)
  • Unnecessary additives, preservatives and emulsifiers: e.g. sodium acid pyrophosphate, modified corn starch, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, emulsifiers like propylene glycol mono fatty acid esters (which can include animal fats), monoglycerides, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate

Ingredient list example: whole fresh stone ground spelt, kamut, and oat kernels; dried cane juice, non-gmo baking powder, baking soda, sea salt.

 

OUR TOP CHOICE: Bob’s Redmill Pancake & waffle Mix

9) WILD CANNED FISH

It’s ultra-versatile, high protein, a healthier ‘meat’ alternative and can be very high in anti-inflammatory fats such as Omega 3s. Making fish cakes, having canned fish with crackers or even adding as a salad topper is a great way to get fish into your diet without having to cook it, and there are some companies that ensure wild, sustainably caught seafood.

What to look for
  • Sustainably caught wild pink and sockeye salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies.
  • Simple varieties in water or olive oil with only added sea salt.
  • If opting for flavours, additives may include: sea salt, black pepper, olive oil, tomatoes, oregano, garlic, lemon.
What to avoid
  • Tuna (although it’s very high in omega 3s, do not have tuna more than once per week. Completely avoid for kids and if you are pregnant/breastfeeding due to the high mercury content)
  • Fish mixes with additional flavours (most commercial ones would have many additives)
  • Spices without name specifications, MSG
  • Sugar, maltodextrin
  • Soybean and canola oil
  • Unnecessary additives, preservatives, artificial colours and flavours such as disodium pyrophosphate, modified starch, disodium 5′-ribonucleotides

 

OUR TOP CHOICE: Raincoast Wild Salmon

10) SOME BRANDS OF PRE-PACKAGED MEALS/ FROZEN DINNERS

This may be a worst-case scenario type thing and we definitely don’t recommend living off food found in the freezer section of your grocery store. BUT, in some cases you can find healthy and tasty meals that don’t leave you feeling like you just doused your insides with artificial foods. From vegan burritos and burgers to curries and even pizzas, there are some pretty d-lish freezer meals that can take you literal minutes to heat up and serve.

What to look for
  • Organic
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
What to avoid
  • Additives, preservatives, modified ingredients, hydrogenated oils
  • Artificial colours and flavours
  • High fructose corn syrup, glucose
  • Deli meats
  • Extra-long list of ingredients that you don’t recognize

Ingredient list example: basmati rice (brown), onions, peas, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, filtered water, paneer (milk, citric acid, calcium chloride), expeller pressed safflower oil, spices, carrots, sea salt, garlic, corn starch, turmeric, paprika.

OUR TOP CHOICE: Amy’s Organic Burrito

There you have it, our hands down healthy packaged foods (and most are processed, yes) that never fail us for when we’re busy and want something quick and healthy.

Obviously, prepping and cooking from scratch is always the best option when it comes to food, but as you know, it’s just not always so simple. And remember, reading the ingredient list and becoming familiar with labels is the best way to know what you are getting, and when in doubt, google!

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