Healthy By Convenience

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | July 22nd, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Green Living

The other day I was frantically grocery shopping at 6pm, trying to find something nourishing and wholesome I could make for dinner that very night. My idea was stir-fried vegetables over brown rice, but I knew brown rice would take way too long to cook.

Lingering in the rice and pasta aisle, trying to decide if my family would revolt if I served them noodles for like the third time this week, something caught my eye: boil-in-a-bag brown rice. What could be easier? The whole bag just simmers in water for 10 minutes and it’s done—nothing short of a miracle, compared to the two hours it takes brown rice to cook in my rice cooker.

At home, when my husband helped me unpack the groceries, he looked askance at the box. I secretly hoped his desire to eat at a decent hour would override his need to tease. As for my 2 1/2-year-old daughter, she was totally flummoxed when she saw me dunking the whole bag into a pot of water.

But the rice turned out just as tender and fluffy as traditional brown rice, and a quick check of the label showed that a serving has just as much fiber, protein and other nutrients as “from-scratch” brown rice. And I must say, 10 minutes of cooking time beats 2 hours!

The experience got me to thinking. Of course I want to feed my family organic, wholesome foods. But, I’m also super busy, especially this summer, with summer camp schedules, a busy workload, and trips to the pool (hence the dinner-groceries shopping trip at 6pm!).

I took a quick tour of my local natural foods co-op, Sevananda, and was happy to discover that there are plenty of healthy convenience foods for people like me.

Here are a few discoveries that I’m planning on adding to my shopping list next time I’m faced with a busy week:

Annie Chun’s Organic Noodles & Sauce: Boil these noodles, add the sauce, and you have dinner in 10 minutes. They come in flavors like Soy Ginger Soba Noodles, Peanut Sesame Chow Mein and Black Bean Chow Mein. You can even add vegetables or cooked meat to make a more substantial meal.

Near East Whole Grain Blends: I’m a fan of Near East for their couscous mixes, which cook in a mere five minutes. But even though I always think it’s healthy, couscous really doesn’t have a lot going for it, nutritionally. Not so for the company’s whole grain blends, which are full of fiber and count towards the daily whole grains recommendation by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Seeds of Change: The company makes some yummy-looking whole grain rice and beans, pilaf and quinoa mixes, but what caught my eye was the company’s shelf-stable pouches of cooked brown rice, which can be heated in the microwave in 90 seconds. This even beats my boil-in-the-bag discovery!

Aside from these grain and rice mixes, I’m also partial to the frozen foods aisle, where you can find organic stir-fry vegetables that you can saute in about five minutes. I drizzle this with Asian-style sauce made up of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil and serve it over brown rice or quick-cooking rice noodles. And when I’m cooking for vegetarian family members or friends, I always grab a bag of Boca Crumbles or Morningstar Farms Meal Starters, which can easily be added to Mexican dishes like fajitas, tacos or burritos, Italian pasta dishes or Asian stir-fries.

Cooking can be a chore, but it seems like with all the healthy and convenient options out there, there’s never been a better time to eat right. (But remember: just because a brand is considered “healthy,” you still have to eyeball the labels for things like sodium content, preservatives and hidden MSG.)


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