How healthy is that boxed meal?

Hummus sprinkled with flax…get the goodness of legumes

Over 75% of shoppers claim to read the nutritional and ingredient labels when buying food.

That’s according to Food Business News and it’s a great trend. Ingredients you cannot pronounce, sugars and unhealthy fats dressed up in multi-syllable word, and food stripped of all nutritional value are being rejected after the smart shopper looks at the ingredient label. And, food manufacturers are taking notice as we vote with our purses about what we want in our homes and they are making changes.

However, you must still be aware of what you’re buying because not all healthy-looking packaging is healthy.

While it’s easiest to eat healthy when you choose foods as close to their natural state as possible, with little to no processing, it’s getting easier to find healthy-ish packaged and prepared foods created for convenience at the grocery store. Because face it, when you have a full-time life which is not centered around “what’s for dinner” then meal-time can be a challenge.

Here are 5 easy tips for making meals fast and healthy:

Prepare sauces and marinades in advance

Olive oil is golden heaven and great for homemade dressings

While you can buy plenty of great tasting marinades and sauces off the shelf, the biggest challenge with them is the amount of salt they contain. Personally, I don’t cook with salt. Instead choosing to flavor food with herbs and spices and putting salt on the table, if needed, so each diner can sprinkle according to their own tastebuds. However, when you want to make a quick homemade meal, having a prepared sauce available reduces your cooking time so you get dinner on the table in under 30 minutes after a full day of work and play. Home-prepared sauces can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer until ready for use. Max storage time varies based on what’s in the sauce; however, rule of thumb for a frozen sauce is to use within 3 months. Be sure to store in serving-sized portions. Small canning jars and silicone ice cube trays work great.

Grill more

Grill low and slow to keep the juices in

A gas grill is your year-round friend. Yes, we even grill in the rain! Begin marinating fresh meat in the morning by adding your flavoring of choice to the meat, seal in a bag, and place in the fridge until ready. Or, add your marinade to the meat and freeze in a freezer bag until ready. Then, simply place that bag in the fridge the night before and by the time you’re home from work the following day, it should be thawed and ready for grilling. Slow-cooking a piece of pork or chicken with a side of vegetables can be achieved in less than 30 minutes. The result? A simple, juicy, serving of protein rich food and brightly colored, nutritionally rich, crunchy veggies. And (bonus), cleanup is a breeze.

Make your own teas

Cold-brewed tea is a simple and delicious alternative to water

Drinking water is a good thing; drinking water can quickly become boring. I mean…it’s water. It has no flavor. Because of this many people will reach for a sweet and carbonated alternative. Why not try cold-brewed tea? It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated and it’s crazy easy. Take a glass container, fill it with filtered water, drop in a variety of tea bags, cover, and then place in the refrigerator for a few hours. See…simple! I use a quart-sized container and put in 3-4 green tea bags and then 2-3 flavored tea bags such as orange or mint. Some may prefer to add some honey for sweetness. If you do, stir it in some warm water before adding to your tea because it makes mixing it easier. I encourage you to try it without any added sweeteners and really enjoy the flavor of the tea. Keeping the sweeteners out may also re-train your tastebuds to prefer less-sweet foods. This flavor adjustment can spill over into other areas of your food world with the side benefit of re-introducing you to what food should really taste like!

Healthy fats are still your friend

Avocado is a wonderful base for spreads, smoothies, or just scooped right out of the skin!

Avocado, almonds, salmon and other omega-3, monosaturated foods give your body a lot of what it needs and crowds out your appetite for the things it doesn’t. It’s been said that when your body is filled with nutritionally rich foods, it won’t crave all the crappy food wrapped in brightly colored labels with promises of unicorns, sunshine, and dancing rainbows. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? I mean, really, if you have to try that hard to convince someone you’re good for them, well, you’re trying too hard! Mix your tuna or chicken with mashed avocado instead of mayo as a sandwich filling; go for hummus as a spread; grab a snack of almonds and figs rather than a processed breakfast bar; put grilled salmon over a bed of leafy greens; throw some nuts or seeds into that morning or afternoon smoothie. It’s easy to add in some good fat.

Love your legumes

Back beans with peppers – so simple to make at home!

Lower your fat intake and boost protein and fiber easily be adding beans to your meal. Toss chickpeas on your salad, blend white beans and add to soups or sauces as a thickener, pass the peas for some of the best protein around, and munch on edamame with a light sprinkling of sea salt rather than chips. Legumes comes in several varieties. Beans (most people are aware of this one), nuts (peanut, soy, carob), peas, and lentils in various colors. In their dried forms, legumes are inexpensive; however, may require some soaking time so watch this when planning a meal. You can start soaking the beans the night before, lowering prep time the next day. Or, opt for the canned varieties and rinse thoroughly before use.