We have all been there. You are hungry and have nothing to eat and you wonder what to do.
For those of you who want to eat healthy or reduce or eliminate a food or ingredient like gluten, it helps to have a few strategies for staying well-nourished and happy.
It’s when you’re hungry and exhausted that food choices can go wild! It is the “enemy” of a healthy diet.
How to make healthy food choices?
With our hectic lifestyles, cooking all of our meals at home can seem like a pipe dream. Continuous meal planning isn’t always possible either, even if you cook more often than most.
Sometimes you might have part of a meal at home, but you’re missing quite a few items. That’s when it’s good to learn about the many food sources near you that may be hiding in plain sight.
Think of it as a survey of what’s in your immediate vicinity.
What can you deliver or pick up quickly?
You can start your search online, but it’s best to walk into these various establishments to view the food, read the labels, and possibly smell the aromas to really know what’s available.
Find out what’s in stock regularly and what items are in rotation throughout the week.
Here’s how to get healthy food from the six places you’ve probably visited.
1. Groceries and other food stores
They often have Grab & Go, “ready to heat” or “ready to cook” items in the refrigerated and frozen sections. Many of these stores also offer curbside delivery and pickup.
Check them all out, not just your regular store, they all carry different items.
Well-known examples are national stores like Kroger, Market Street, Safeway and Albertson’s. But there are health-focused stores like Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and local specialty stores unique to your area, as well as big-box stores like Target and Walmart.
2. Farmers Markets
They offer fresh, organic and local products.
3. Warehouse Club Stores
Places like Costco and Sam’s Club are especially great if you have a large group to feed. Be selective and considerate, and don’t go when you’re hungry or craving a snack or you might end up bringing home a bag of family-sized chips or a box of candy bars.
Closco offers many healthy foods, and even gluten-free options in their grocery section. You can stock your pantry and save money.
Ordering extra food when dining out or ordering out. Save it for later when you just won’t have time to cook.
5. Door Dash, Uber Eats, Grubhub
If you prefer to be at home, try these apps. Many restaurants will mark vegetarian, gluten-free, or other healthy menu options to make it easier for you.
6. Meal/Meal Kit Delivery Services
Places like Hello Fresh, Freshly, and Territory can make meal prep easier.
With this idea in mind, write a list of healthy meals (breakfasts, lunches and dinners), about 5-7 of each that you would like to have in rotation on a regular basis.
Then make a list of the ingredients for those meals. These items can be mixed and matched with the foods you have at home and those you can find in the list above.
If you’re good at keeping pantry and fridge/freezer staples, then you’re halfway there. Remembering what to buy and keeping those items handy is key, so keeping a running list on your phone makes it that much easier.
Below is a list of items I recommend having on hand for hanger emergencies. Perishables will need to be replenished at least once a week, but sometimes more, depending on how many people you are feeding.
(This is my list of gluten-free essentials that are organic/local when possible.)
10 essential refrigerated items:
1. Greens in boxes or bags
Ready-to-eat spinach, spring mix, super greens, and more. Always look for the most recent expiration date possible.
2. Greens in “clusters”
Kale, romaine lettuce, and other dark leafy greens
3. Raw vegetables
Zucchini, squash, broccoli, onions, cauliflower, peppers (red, green, yellow and orange), cucumber, radish, carrots, green beans, beets, cabbage, celery, asparagus, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, leeks and many others.
If the pre-cut is available, then hooray! Experiment with different blends and you’ll be surprised how different they taste, yet all delicious!
4. Stir-fried/roasted/cooked vegetable mixes
Bake a batch several times a week to have them on hand and heat them up quickly.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and apples. If you are lowering your glycemic index, use them sparingly.
6. Dairy products
My fridge essentials are organic grade A butter and a healthy cheese, like shredded, part-skim, low-water mozzarella.
Liquid dairy products are a category that can be controversial, but if you choose to use them, read the ingredient declaration carefully.
Organic farm eggs.
A healthy fat to use as an ingredient or topping for various foods/salads.
Primal Foods brand or equivalent made with avocado oil and Sir Kensington or equivalent made with safflower oil. I use half of one and half of the other for better consistency for making tuna, chicken salad, etc.
Végénaise and other vegan options are great for those who are allergic to eggs, vegan, or trying to avoid eggs.
10. Meats (natural and lean)
Grilled chicken breasts, roast chicken, sliced turkey breast (all natural, Applegate Naturals or equivalent), beef (ground or steak), pork, fish, seafood, fresh/frozen turkey patties or any other lean protein options that you like.
13 Pantry Essentials:
1. Long grain brown rice
This is a wonderful whole-grain food and gluten-free alternative to bread and pasta – Lundberg Family Farms brand or equivalent.
Store some cooked and ready to heat in the refrigerator as well as wrapped in the pantry.
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2. Sweet potatoes
Store in the pantry for cooking and cook/dice in the fridge to reheat quickly. It is a healthier alternative to white potatoes.
Canned, MSC certified, containing only tuna and water as ingredients, no additives.
Be the food detective and inspect the ingredient list.
4. Gluten-free pasta
Jovial brand, brown rice pasta is recommended.
5. Long Grain Brown Rice Cakes
For snacks, Lundberg recommended brown rice and only salty ingredients (savory snack topped with almond butter).
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Almonds (whole, preferably natural), pecans, walnuts and pistachios.
Be sure to pack nuts or other healthy low-glycemic snacks with you, so you don’t get hungry during transport.
7. Nut butter
Almond butter is excellent, with no added oils or sugars.
Once opened, I add stevia and salt which enhances the taste. But beware of peanut butter, peanuts are actually legumes. It is a common food and used by many, but not a nut butter.
8. Chicken, vegetable and beef broths
Pacific Foods brand, organic in aseptic packaging for soups, pilaf and other recipes.
Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut or Quick Cook Gluten Free Rolled Oats.
10. Coconut Oil
For nutritional supplementation and cooking.
11. Olive oil
For cooking and making salad dressings. Premium, extra virgin, organic if it’s in your budget.
12. Balsamic vinegar
For salad dressings and other recipes.
13. Cocoa nibs and cocoa powder
Navitas organic brand or equivalent, for healthy smoothies, toppings, shakes, coffees and hot chocolate.
Putting a little extra effort and knowing what you can buy around you, as well as having good staples on hand, will allow you to make the right decisions.
With a little discipline, creativity, and research, your meals will be “in the queue” and your healthier future will unfold right in front of you.
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Becky Smith is a certified health coach and wellness expert with a background in menu development/food and beverage sourcing in the restaurant industry. She shares her knowledge of healthy foods and healthy lifestyles to help people achieve their own health/wellness goals and have the motivation and discipline to succeed. Go to his website to find out more.