We often hear that following a healthier lifestyle means giving up some of our favorite convenience and processed foods. The reason being is that certain processed or convenience foods contain high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, or sodium; however, not all convenience foods are created equal. Sure, whole plant-based foods provide optimum nutrition and health benefits but that doesn’t mean we have to limit ourselves to foods that are only considered “better” for us.
I advocate that all foods fit in our daily eating pattern – and that includes into a plant-based or vegan lifestyle. Creating a healthy plant-based or vegan pantry is such an exciting time to widen your intake of foods. It creates the perfect occasion to explore new foods, textures, and spices that you haven’t tried before. But any pantry doesn’t have to be limited to just whole foods. In fact, a successful and fulfilling pantry includes all types of foods we find at the grocery store – including convenience foods.
Following a plant-based or vegan lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to give up some of those favorite convenience foods you once had in your pantry. To be quite honest, they can be a life saver at certain times and can be part of a well-balanced lifestyle. Sometimes, we just need to take the time to look at the label and decide which one we want.
In my latest article, I wrote about 11 foods for a healthy vegan shopping list. Here, I share with you 5 convenience foods that are a must-have in your pantry.
1. Frozen Fruit
Frozen fruit is a great staple to have in your freezer. They provide just as many nutrients as fresh fruit. This is because frozen fruit is harvested at peak time (i.e. fully ripen) and the freezing process allows to “lock in” these nutrients for later consumption.
Having frozen fruit available at home allows you to make a quick smoothie for breakfast or snack, a delicious pie when you’re craving dessert, or a perfect topping for your overnight oats. The convenience of it is that frozen fruit doesn’t have to be washed, cut, or prepared in any other way – they simply have to be transferred from the bag they’re in to your meal. There really is no right or wrong way for using any type of frozen fruit in the kitchen. My favorites to have are strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple. They are typically seen in my morning smoothie!
2. Pasta Sauce
Having your favorite type of pasta comes in handy when you want to prepare a quick, simple dinner. Pair it with your favorite pasta sauce and you have a quick meal ready in just under 20 minutes. Pasta sauce has had a bad rep lately, primarily due to having added sugar and high amounts of salt. You can easily make your own pasta sauce such as this Roasted Veggie Sauce but there are days when you simply want to open a jar and pour it over your spaghetti. To choose the most appropriate pasta sauce for you, read the ingredients List (it’s perhaps more important than what the Nutrition Facts Label reads). Simply look that added sugar – sugar, evaporated cane juice, high fructose syrup – isn’t at the top of the list. You can easily find a tasty pasta sauce with no added sugar, such as the Eden Foods Spaghetti Sauce or Classico Tomato & Basil, to name a few.
3. Veggie Burgers or Patties
Plant-based meat alternatives are a great convenience food to have at home, especially when first transitioning to an all plant-based lifestyle. Nowadays, you can find a variety of brands at your local supermarket that offer different flavored veggie patties. Many brands do also offer soy-free and gluten-free options. Look for brands that use more wholesome ingredients in their veggie burgers, such as beans and grains. A great brand that highlights these ingredients is Sweet Earth Natural Foods. They have a collection of veggie burgers that are made with wholesome ingredients and taste good too. Try a variety of brands and flavors until you find one that meets your taste criteria.
4. Canned Beans and Vegetables
Although I enjoy cooking my own chickpeas from time to time, I don’t always have the time or the motivation to cook dry beans. This is where canned beans (and canned vegetables) come in handy. Many canned goods contain high amounts of sodium to preserve flavor and texture. Aim for canned goods that read ‘No Added Salt’ or ‘Reduced Salt’. If you can’t find any of these, simply drain and rinse under water to remove some of the added salt. In essence, grab any canned bean or vegetable you may need for cooking and know it’s a must-have staple for your pantry.
5. Tortilla Chips
Tortilla chips are a basic staple to have at home. They make the perfect device for scooping up salsa for a snack, great for nachos, or crumbled on top of a bowl of chili for a little crunch. Many consider tortilla chips to be ‘unhealthy’ due to its high calorie content but that’s not necessarily the case. There are traces of iron and B-vitamins present in these crunchy and delicious chips. Look for tortilla chips that are made with corn and is listed as the first ingredient to gain more nutrients. There are some brands out there that use masa harina (or corn flour) as the main ingredient, which don’t offer many nutrients or fiber. Whether you prefer yellow corn, white corn, or blue corn, enjoy having this crunchy snack at home.
As much as we want to live the whole, fresh-food lifestyle, it’s perfectly okay to take the convenience route sometimes. It saves time and adds variety to your pantry.
What's your favorite convenience food to have at home?