Heart-Healthy Store-Bought Shortcuts

“I don’t have time” is one of the most common reasons I hear for eating takeout and boxed meals. People often joke about needing a personal chef, but preparing a nutritious meal doesn’t have to take a lot of time! I’ll often bring a peanut butter and banana wrap when I’m on the go, in part because it’s faster than stopping for fast food. (Also hi, peanut butter.)

For those with limited time, energy, or enthusiasm for cooking who won’t be hiring a personal chef anytime soon, here’s the next best thing. A few of my favourite ways to outsource some of the washing, chopping, and maybe even cooking, without sacrificing nutrition, in an excerpt from my 30-Minute Heart Healthy Cookbook (affiliate link):

Healthy Store-Bought Shortcuts

If saving time in the kitchen is important to you, it may be worth paying a bit more for certain convenience foods that sacrifice little in the way of health and taste:

  • Meat or chicken cut into strips make for quick stir-frying or sautéing; frozen chicken breasts pounded thin also cook quickly.
  • Pre-washed greens, such as spinach, baby kale, and others, can be added to a number of dishes to boost nutrition.
  • Bagged salad is ready to dump into a salad bowl; then, consider using just half the dressing or tossing with extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar.
  • Pre-cut fruit and vegetables are great for snacks or stir-fries; use within a day or two.
  • Frozen vegetables, including broccoli, spinach, kale, and even butternut squash, will save you lots of prep time—new products seem to appear every week, so check your supermarket.
  • Herb, garlic, and ginger stir-in pastes let you add flavour to dishes in seconds.
  • Fully or partially cooked brown rice and other whole grains are available plain so you can season them yourself (the flavoured products are usually high in sodium).
  • Rotisserie chicken can be the beginning of many quick meals; although most have added salt, the sodium is usually lower than deli meat, and you’ll avoid nitrates and nitrites.
  • Frozen meals with whole grains, vegetables, beans, fish, and chicken beat takeout on those hectic evenings when from-scratch cooking just isn’t going to happen. Look for sodium levels close to 600 mg or less. Generally healthier brands include Luvo, Trader Joe’s, Healthy Choice, Amy’s, and Evol.


Whole grains in 10 minutes, because par-boiled. You’ll need to season it though.


Handy on weeknights. At Costco. Thin-sliced so no thawing required.


Always something new in the frozen veggies aisle.

Wait, what, frozen meals?

Surprised to see the frozen meals at the end there? If so, maybe it’s time for a more nuanced view of processed food. No question, an over-reliance on some processed foods can set you up for long-term health problems. To dismiss anything in a box, however, is an oversimplification.

As always, if we use “all or nothing” thinking, our eating habits are likely to go from all to nothing – all homemade until we run out of time, to the drive-through because we haven’t got a middle ground to fall back on.

Some researchers have started using the term “ultra-processed,” to characterize foods that have been stripped of most of their nutrition and doctored up with salt, sugar, and other food additives. That’s not what I’m suggesting.

ultra-processed, exhibit A

I’m talking about occasional use of minimally processed prepared foods when you might otherwise end up at Tim Hortons or eating a Soup at Hand (pet peeve – why do I see this emasculated food in so many office kitchens?).

more nutrition, less sodium

If you put a few of these in the freezer for backup, check the nutrition facts. Look for about:

  • calories – 400 or more (yes, you need enough to eat!)
  • protein – 20g or more (or add a yogurt or soy milk to boost it)
  • fibre – 4g or more
  • sodium – 600mg or less
  • sugar – 8g or less

A look at the ingredient list should give you a reality check – how close is this to freezing something you made at home?

Should we make everything from scratch?

On the other hand, consider life without any processed foods. I did a talk this week for the Heart to Heart cardiac support society about this topic and there was a lively discussion about favourite kitchen tricks. Afterwards I received this fascinating email from one of the senior members of the group, who is originally from a small community in northeastern Saskatchewan:

“I grew up on a farm, we had a huge garden. We had chickens, lots of eggs, if we felt like a chicken dinner, all we had to do was go to the chicken coop early and grab as many chickens as we needed. We also had pigs, we had a smoke house and it turned out the most amazing bacon, and sausages. We had a lake on a section of our land, in the winter Dad would cut a hole in the ice and grab as many very large white fish.

It was a family affair cleaning the scales of the fish, mother would then put the chunks in jars add tomatoes sometimes and put them in a canner and process, jars and jars of fish, she also preserved beef, and pork, also vegetables from the garden, we picked berries and they got preserved as well.

We made ice cream, we had an icehouse, that held large chunks of ice from the lake, covered with layers of sawdust from the local sawmill. We sometimes had ice from the winter before. My parents also made sauerkraut from cabbage we grew in the garden. My Dad was a hunter, he would go out hunt for deer, it got preserved as well.

I have great memories of my childhood. I forgot the best part, Dad made homemade beer, it was enjoyed with friends and neighbours. Dad made Root Beer for me. The cellar held all the canned goods, Dad’s beer, all the potatoes, etc from the garden.”

(Shared with permission.)

That’s a lovely picture, but for better or worse, few people live that way anymore. (Not sure you needed all that detail. Really, I just loved her email and wanted to share it with you. Thanks for indulging.)

The point is, personally I’m grateful for my midweek grocery run where I pick up pre-cut fruit, a bagged salad, and/or a rotisserie chicken. If you check our deep freeze you’ll often find individually frozen thin-cut chicken breasts and even (gasp) breaded fish.

These kitchen shortcuts enable me to do all that I do and still get something approaching 7 hours of sleep (usually) and a bit of exercise every day, so they support better cardiovascular health in more ways than one.

If you want more quick meal ideas, take a peek at my Budget-friendly meals for when you *really* don’t feel like cooking.

What other ideas would you add to the list? Share them on Facebook.

If you want ideas for what to do with these foods and more, you’ll find them in my 30-Minute Heart Healthy Cookbook. Order it here from Canada, and here from the USA (affiliate links).

(*As always, these real-world examples are not sponsored. Just trying to be helpful.)

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