Nutrition Articles

10 Surprisingly Healthy Packaged Foods

Convenient Can Also Be Healthy!

You've probably heard this advice before: For a healthy grocery trip, shop the perimeter of the store. Avoiding the middle aisles is a good tactic to help you make great choices and pick the most nutritious foods, but if you stick to this advice completely you'll be missing out on some of the nutritious items that do come in packages. These packaged foods—not to be confused with "processed" foods—can give you some great nutrients and make meal planning easier, saving you precious time.

You can feel good about buying some boxed, canned and jarred items when you're equipped with the right information. Understanding what you're looking for is the first step to healthy choices within the supermarket aisles.

Here's a list of the healthiest convenience foods you can buy from the center of the grocery store.

Canned Beans
Though dried beans are cheaper than canned, they can take a lot of time to cook. Canned beans pack an impressive amount of fiber and protein and can be a quick addition to many meals. Pinto, kidney, cannellini (white kidney), black, Great Northern—name any bean, they're all great sources of nutrition for your body. When you're choosing your beans, look for ones without added salt or seasoning. Before using your beans, drain and rinse them in a colander when you're ready to cook. This will help wash added sodium down the drain--40% of the sodium to be exact.

Oats and Flaxseed
Prepare to have a heart-healthy breakfast by combining old-fashioned oats and ground flaxseed, both found packaged in either cartons or bags. One cup of cooked oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed will give you 8 grams of much needed fiber, as well as a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which each protect the heart. Choose old-fashioned oats over quick oats or instant oatmeal to ensure you're getting the maximum amount of fiber without added salt and sugar.

Frozen Vegetables
These can be nearly as nutritious as fresh and are conveniently prewashed and chopped. To ensure you're getting the maximum amount of vitamins and minerals available, use the vegetables within a few weeks as some nutrients may begin to degrade over time. Also, steam or microwave your veggies rather than boiling them to make sure you're not losing water-soluble vitamins. Grab some edamame for a nutrient-packed snack, heat up some chopped broccoli as a side dish or combine a stir-fry mix with shrimp in a shallow pan and heat with a bit of olive or canola oil.

Frozen Berries
When it comes to meeting your daily fruit requirement, you can't beat frozen. Many frozen berries do not have added sugar, but some do. Double check that the ingredients list contains berries to make sure you're not getting extra calories from refined sugars. Then, add them to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or make a smoothie.

Granola Bars
This one can be tricky, as not every granola bar is good for you. Shop carefully and read labels to pick out the healthiest option. Be cautious not to fall into an advertising trap! Flip the products over and check out the ingredients. Some of the healthiest bars will be found near the products made for athletes or in the "natural foods" section. Brands that use dates as their main sweetener can give you a good amount of fiber. Some of these higher quality bars do have more calories. Consider splitting one in half for a small snack or share it with a friend.

Soup that comes in a can or carton can be a healthy choice if you shop carefully. Many are packed with plenty of fat and added sodium, but some brands are lighter in both. A non-condensed, organic soup made with real vegetables is going to be the healthiest option. These are sometimes found in cans near the condensed soups but are also packaged in boxes in a separate section. Watch out for high sodium soups and read labels for serving size. Most people eat a whole can of soup as one serving, only to discover that what they thought was a healthy option actually contained 2.5 to 3 times the calories, fat and sodium!

Breakfast cereal can be a toss-up. Either you're eating an overdose of sugar or you're getting a good amount of fiber and vitamins. Pick the right cereal, and you'll be supporting your heart and intestinal health with each bite. Look for at least 5 grams of fiber per serving and keep in mind the amount of added sugar. There isn't an established limit to an amount of sugar to stay under, but if you aim for about 5 grams or less, you're usually grabbing a healthy cereal.You can add even more fiber by mixing in some plain bran cereal with your favorite lightly sweetened cereal.

Brown Rice
For a boxed fare that is both versatile and nutrient packed, pick up brown rice on your next grocery trip. This fiber-rich grain is a great side for nearly any meat, bean, and vegetable--or combination of all three! Try it with kidney beans, diced tomatoes and cilantro, or top it with shrimp, streamed carrots and broccoli with your favorite low-sodium sauce. Learn more about the benefits of whole grains and how to cook them.

Tuna Fish Packed in Water
When it comes to getting a bang for your buck out of canned food, this is almost as good as it gets. This convenient food is high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and also gives you a good amount of vitamins D and B-12, too. Top a bed of greens with tuna, veggies, fruit and nuts or scoop it onto whole wheat pita, crackers or bread for a healthy combo on-the-go.

This tangy concoction found in the dairy aisle can be a great snack or breakfast staple. There are so many options you could go cross-eyed looking at the cooler full of colorful packages! Many brands are advertising "natural" products that do not have artificial colors or sweeteners, but what you choose should depend on your own preferences and nutritional goals. Make sure you check the label for calories to ensure you meet your daily goal. Learn how to pick the healthiest yogurt.

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Member Comments

  • Make yourself (and your health) a priority in your life.
  • Opted for pasta w/chicken, 2 wings and cheese. Trying to get my proteins up but I know when to give and some times I do not. These are some good tips on trying to buy prepackaged. Not all prepackaged are created equally so learn to read those labels.

    God bless,

  • good food ideas thanks
    Not sure what is wrong! EVERYTHING I eat sours on my stomach. Feels like soapy dishwater in my stomach! Not sure how I know this never drank dishwater.
  • I like to keep packaged foods to a minimum for me and my family. However the foods on this list are relatively healthy so I don't mind buying them.
  • Don't use many prepacked foods because it's so easy to freeze most fruits and veggies at home but when it came to fiber bars I am a rehabbed junkie. There's a reason the popular ones taste so good - I still buy them, but now I cut each one into 4-6 pieces and keep it in the fridge.
  • I use many canned foods, chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc. and Healthy Choice soups. I also use unsweetened frozen blueberries and raspberries in my smoothies. They help so much with my meal planning. Thank you.
  • Instead of ice cream. I have tried Fage Greek yogurt with fruit. It works!
  • Just a couple of extras to add - already peeled hard cooked eggs and already bagged salad stuff can help a lot when harried. The eggs make a great addition to salads or quick pick me up, high protein snack when rushing from one thing to another.
  • We are trying to avoid soy. Why do they sneak it into tuna?
  • All of these foods find a regular, or at least occasional spot, in my cupboards, fridge or freezer.
  • I don't like cooking, neither do I have much time for it so I am definitely guilty of using canned or frozen food quite often. Here in Italy labels are very detailed so it is easy to compare sodium and nutrients contents, for example, and make healthier choices. Additives and preservatives, as well as flavors, have to be clearly labelled so it's just a matter of shopping wisely really. These tips are simple but effective!
  • Great tips! I wonder about the canned tuna, though. I've read a lot about the rising levels of mercury in tuna and wonder if this is a truly healthful choice? Might be worth a SP article on its own...
  • A lot of times I prefer to cook/steam my own veggies and rehydrate dry beans - keeps sodium content a lot lower. Love granola. but no longer really just buy it - I need to try recipes out that I've seen on SPARK. After a conversation with my 31 y.o. son on Mother's day I am very aware that his generation and ours are much more aware of processed foods issues - a lot of us want to get back to basics and I applaud that. Every now and then, though, knowing what is the best of the least preferred choices is good to know.

About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

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