Boxed food gets a bad name. But maybe they shouldn’t. Of course, many boxed foods are pumped with additives, preservatives and sodium. But some nutritional gems. Really. Just ask the dietitians. “I’m a big fan of stocking my kitchen with minimally processed boxed foods to prepare easy, nutritious meals,” says EA Stewart, MBA, RDN, an integrative dietitian nutritionist in Del Mar, California. “Also, they have a long shelf life which helps reduce food waste.”
Which one deserves a place in your kitchen? From the produce section to the freezer aisle, here are the healthy boxed foods nutritionists turn to when they need to get in and out of the kitchen quickly.
Beats (in a box!) “Beets contain nutrients like folate and vitamins A and K, as well as dietary nitrates, which can help lower blood pressure and improve exercise performance,” says Stewart. “But they’re messy to cook!”
Enter boxed beets. You can find them in the produce aisle. These convenient, tender vegetables are pre-cooked sous-vide style, so they taste like you made them from scratch. They are then vacuum-packed for freshness and flavor and neatly packed in a protective cardboard box. They are a delicious and colorful addition to salads, hummus and smoothies.
Lentil pasta. If you’re one of the 69 percent of people trying to eat more plant protein, lentil pasta can help. Each 3-ounce serving provides 21 grams of protein (chickpea pasta is a close second with 17 grams). Because it’s made from lemon, lentil pasta also boasts 9 grams of digestion-friendly fiber per serving.
This is not the only reason for love. According to a recent study, lentil and bean pastas have a low glycemic index, so they won’t spike your blood sugar like traditional pastas.
Whole grain frozen waffles. “I grew up eating frozen waffles for breakfast, and I still love them,” says Sarah Haas, RDN, LDN, a Chicago-based culinary nutritionist and food photographer. “Today, I’ve come up with whole grain varieties that make a great blank canvas for satisfying, tasty and nutritious toppings.”
Try them with peanut or almond butter and a banana or a handful of berries. Or get savory and sub them for toast on a fried egg sandwich.
Chicken bone broth. “I like to make homemade stock after cooking a whole chicken, but I keep a few cartons of organic chicken bone broth on hand for convenience,” says Rachel Mallick, MA, RDN, owner of The Food Therapist, a virtual nutrition counseling practice. Reproductive health. “It has a nice richness and significantly more protein than regular boxed broth or stock. So, it’s a great way to add extra nutrients to soups, gravies, sauces and cooked grains like quinoa or farro.”
Just one cup provides 9 grams of protein – more than milk! Look for brands that contain less than 5 percent of the daily value for sodium.
Whole grain and seed crackers. According to the USDA, snacks provide a quarter of our calories. Why not make the most of your crunchy whole grain and seed crackers? Their fiber-rich whole grains can help you meet your daily quota of 3 to 5 servings of whole grains. Plus, their seeds provide an extra protein boost.
Look for brands with at least 2 grams of fiber, no more than 200 milligrams of sodium and 0 added sugars, advises Haas.
Frozen turkey burgers. If you’ve ever waited in the refrigerator for a chicken breast to defrost, you know that frozen poultry isn’t exactly quick—unless you’ve got a frozen turkey burger on hand. These patties can go straight from the freezer to the pan, so they’re great for busy weeknights (just be sure to cook them to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F). “Look for patties made from just ground turkey with no additives,” says Mallick. “I like the ones that are 93 percent lean because they’re high in protein but low in saturated fat and sodium without being too dry.”
Frozen brown rice. “I’ll admit it, I fail to cook rice,” says Stewart. That’s why she always keeps a box of pre-cooked brown rice in her freezer. “It has a perfect texture and consistency and works beautifully with chicken or vegetable stir-fry, or even with chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon and milk for a quick, healthy breakfast,” she says. Plus, it only takes 3 minutes to whip up in the microwave—a fraction of the 45 minutes you’d spend waiting for a pot to boil on the stove!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, changing your sleeping habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.