Top 10 healthy convenience foods to try
Looking for a healthy snack but short on time? Discover some versatile ingredients to use in speedy meals like chickpeas, lentils, pesto and more.
In today’s fast-paced world, it can be hard to eat healthily or pull together a balanced meal when strapped for time. The good news is there are some great supermarkets buys that are convenient but still offer health benefits to your meals. Below we have outlined our top 10 buys to add to your shopping list.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides and read more about healthy fast food. Learn how to cut back on sugar and lower cholesterol. You can also check out some of our easy healthy recipes from snacks to desserts.
10 healthy convenience foods
Whether they are tinned, in a jar or a carton, chickpeas are a wonderfully versatile staple to have in the cupboard. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) contain 115 calories per 100g. They are high in both protein and fibre, which helps you to feel fuller for longer, whilst all that fibre helps to support a healthy digestive system. In fact, just 100g chickpeas will provide almost one third of your recommended daily fibre intake. Chickpeas can be added to soups, stews and salads, roasted in the oven or blended to make hummus.
Try our healthy chickpea recipes:
- Chicken with crushed harissa chickpeas
- Curried spinach, egg & chickpeas
- Smoky chickpeas on toast
- Greek chickpeas salad with melting feta
Lentils are so much easier to use when pre-packaged. No soaking overnight or cooking for ages! Whichever type you buy – green, red, Puy or brown – and no matter whether they are in a tin, carton or pouch, lentils can be eaten hot or cold and are a great addition to your diet. They contain 105 calories per 100g and are really high in protein at almost 9g per 100g. They're also high in fibre, at 6.6g per 100g, helping you to increase satiety at meal times.
Lentils can be used as a base for a salad, added to soups or stews.
Healthy lentil recipes:
- Spiced carrot & lentil soup
- Lentil kedgeree
- Pesto-crusted cod with Puy lentils
- Warm mushroom, lentil & goat’s cheese salad
- Veggie tahini lentils
Pesto is an Italian sauce traditionally made with pine nuts, basil leaves, crushed garlic and a hard cheese such as parmesan or percorino. It typically comes as either a green (basil) or red (sundried tomato) sauce, but there are plenty of variations, including roasted red pepper, chilli or vegan, so you can try different flavours.
50g pesto (about a quarter of a jar) will provide about 220 calories, which is largely due to the cheese and pine nut content. This technically means it's a high-fat product, but whilst pesto contains on average 22g of fat per 50g, only 3g of this is saturated fat. The rest is healthier unsaturated fats, and the great thing about pesto is you don’t need a lot of it to add flavour to your food. If you are concerned about the fat content, then look out for the reduced fat versions available.
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Pesto can easily be used to top fish or meat, stirred through pasta or added to a soup to make an easy midweek meal.
Our favourite healthy pesto recipes:
- Pesto chicken salad
- Courgette, pea & pesto soup
- Spaghetti with leeks, peas and pesto
- Warm potato & tuna salad with pesto
- Baked fish with tomatoes, basil & crispy crumbs
Quinoa is an edible seed that belongs to the amaranth family. It has a slight nutty taste and is naturally gluten-free. It is a particularly good source of protein (6g per 100g serving), and fibre (4g per 100g), making it a great alternative to rice or couscous. You can buy it pre-cooked in pouches and you’ll find different varieties, such as red & white quinoa, different grain mixes such as quinoa and brown basmati or other whole grains. You can also find different flavours, for example tomato & olive quinoa – these may not be gluten-free though so please check the labels.
Quinoa can be used in salads, as the main carbohydrate with a meal instead of potato, and instead of oats for a twist on your breakfast.
Try some nutritious quinoa recipes:
- Quinoa chilli with avocado and coriander
- Fennel-roasted cauliflower with quinoa
- South America-style quinoa with fried eggs
- Quinoa, peach & ginger bircher
- Herby quinoa, feta and pomegranate salad
Yes, rice can be a healthy and convenient food, especially if you are buying it pre-cooked! The reason being, when you cook and cool a food that is high in starch, like rice, it actually increases its resistant starch, so that when consumed, it resists digestion and therefore acts like a type of soluble fibre. This is especially good for your digestive system and your microbiome, as your gut bacteria loves resistant starch – it helps to feed them, as well as offering other health benefits including reduced appetite, improving blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
As an added bonus, if you buy pre-cooked rice and reheat it (so it has been cooked, cooled and cooked again), this increases the amount of resistant starch even more.
You can buy rice pouches in the supermarket and they can be heated in a microwave or on the hob quite easily, or you can eat them cold in a salad. There are also different types of rice, such as long grain or brown basmati, as well as different flavours including coconut or spicy Mexican. Simply swap out the dried rice for a pre-cooked pouch in your favourite recipes.
Simple, satisfying rice recipes:
- Prawn fried rice
- Brown rice tabbouleh with eggs & parsley
- Miso mackerel rice bowl
- Lentil rice salad with beetroot & feta dressing
- Steak & broccoli protein pots
6) Protein powder
Protein powders are powdered forms of protein that come from ingredients such as milk (whey or caesin protein), or from plants including pea, hemp, soya or rice. In order to find a good protein powder that can form a convenient yet healthy addition to your diet, it is best to choose one with the least amount of ingredients in it, so one that ideally comes just as it is – for example, a pea protein powder that is 100% pea – rather than one with lots of ‘added extras’ and flavours.
Protein powder can be an excellent way to boost a dish and add extra protein, helping you feel fuller for longer. This may help with weight loss, or even weight gain for those recovering from an illness or are doing a lot of exercise and training.
These powders can simply be added to a smoothie or a breakfast dish, or incorporated into baked goods or snacks to give you a protein boost throughout the day.
Our best protein powder recipes:
- Easy protein pancakes
- Nut & raisin protein balls
- Homemade protein shake
- Apricot & seed protein bar
- Blueberry & banana power smoothie
7) Tinned sardines
These little fish are an excellent addition to your diet as they contain omega 3, an essential fatty acid that helps to keep your heart healthy, boost your mood and gut bacteria, and offer neuro-protective benefits against conditions such as dementia.
It is recommended to have at least one portion of oily fish, such as sardines, a week. Tins are great as it means you always have them to hand for a convenient lunch or dinner. Just 100g of sardines (about one tin), provides 220 calories and a whopping 23g of protein, ensuring you stay fuller for longer. They also contain tiny, edible bones which are a great source of calcium.
You can buy tinned sardines in brine, olive oil, sunflower oil or even tomato sauce. Those in oil are naturally higher in fat as a result, but it is mainly the healthy, unsaturated fats.
Nutritious sardine recipes:
- Sardine pasta with crunchy parsley crumbs
- Spaghetti with sardines
- Mediterranean sardine salad
- Sardines with chickpeas, lemon & parsley
- Sardines & tomato on toast
8) Frozen spinach
The great thing about frozen veg is that it is frozen within hours of being picked, retaining a lot of its goodness. It’s also super-convenient and lasts much longer than buying a fresh bag. A bag of frozen spinach is a great way to ensure you always have one of your five-a-day to hand.
Just one handful of frozen spinach (about 100g) contains 3g or protein, but its main benefits are in its nutrients – it easily contains your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene) which is important for a good immune system, as well as a good dose of vitamin K which is needed to help blood clotting and wound healing.
Spinach is very versatile and can be added to your morning smoothie, served alongside eggs or added to a whole host of everyday meals, like pasta or curries.
Fabulous frozen spinach recipes:
- Spaghetti puttanesca with red beans and spinach
- Spinach and tuna pancakes
- Spinach dahl with harissa yoghurt
- Scrambled eggs with basil, spinach and tomatoes
- Avocado smoothie
9) Tinned tomatoes
The humble tinned tomato is a good source of an array of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A for the immune system, vitamin K for wound healing and B vitamins for energy and the nervous system. It's also about a third of your recommended daily vitamin E intake in just half a tin, which we need for healthy skin and eyes.
There isn’t a great deal of difference between chopped and whole tinned tomatoes when it comes to nutrition, but some think whole carries more flavour. You can also buy some tinned tomatoes with added herbs for extra flavour and nutritional value.
Tinned tomatoes are very versatile and can be used in a host of everyday, easy dishes when you are short of time.
Top tinned tomato recipes:
- Tomato & basil soup
- Baked tomato & mozzarella orzo
- Tomato, pepper & bean one pot
- Tomato & chickpea curry
- Baked chicken arrabbiatta
10) Coconut milk
Tinned coconut milk can actually be a healthy convenience food. Despite being high in saturated fat (16g per 100ml or about a quarter of a tin), the type of fat in coconut milk is known as a medium-chain triglyceride (or MCT). MCTs are broken down quickly by the body when consumed, and go straight to the liver where they are used an instant energy source. Whilst coconut milk is a higher calorie food (169 calories per 100ml), these calories are used more efficiently by the body and are less likely to be stored as fat as a result. There are also light versions which contain around 75 calories per 100ml.
Coconut milk recipes:
- Turmeric, ginger & coconut fish curry
- Courgette & cauliflower yellow curry
- Prawn & coconut soup
- Thai coconut & veg broth
- Lentil & cardamom soup
Enjoyed these tips? See more healthy inspiration below...
This article was published on 8 June 2021.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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