The healthier side of convenience foods by Jane McClenaghan

The healthier side of convenience foods by Jane McClenaghan

The healthier side of convenience foods

Sometimes the thought of cooking a dinner is enough to put you off.

When it comes to healthy eating and good nutrition, making the right choice does not have to mean spending hours slaving over a hot stove.

There are plenty of short cuts to optimising your nutrition, if you know where to look.

I am not suggesting that you have to veer far from your favourite supermarket, just take a quick diversion down a couple of different aisles, notice what is on other shelves and think differently about convenience foods and you'll have a whole new menu without too much effort.

Read the label

Not all convenience foods are unhealthy, if you know what to look for.

Read the label and make sure you can recognise all the ingredients as real food, rather than a list of complex sounding chemicals.

Check the sugar content next and aim for a maximum of 5g per 100g, then check the salt is less than 1.5g per 100g.

Pre-packed foods

There are lots of healthy packs of decent foods available now, as food manufacturers tune into our desire to eat better.

Pre-packed food does not have to mean junk food these days.

Look out for pouches of ready-cooked whole grains, like brown rice, or quinoa and buckwheat mixes.

These can make a great base for a salad, or make a quick and handy addition to dinner with some leftover chilli or curry.

Look out for the flavoured versions as the base for a decent meal. Just add your protein of choice (fish, chicken, tofu, pulses), some fresh or frozen vegetables and you are good to go.

Take a closer look at the section where you will find beans and lentils. Again, the pouches are great. They come in all different flavours, from Mediterranean tomato and herb, to curried chickpeas and lentil dahl.

Add a handful of baby spinach and a few chopped red peppers to add extra nutrition and you will have a quick and easy meal in minutes.

Some of these lentil mixes also make a lovely base for a quick dinner with some fish and steamed green vegetables.

Frozen food aisle

Frozen peas are a staple ingredient in most kitchens, but take a look at what else is in this section and you'll find steamed vegetables with garlic and herbs, Mediterranean vegetables for roasting, Asian-style veg for stir-fries and even cauliflower rice.

Frozen fish has come a long way from fish fingers and breaded fillets. You will find fillets of all sorts of fish, some with sauces, or as a fish and vegetable traybake that can make perfect standby dinner if you are in a hurry. Just add some vegetables and you have a complete meal in minutes.

While you are in this section, pop a couple of bags of frozen berries into your trolley. Perfect on porridge or low sugar granola for breakfast, with some milled seeds and a dollop of natural yoghurt.

Refrigerated foods

Chilled soups that are almost as good as the home-made versions, houmous with olive oil, vegetable lunch pots and great pesto are some of the better offerings in the chilled food section to take a look at.

Don't forget to pop some natural or Greek yoghurt in your trolley, pick up a punnet of blueberries and then you have a nutritious, delicious and super handy snack for a little pop of nutrition in your day.

Jane McClenaghan (Vital Nutrition)

Blog — Vital Nutrition (

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