Writing a column on convenience foods goes against the grain for me – I’m always nagging people to just cook something, will you, for crying out loud?! A little simple, plain cooking is your best defense against bad food, not to mention a sky-high food budget. But I am aware that many people rarely eat anything that takes more preparation than three minutes in the microwave. Even folks who do cook occasionally have days when they just want something fast.
Most convenience food is as nutritionally bad as it is quick and easy. Still, there is real, decent food out there that takes almost no work. So when the chips are down and the chores are stacked up, consider the virtues of:
- Bagged salad – Great stuff! Try a new blend from time to time. Also extremely useful are coleslaw mix, which is basically shredded cabbage, and pre-washed baby spinach. You can use this stuff straight out of the bag – spinach salad is great, but try sauteing it lightly in olive oil, with a touch of garlic.
- Pre-cut veggies – Grab cut up broccoli, cauliflower, celery sticks, baby carrots, and some cherry tomatoes, add a bottle of ranch dressing, and you’ve got the veggie thing covered. Put them in front of the kids and it may buy you enough time to actually cook something, and get some nutrition into them at the same time.
- Bottled dressing – Be wary of low fat dressings; many of them are full of corn syrup. Also avoid sweet dressings like honey mustard, red “French,” and poppy seed. Read labels! I like Newman’s Own dressings; they taste great and don’t contain a lot of junk.
- Frozen vegetables – More nutritious than canned, unless you plan to drink all the liquid in that can. Microwave them according to package directions for best and quickest results. Steer clear of blends with pasta or other added carbs. Also skip varieties with sauces; they’re likely to have hydrogenated oils.
- Rotisseried chicken – I love these, and all the big groceries have them. KFC’s new grilled chicken is good, too. If you have a Boston Market near you, it’s a great choice; they not only have chicken, but a good selection of low carb side dishes.
- Frozen grilled fish fillets – A much better choice than breaded fish. Available in Lemon Pepper, Garlic Butter, Cajun, and more. Just microwave and eat.
- Frozen hamburgers – If you’ve got an electric tabletop grill, cooking hamburgers couldn’t be easier. Look for frozen burgers labeled “100% beef” to avoid carb-y fillers and soy. Vary these by adding different kinds of cheese, salsa, sliced or chopped sweet onion, pizza sauce, what have you.
- Frozen cooked shrimp – Add to a salad, or mix 1/4 cup sugar free ketchup with 1 teaspoon horseradish, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, and a shot of Tabasco to make cocktail sauce for dipping. 5 grams of carbohydrate.
- Frozen hot wings – Both Tyson and Banquet make these, and they’re not bad. Avoid barbecued varieties; too much sugar. And read the labels to avoid breading.
- Grilled chicken breast strips – Great on a salad, in omelets or wraps, or in the recipe below!
- Canned tuna, shrimp, crabmeat – All handy for dumping over a pile of greens for a quick main-dish salad.
- Smoked salmon – Oh, boy. Put this in a salad or an omelet, and you’ve gone beyond convenience food to actual elegance.
- Eggs – It’s hard to spend more than 5 minutes frying or scrambling eggs! And if you hard-boil a dozen eggs over the weekend and stash ’em in the fridge, they’ll be there when you need a quick protein fix.
- Deli stuff – Good in wraps, or just eaten out-of-hand. Identifiable cuts of meat, like turkey breast, roast beef, roast or boiled ham, are likely to have fewer noxious additives (and less sugar) than things that are ground up and pressed back together, like bologna, chopped ham, and anything with “loaf” in the name. I recently found that the store-brand turkey at the deli counter had nothing added but some water, while the pre-packaged stuff had quite a few added ingredients. Worth checking.
- Low carb tortillas – Ever since the Earl of Sandwich was too busy gambling to make it to the dinner table, some sort of protein on bread has been the quintessential convenience food. With low carb tortillas, we can add sandwiches back to our diet in the form of wraps and quesadillas. These are more and more available, but if you can’t get them locally, order them online. I like La Tortilla Factory brand.
Zowie! This is a serious meal.
Mondo Giganto Quesadilla-From-Hell
Thank my husband for the name — he took one look at this big, thick quesadilla, and that’s what he called it.
- 3 ounces shredded Monterey Jack (90 g)
- 3 ounces purchased grilled chicken strips (90 g)
- 1/2 tablespoon canned sliced jalapenos (7 ml)
- 1/4 ripe avocado, sliced
Place one of your tortillas in a large, heavy, dry skillet. Spread half the shredded cheese on it, then top with the chicken, then the jalapenos and avocado slices, and top with the rest of the cheese. Place the second tortilla on top. Toast over medium heat, with a tilted lid, for 3-4 minutes, or until the cheese is melting. Flip carefully – a few bits may escape from the sides, just tuck them back in. Continue toasting until all the cheese is melted. Use a pizza cutter to cut this in quarters right in the pan (turn the heat off first) – the quarters are far easier to transfer to plates than the whole thing.
2 servings, each with 14 grams of carbohydrate, and 10 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 4 grams. 29 grams of protein.
(Reprinted by permission from 15 Minute Low-Carb Recipes copyright 2003 Fair Winds Press)
© 2010 by Dana Carpender. What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.