Food Preparation

Shopping List and Quick Meal Ideas for Busy People

January 11, 2017   /
Author: 
Alex Lewis, RD, LD

In today’s quick food environment, planning, chopping, and cooking healthy meals and snacks can be nearly impossible. Whether you are short on time on a regular basis or just need a quick meal in a pinch, below you will find a shopping list of healthy fresh, boxed, canned, and frozen products as well as sample meal ideas. 

Shopping list
This shopping list is organized by sections in a typical grocery store. You may find that pre-portioned and packaged items/meals are more expensive. It is important to consider how much money your time is worth and if you have extra time to cook and portion all of these foods. If you do have time, then buying in bulk may be more cost effective for you. If you are short on time, then the items below may be the best way for you to choose and eat a wide variety of healthy foods. 

Produce section

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables; choose quick hand fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, and pears as well as vegetables that can be eaten on the go such as baby carrots
  • Pre-sliced/diced fruits and vegetables
  • Microwave-wrapped sweet potatoes and russet potatoes
  • Hummus and guacamole single-serving packs

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Bread/grains/cereal/crackers aisle

  • 100% whole-grain breads, English muffins, bagels, and wraps; make sure that “whole grain” or “whole wheat” is the first ingredient
  • Triscuits and other whole-wheat cracker varieties
  • Multigrain tortilla chips
  • Cheerios®, Chex™, raisin bran cereals; choose unsweetened cereal options if possible
  • Oatmeal cups and packs; choose original/unsweetened if possible

Canned goods and the middle aisles

  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Canned fruits in natural juice or water
  • Applesauce and fruit cups; make sure to choose “unsweetened” 
  • Amy’s chilis
  • Soups; choose low sodium, broth-based, and with lots of vegetables and lean meats
  • Silk® soymilk, individual serving boxes
  • Microwaveable brown rice and quinoa
  • Raisins; other plain dried fruit, individual serving boxes
  • Salsa
  • Canned beans (black, pinto, garbanzo, etc)
  • Canned lentils
  • Nuts (cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, soynuts, etc); can buy 100-calorie packs of various nuts
  • Nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, etc); can also buy single-serving peanut butter packs
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, chia, hemp, ground flax)
  • Dry roasted edamame
  • Granola bars such as LUNA® and KIND® brands

Dairy/refrigerated section

  • Single-serve yogurt
  • Single-serve cottage cheese
  • Light cheese sticks
  • Pre-diced cheese cubes
  • Already boiled hard boiled eggs
  • Nitrate/nitrite-free lean deli meat
  • Fully cooked chicken sausage
  • Fully cooked grilled chicken strips

Frozen section

  • Kashi® frozen meals and pizzas
  • Amy’s frozen meals, pizzas, and burritos
  • Evol products
  • Food for Life® Ezekiel 4:9 breads
  • VitaTops®
  • Birds Eye® Steamfresh® Protein Blends
  • Frozen vegetables and vegetable blends, steam in bag; try different varieties to easily mix up a meal; limit varieties with salt or sodium, seasoned, and cream-based sauces
  • Frozen fruit; make sure that fruit is the only ingredient
  • Veggie burgers from Morning Star Farms®, Boca®, Dr. Praeger’s™, Amy’s, etc
  • Frozen edamame
  • Already cooked grilled chicken strips

Quick meal ideas
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, a healthy meal should consist of lots of vegetables (half the meal), a side of lean protein (1/4 the meal), and a side of whole grains (1/4 the meal). Below are five quick meal examples using this concept. 

  • Frozen Asian vegetable blend + microwave rice + Asian veggie burger
  • Canned green beans + microwave sweet potato + frozen grilled chicken
  • Frozen Southwest vegetable blend + black bean chili can + multigrain tortilla chips
  • Carrots + pre-sliced fruit salad + sandwich thin + lean deli meat
  • Vanilla soy milk box + frozen berries + oatmeal packet + 2 tablespoon (Tbsp) nuts

Quick snack ideas
A healthy snack should consist of a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Most snacks should be between 100-250 calories. Below are five quick snack examples using these guidelines. 

  • 2 Tbsp raisins + 2 Tbsp dry roasted edamame + 2 Tbsp nuts
  • 6 Triscuits + cheese stick
  • 1 slice wheat bread + ¼ mashed up avocado
  • Apple + cottage cheese + 1 Tbsp nut butter
  • Greek yogurt + 2 Tbsp chia seeds