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Public Health - Seattle & King County

How can I make healthy choices if I don't cook?

The options in our modern grocery stores allow many healthy choices for those who don't like to cook or who lack cooking skills or equipment. Generally, ready-to-eat foods purchased at the grocery store cost more than if the same ingredients are purchased and prepared at home. However, these ready-to-eat foods do cost less than if purchased in a café or restaurant. Convenience usually comes with a price -- whether it is money, time or quality of the food.

From the produce section:

Choose foods that can easily be eaten raw. Bananas, apples, grapes, oranges and baby carrots are five of the easiest to prepare or carry along in a lunch bag or briefcase or to have as a snack.

  • Green and red leafy lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, red peppers and tomatoes are other good vegetable choices; a low fat salad dressing could be a dip with these.
  • Baking a small white potato, a sweet potato, a yam or a piece of winter squash in a microwave for 5-10 minutes provides a hot dish with very little effort.
  • Frozen vegetables such as peas or green beans are also a good investment. Frozen vegetables are also easy and fast to cook in the microwave or on the stove top.
  • Almost all fruits in season are good choices since they require no cooking and little preparation.
  • Fruit juices, such as orange juice, or the blended juices like banana-orange-pineapple, are tasty and convenient. Be sure they are labeled 100% juice for the best nutrition.

From the dairy section:

Choose cow's milk or a fortified soy milk beverage with at least one meal every day.

  • Choose low fat milk, low fat yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Low fat cheeses, like individually wrapped string cheese.
  • Low fat soymilk fortified with calcium, or other soy milk products, can also meet the need for calcium and protein.

From the meat section (and protein rich foods)

  • Choose protein rich foods that are low in fat, or from which the fat can be removed.
  • Make a salad into a meal by adding low fat lunchmeat, hard-boiled egg, cooked shrimp, canned tuna, cooked chicken, garbanzo or kidney beans.
  • A roasted chicken from the deli is a good choice if the skin is removed before eating.
  • Fresh fish can be baked quickly: choose thin fillets like sole and bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes for each half-inch of thickness.
  • Peanut or other nut butter is a convenient protein source if you can afford the extra calories from the peanut or nut oils.
  • Canned salmon is a healthy protein choices and ready-to-eat.
  • Pregnant women should avoid deli meats, hot dogs unless they are heated and soft cheeses.

To get your grains:

  • Whole grain cereal, hot or cold, is a good breakfast when paired with fruit and cow's milk or a fortified soymilk.
  • Bread can become a sandwich, or be eaten alongside of a salad or soup. Choose a whole grain bread or roll.
  • Tortillas, fat free refried beans, some chicken and chopped tomato and lettuce are an easy meal, which becomes a treat with some salsa.
  • Pocket (pita) bread can become a handheld meal when filled with an assortment of foods from salads to meat and cheese.
  • Ramen noodles can be the basis for quick soup: add frozen vegetables and some cooked meat or seafood to the liquid, or stir in a beaten egg during the last few minutes of cooking.

Deli sections:

Deli counters are a tempting place to shop. Make healthy choices by avoiding salads held together with mayonnaise or sour cream.

  • Look for salads with a variety of vegetables.
  • Lean meats like turkey breast are a good choice.
  • At salad bars, choose dark green leafy lettuces and spinach.
One portion of a main dish like lasagna can be made into a meal with a side of raw vegetables like carrots and celery. Low fat frozen entrees can be served in the same way.