Create 15 Healthful Meals--from a Box and a Can

By , SparkPeople Blogger
In a perfect world, we would all cook healthful, balanced meals from scratch seven nights a week. But who's perfect? When you're trying to eat right, work out and live your life, there's no harm in taking some help from the supermarket. According to a recent survey of SparkPeople members, more than 60% of us rely on a microwave, a can opener and a toaster oven for dinner from time to time. (Check out the FITNESS 2009 Healthy Food Awards for more dinner ideas that use supermarket products.)

However, we all know a can of soup or a frozen cheese pizza doesn't constitute a well-balanced meal. The trick to eating right with these shortcut foods is to use them as a basis for your meal, not as your entire meal.
We took five popular "convenience" foods from the supermarket and used them to create an entire meal!

While we've selected five foods to show you how to create a meal using shortcuts from the freezer and the pantry, you can boost the nutrition of any convenience food. (NOTE: Calorie counts are estimates of the meals we suggest; please use the Nutrition Tracker to accurately track your meal.)

Here are some of our favorite tips:
  • Add canned chicken, black beans or tuna packed in water to any meal that's lacking protein.
  • Add frozen or canned vegetables to a box of macaroni and cheese or a jar of spaghetti sauce. (Choose whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta when possible.)
  • Add an extra serving of vegetables to any frozen meal.
  • Make a green salad to go alongside a frozen pizza.
  • Add extra vegetables to frozen pizzas.
  • Use spice packets sparingly to reduce sodium of boxed rice and noodle dishes.
  • To make soups more filling, serve a piece of whole-wheat toast topped with a slice of low-fat cheese or a poached egg.
  • To round out any meal, add a serving of fruit and a glass of milk.
    Convenience foods are often high in sodium, so it's best to choose low-salt varieties and eat them in moderation.

Campbell's 25% Less Sodium Tomato Soup
1/2 cup, cooked according to package directions:

90 calories
0 g fat
530 mg sodium
20 g carbs
1 g fiber
2 g protein

  • Stir 4 cups fresh spinach into the soup and heat through. Serve with one cooked lean turkey Italian sausage on a whole-grain bun.
    374 calories, 10 g fat
  • Serve with an open-faced chicken basil "panino": Place 3 ounces sliced grilled chicken, 3 leaves fresh basil, 1 roasted red pepper and a slice of low-fat mozzarella cheese on a slice of whole wheat bread (swap the chicken for smoked tofu if you're a vegetarian) and grill until melted and toasty.
    399 calories, 8 g fat
  • Add a pinch each of dried basil, thyme and oregano to your soup. Serve with a scoop of lowfat cottage cheese in the middle of your tomato soup. Toast a whole-grain English muffin and top with 1 tsp margarine and garlic powder (not garlic salt).
    342 calories, 6 g fat

    Tip: Use skim milk instead of water to add calcium and protein to your soup. (adds 20 calories a serving)

    You could also substitute:
    Organic Chunky Tomato Bisque Soup - Light in Sodium

    Progresso 50% Less Sodium Chicken Noodle Soup
    per cup

    90 calories
    2 g fat
    470 mg sodium
    13 g carbs
    1 g fiber
    6 g protein
    Serves 2.
  • Bring soup to a simmer. Place 1 cup egg substitute in a bowl and whisk while adding in a bit of the soup. Slowly add eggs to the soup pot, whisking constantly. Add the juice of two lemons for a quick version of the Greek soup avoglemeno. Serve with a half-cup of steamed green beans (or a cup--even better!) and a slice of whole-wheat toast per person.
    320 calories, 3 g fat
  • Add 2 cups mixed frozen vegetables to the soup, along with chopped dill and parsley. Serve with a serving of whole-wheat crackers and a serving of low-fat cheese.
    330 calories, 6 g fat
  • Add 1 cup black beans and a cup of salsa to the soup while it's simmering for a Southwestern twist. Serve with a cheese fajita quesadilla made with a whole-wheat tortilla, a few slices of onions and peppers and 1 ounce of lowfat Cheddar.
    440 calories, 5 g fat

    Tip: Fresh herbs, like cilantro, parsley, basil or dill, can really freshen up a canned soup.

    Lean Cuisine Four Cheese Pizza

    360 calories
    8 g fat
    51 g carbs
    3 g fiber
    650 mg sodium
    20 mg protein
    Serves 1.

  • Add a green salad with a tablespoon of low-fat dressing. Once cooked, top pizza with bell pepper strips, 3 oz rotisserie chicken and red onions, then place it in a toaster oven to warm the added toppings.
    530 calories, 10 g fat
  • Sauté 1/2 c portobello mushroom slices, 1 c fresh spinach and 1/2 c white beans with 1 t dried rosemary and plenty of black pepper. Once the pizza is cooked, serve your "salad" on top. Add a sprinkle of dried cranberries for something sweet.
    510 calories, 9 g fat
  • Top with 2 pineapple rings and 2 slices lean deli ham, chopped. Serve alongside a tomato and cucumber salad, seasoned with oregano, red wine vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil.
    460 calories, 11 g fat

    Birds Eye Southwestern Style Rice

    Serving size is 1 1/2 cups
    230 calories
    5 g fat
    1,010 mg sodium
    1 g fiber
    4 g protein
    43 g carbs
    Serves 2.

  • (This recipe serves 1; double for two people.) Top 3 cups shredded romaine lettuce with rice, 3 ounces of cooked chicken breast, a sprinkle of cumin and a squeeze of lime juice. Pour 1/2 cup salsa over chicken, then add a dollop of light sour cream.
    400 calories, 7 g fat
  • Heat rice, then add 2 cups chopped broccoli and 2 eggs, Scramble and top with 2 diced plum tomatoes, a sprinkle of cumin and a dollop of light sour cream.
    365 calories, 12 g fat
  • Heat rice with 1 cup black beans. Top with salsa or a chopped tomato and 1/2 avocado.
    440 calories, 12.5 g fat

    Tip: For added fiber, serve this meal with a 6" whole-wheat tortilla. 130 calories, 3 g fat, 4 g fiber

    Annie's Organic Whole Wheat Shells & White Cheddar

    1 cup
    250 calories
    4.5 g fat
    570 mg sodium
    43 g carbs
    5 g fiber
    9 g protein
    Serves 4.

  • Add 1 bag of frozen broccoli or peas and a can of water-packed tuna.
    400 calories, 5.5 g fat
  • Add 1 t chili powder, 1 can of diced tomatoes, 1 can of kidney beans drained and rinsed and a pound of extra lean ground turkey.
    475 calories, 7 g fat
  • Cook up a veggie burger on the side and throw together a quick green salad with a tablespoon of light dressing.
    430 calories, 6.5 g fat

    TIP: Saute a couple of cloves of garlic or a bit of onion in the butter or margarine you use to make your macaroni and cheese. It will add tremendous flavor!

    What is your favorite supermarket food? Do you have any special tips or tricks for making it extra delicious and more nutritious?

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So many great ideas! :D Report
Thanks!!great easy ideas Report
Thanks!!great easy ideas Report
those are such great ideas! thanks! Report
Thank you for the great ideas. Report
Great ideas. thank you! Report
What great ideas. I had no idea restaurant foods were so bad for you. Report
Some nice stuff thanks Report
Thanks for the tips. I will definitely try the tomato soup with the spinach. Those are to of my favorites. Report
None of these sound all that great tasting. If I had the veggies to add to stuff, I would rather just throw them into the steamer, maybe cook some pasta or rice with them. Add a small amount of butter and seasonings for flavor & I'm happy. Why ruin them with frozen pizzas or canned soups and meats? I keep a bag of Trader Joe's frozen stir-fry veggies for when I don't have anything fresh, but that's usually a last resort. Unfortunately, hubby would just prefer the frozen/canned stuff without any added veggies. Sigh... Report
there are some great ideas i saved some to try with the family thanks for the post Report
I had never thought of some of those ideas. That really would be a great way to get some of the more unhealthy items out of my cabinet so that I could replace them with healthier versions. Report
It is nice to have a quick meal that is health! Report
Thanks for the ideas. They will come in handy when a quck meal is needed. Report
Thanks for the ideas. Report
But OH, the sodium in these prepared foods!!! Even reduced sodium items still contain too much!!! Report
I like making homemade pizza, simply because everyone in the family has different tastes! Hubby doesn't eat tomatoes, so I make his chicken alfredo, sometimes adding a couple of slices of turkey bacon too! I prefer a lot of veggies and little to no cheese, and have used a variety of things in place of the sauce, like salsa, barbecue sauce, and even teriyaki sauce! I know... Adventurous be I!

The kids prefer regular, pepperoni pizza. What they get is Turkey pepperoni, with low-fat cheese. They actually prefer the turkey pepperoni, as it gets crispier for them!

Pizza dough is easy to make, and I can limit the hidden sodium and fat that's in the prepared stuff.Besides, the kids are amazed when they watch the dough rising! ~grins~ Sounds like I'm going to be making pizza tonight! YUM!

Thanks for the tips! Report
Whenever I make boxed rices that call for butter I leave it out and sub low sodium chicken broth for half of the water. It puts back the flavor the butter would have added for all of 15 calories and no fat. Report
Thanks for the ideas! These are great. Report
Wonderful ideas! thank you :D Report
Being one of those with a busy, hectic schedule like many, I try to cut my prep time in the kitchen and regularly take advantage of the canned goods from time to time! I am also a vegetarian, so most of my protein comes from tofu or beans. I love a quick stir-fry using frozen shelled edamame and other frozen veggies over instant brown rice. Of course it doesn't taste as good as fresh, but in a pinch I am able to make a healthy dinner in no time. Also, I drain and rinse canned black beans to remove excess salt, then saute with some onion, tomato and spinach, again add instant brown rice and roll up in a corn tortilla with a sprinkle of soy cheese and salsa for a quick burrito fix. Yummy! Report
I think these are a quick fix for when I really don;' have the time. Yes there's a lot of sodium involved, but if this is a once in while thing, instead of an every night thing, I think they will work fine. I appreciate the ideas. 12hour shifts don't always leave time for home cooked meals. Report
Thank you for the wonderful ideas. Can't wait to try some! Report
Great Ideas---Thanks! Report
too much sodium for me. even with the add ons, some of the meals have too many calories for what you are eating. and wayyy too much sodium!

I already do alot of the first suggestions. I try to avoid boxed food but if i do use one, i always modify it.

Save money from doing it from scratch. make your own soups and freeze them. keep fresh pizza toppings handy. a box of plain whole grain noodles and seasonings is better for you than any hamburger helper you find. Report
These are great , but cooking from scratch can be just as quick. You just have to do it enough to remember what goes in it and its easy. Just keep doing it. soon it will be second nature Report
My favorite supermarket food is the Private Selection Organic Tri-Bean Blend from Kroger, with black beans, pinto beans and kidney beans. Yummy! I toss them into salads, and also make "Mexican Pizzas" by mashing them on top of a tortilla, adding toppings like low-fat cheese, salsa and black olives, then microwaving and adding cold ingredients like fresh tomatoes, onions or other veggies and maybe a dollop of sour cream. They're so versatile you'll always find several cans in my pantry (unless I've eaten them all!). Report
Great quick meal ideas! Makes you realize about hidden sodium, Report
These sounds good, thanks for the advice! Report
I love tuna in a can with a tbs of light mayo and a teaspoon of relish!! It is such a yummy lunch on the go! Report
Half a serving:
Adding protein to a packaged or frozen meal DOES add quite a few calories.
so if I do that I have to reduce the portion of it that I eat to about one-half of the serving.
For Example:
If I topped a Lean Cuisine Pizza with meat or extra cheese etc.,
I would need to eat only one-half of the packaged amount of that frozen food. Report
I saw a recipe on SparkPeople for a slow-cooker chicken dish. Like many folks, I modified it. Instead of using a soup (canned or package), I use low-sodium chicken broth. Put 3 or 4 breast halves in the slow cooker, put in the chicken broth so only the tops of the breasts are above water. Cover the tops of the breasts with salsa. It's that simple! Cook slow on the lowest setting (3 hours or so) and you've got the most yummy, moist, tender chicken, perfectly seasoned! I know this isn't a 'quick and easy' recipe, but like so many of the comments, I'm getting away from pre-packaged and I'm making meals from scratch. When you make it from scratch, you know exactly what you are eating. Prepackaged stuff is a big mystery. If you can't pronounce it, don't put it in your mouth!!!!
To all readers - there are thousands of recipes available here on SparkPeople - check them out!!! Report
Great suggestions and I really appreciate the comments regarding the sodium. I think the biggest problem with the health of the American people is the ready made processed foods made so available and easy as well as less costly. These companies know people are looking for an easy fast meal and trying to sell it as nutritous while having harmful quantity of specific ingredients seems to be the norm these days. We are all in charge of our own choices and moderation is the key. I know I am guilty if taking advantage of these products and will probably continue to do so in limited quantity. Habits are very hard to break. Report
I can have dinner done in 15 - 20 minutes.
In the AM I defrost 2 chicken tenders (sometimes I rub some homemade pesto on the chicken so it marinates as it defrosts). I spray a pan with Pam and begin that cooking, throw a bag of frozen veggies in the microwave, then a bag of frozen rice in afterward. I half the rice (cause it's two servings), eat the entire bag of veggies - I feel like I'm being extravagant sometimes putting lemon pepper seasoning on them and have my chicken. The plate is full but I'm well under 450 calories for dinner. Depending upon my mood and what I have I may saute some mushrooms, onions, peppers - possibly in a little white wine and toss some capers in for good measure (not when I've used the pesto) I never cared much for chicken - but it's a good low fat source of protein - so I've used the same method with a number of variations, so it feels like its different every night. I have beef once or twice a week and fish at least once maybe more during the week, so I get some variety. Once in a while I even have some pork - but gotta have dumplings and sauerkraut with that. Report
Ditto for me too as the post below. No packaged foods, canned foods, etc. I buy my unsalted tuna from Trader joe's. Always reading labels to cut the salt... last few days have been awful from eating a bit too much! Under 1500mgs of salt whole day is perfect for me and there is no way I can stay at that with most of the suugested recipes here. Report
Ditto for me too as the post below. No packaged foods, canned foods, etc. I buy my unsalted tuna from Trader joe's. Always reading labels to cut the salt... last few days have been awful from eating a bit too much! Under 1500mgs of salt whole day is perfect for me and there is no way I can stay at that with most of the suugested recipes here. Report
yes these do have way too much salt. i cant use regular salt i have to use sea salt or my whole body swells up like a baloon!!!! talk about weight gain. lol Report
Wow! This is called healthy? Well, maybe it is more healthy than its full sodium or fat counterpart, but still. I am trying to cut back on my sodium, because it is a trigger for me. These dishes carry way to much sodium for me to consume in one meal. With the add-ons they mention, and the fact that I do eat more than one meal a day...well, they would be real bad choices for me. Report
It's good that people are starting to become aware that prepared foods in boxes and cans are often, but not always, too high in sodium, chemicals, etc. But are these same people just as careful when eating at fast food restaurants? I think there's more danger there than in anything you fix at home where YOU make the decisions. Report
I stopped eating food out of cans and bozes becasue of the salt. Report
Quick and easy but too much sodium. Go from scratch thats the way to go. Report
I agree with others who responded, that there is to much sodium in prepared food. I have changed to making more of our meals natural by making them homemade. Takes a little more time, but worth it. Report
Sounds good. Now to work around family food allergies. Report
Wonderful ideas for quick meals - thank you!!!! Report
My mouth is watering looking at the southern style rice! I will definitely be making that dish soon! Report
Until these companies (who have good products) lower the SODIUM in these foods, I will rely on my own instincts and not purchase Campbell's, Progresso, etc. I wish they would STOP INSULTING the American public with their "lower sodium" content BULL Report
I agree - the sodium is so high in most processed foods and the amount of sodium we need is much lower than most of us intake. Sodium can be such a problem with heart disease later..... thanks for sharing these ideas. Report
Thanks for the ideas. Report
Great ideas! Thanks Report
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