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Cooking Tips

5 Ways to Make Store-Bought Foods Healthier

There’s no shame in taking shortcuts and using convenience foods to get you through a busy week. Here are ways to make store-bought foods healthier with a few easy swaps and additions.

While our social feeds may be loaded with people DIY-ing everything from bone broth to sourdough, most of us don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen on a daily basis. Meaning, in order to get food on the table, we often need a little help from healthier store-bought foods. Don’t worry, the authenticity police will not burst in on you if you buy canned broth, we promise.

Having said that, there are ways to take some of those store-bought foods and boost the health factor, so you get the best of both – streamlined meals that are also great for you. Here are some items that we unapologetically put in our carts, and a few ways to make those store-bought foods healthier.

1. Canned broth

In general, broth is a pretty healthy item on its own – or, at least, not unhealthy. The nutrition boost comes both in choosing a clean store-bought broth and then adding additional vegetables into it. Look for bone broth, stock made from actual bones, as opposed to simmering meat in water. Check the ingredients and make sure there are no sweeteners, hydrolyzed vegetable or soy protein, maltodextrin or stabilizers. Also, watch the sodium. Choose a low-sodium or no-salt broth so you can season to your liking. 

How to Use it 

Add vegetables (think cauliflower, broccoli, onions, carrots, celery and more) herbs, spices and high-quality protein. You can also use broth in place of some or all of the water when cooking rice or quinoa to add flavor. 

2. Puff pastry

Most of us are not making puff pastry from scratch (though if you are, respect). And we acknowledge that in general, it isn’t the healthiest item. But it is delicious and festive – putting something on or wrapping something in puff pastry makes it instantly fancier, and we are all for doing that on occasion. Look for whole-grain options where available for a fiber boost.

How to Use it

Try on top of a veggie-rich pot pie in place of biscuits or phyllo. For a brunch party, sprinkle the edges with everything bagel seasoning and bake, then spread with cream cheese and top with slices of smoked salmon. Use it instead of pizza crust or pie crust in a vegetable or fruit tart. 

3. Fish sticks

We can’t be the only ones who pretend to buy these for our kids but actually eat them ourselves, can we? (Oh, uh, never mind.) Store-bought brands vary widely in terms of how they make fish sticks, so it’s important to read the labels. Look for wild-caught fish (Alaskan pollock shows up frequently on labels; this is a mild, flaky white fish, related to cod, that’s a good source of protein and omega-3 fats). Some brands actually have quite a bit of sugar in the breading, you want to avoid that (or find ones with the least amount). As with most packaged foods, look for brands with as few ingredients as possible. Finally, seek out brands that are heavy on the fish, light on the breading.

How to Use it

Once you start with a good brand, the rest is easy. Use them to top a salad, or wrap them up in grain-free tortillas with shredded lettuce, salsa and avocado for the easiest fish tacos ever. You could even heat up half of a serving and enjoy it as a snack (not that we would do that; we only buy them for our kids).

4. Frozen waffles

Looking for healthier store-bought foods doesn’t mean that waffles are off the menu – there are clean options available. Select brands with the fewest, most recognizable ingredients and little to no added sugar. Along with the health factor, buying frozen waffles that are less sweet means you can use them for savory applications, too (hello, healthier fried chicken and waffles). Beyond that, seek out waffles that are made with whole grains (or are grain free), and try brands with boosters such as flaxseed meal or chia seeds.

How to Use it

To up the health factor from there, go beyond butter and syrup and use the waffles as the base for nourishing ingredients. Top a toasted waffle with some plain Greek yogurt and fresh berries, slather on your favorite nut butter and sprinkle with cacao nibs, or even make a pizza with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella (stick it under the broiler to melt the cheese). For a slightly more decadent but still healthy treat, top toasted waffles with caramelized bananas or a tart-sweet cherry-vanilla sauce.

5. Bagged coleslaw mix

Usually this is is simply shredded cabbage and carrots (or in the case of broccoli slaw, it uses shredded broccoli stems), so it’s already pretty healthy. Some brands include a dressing packet. Usually those packets are filled with low-quality oils, sugar and preservatives so we suggest avoiding those. 

How to Use it

Skip the packaged dressing and make your own vinegar-based dressing, or a creamy dressing with a healthier mayo. You can also use bagged coleslaw mix as a shortcut for egg roll bowls, or quickly sauté it with ginger and garlic and pour in eggs scrambled with coconut aminos or tamari for egg foo young (drizzle toasted sesame oil on top just before serving). 

For more healthier store-bought foods, check out 7 Pantry Items That’ll Turn Your Healthy Cooking Up to Eleven. And to get the most mileage out of your spice drawer, read 4 Global Spice Blends You Should Have in Your Pantry.