I wish I could tell you I cook EVERYTHING from scratch. The reality is, busy times call for a few “cheat” ingredients every now and then and this time of year–I am all for a few time saving tips. Yes, my intention is to avoid overly processed foods that are loaded with less-than-healthy ingredients–but, there are a few minimally processed ingredients I always have on hand so that I can get a nourishing meal on the table quickly. The truth is, these meals are almost always a healthier option than take-out (though we enjoy that from time to time as well!).
Before we dive into the ingredients themselves–lets review a few of my grocery shopping tips:
Ignore the front of the package which is essentially advertising and, instead, head straight for the ingredient list then ask yourself the following questions to weed out the crap!
- Can I purchase all of the ingredients in the grocery store?
- What ingredients would you use to make this product at home? Look for a product that contains only those foods.
- Remember: Ignore the front of the box…its an advertisement. Read the ingredients and check out the nutrition information to decide for yourself if the product is as nourishing as it says!
- Pesto: I keep home-made or fresh, store bought pesto in my freezer at all times. I add it to eggs, pasta, beans and even use it as a sauce for fish and chicken.
- Jarred Roasted Peppers: you can puree them into a sauce, add them to a salad, use them as a stuffing for chicken or toss them into a grain, pasta or bean dish. The options are really endless.
- Tomato Sauce: Considering I am 100% Italian, a lightening bolt may crash down on me for saying this, but it is true, I do have a jar or two of tomato sauce in the house at all time. I am super picky though. I only use brands that contain the same ingredients I would use at home (olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes, herbs, salt and pepper) and avoid brands that add sugar or use inexpensive, inflammatory oil like soybean oil.
- Cubed Butternut Squash: I purchase this in the produce aisle to cut down on kitchen prep and even better yet, I love frozen butternut squash! I add it to chili, puree it into a soup and even mash it up for a simple side dish.
- Frozen Grains: I love having frozen grains on hand and while you can purchase them in the freezer section at your store you can also make a batch and freeze it for anytime use. Regardless, I add them to soups, saute them into side dishes, warm them to make breakfast cereals and even use them as the “filling” for meatballs and meatloaf instead of breadcrumbs.
- Beans: Like grains, you can now purchase frozen beans that have never seen a can. Another option is Better Beans which are in the refrigerated section of your store. Either way, I add cooked beans to tacos, wraps, soups, salads chili and more–they are a great plant based protein source.
- Frozen Vegetables: A lot of people turn their nose up at frozen veggies! Why? They may be more nutrient dense than their fresh counterparts as they are allowed to ripen on the vine and are quickly cooked and frozen. My son loves them as the texture is easier to chew. I love them because they are already cooked which less time in the kitchen for me.
- Vegetable Stock. Or chicken. Or both. I rarely make these from scratch as I find that when I do I forget to defrost them so they are worthless in a pinch. I choose options that are low in sodium and organic and I am conscious of the ingredients used. Avoid the can and use the boxed varieties.
What are your go-to time saving ingredients?