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?