We’ve all been there. You’re hungry and have nothing readily available to eat and find yourself wondering what to do.
For those of you interested in eating healthy or reducing or eliminating a food or ingredient like gluten, it helps to have some strategies to keep yourself well-fed and happy.
It’s when you’re hangry and depleted when food choices can run amok! This is the “enemy” of healthy eating.
How do you make healthy food choices?
With our busy lifestyles, cooking all our meals at home can feel like a pipe dream. Continuous meal planning isn’t always feasible either, even if you do get to cook more often than most.
Sometimes, you might have part of a meal at home, but are missing quite a few items. This is when it’s a good idea to discover the many sources for foods that are near you and may be hiding in plain sight.
Think of it as an investigation of what’s in your near vicinity.
What can you have delivered or go pick up quickly?
You can start your search online, but best to go inside these different establishments to see the food, read the labels, and potentially smell the aromas to really find out what’s available.
Find out what’s in stock regularly and what items are rotated throughout the week.
Here’s how to get healthy food from the six places you probably already visit.
1. Grocery stores 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 have delivery and curbside pick-up as well.
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-oriented 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. Farmer’s markets
They offer fresh, organic, and local items.
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 thoughtful, and don’t go when you’re hungry or feeling snacky or you might end up bringing home a family-size bag of chips or a box of candy bars.
Clostco 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 in or ordering out. Save it for later, when you just don’t have time to cook.
5. Door Dash, Uber Eats, Grubhub
If you’d rather be at home, try these apps. Many restaurants will mark vegetarian, gluten free or other healthy menu options to make it easy for you.
6. Meal delivery / meal kit services
Places like Hello Fresh, Freshly, and Territory can make meal prep easier.
With this idea in mind, write up 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 in these meals. These items can be mixed and matched with foods you have at home and what you can source from the list above.
If you’re good at keeping pantry and refrigerator / freezer staples around, then you’re halfway there. Remembering what to buy and keeping these items on hand is key, so keeping a running list on your phone makes it so much easier.
Below is a list of items I recommend having on hand for hanger emergencies. The perishables will need to be replenished at least once a week, but sometimes more – depending on how many of you are feeding.
(This is my gluten-free essentials list that is organic / local when possible.)
10 Essential Refrigerated Items:
1. Greens in boxes or bags
Ready to eat spinach, spring mix, super greens, etc. Always look for the latest “Best by” date possible.
2. Greens in “bunches”
Kale, romaine and other dark, leafy greens
3. Raw vegetables
Zucchini, squash, broccoli, onions, cauliflower, bell peppers (red, green, yellow, and orange), cucumber, radishes, carrots, green beans, beets, cabbage, celery, asparagus, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, leeks and many others.
If pre-cut is available, then hooray! Experiment with different medleys and you’ll be surprised at how different they taste, but all delicious!
4. Sauteed / roasted / cooked veggie medleys
Cook a batch of these a couple of times a week to have these on hand to reheat quickly.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and apples. If you’re reducing your glycemic index, use these sparingly.
Essentials in my fridge are grade A organic butter and a healthy cheese, like low-moisture, part-skim, shredded mozzarella.
Liquid dairy is a category that can be controversial, but if you choose to use it, read the ingredient statement closely.
Organic, free-range eggs.
A healthy fat to use as an ingredient or topping for various foods / salads.
Primal Foods brand or equivalent made from 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.
Vegenaise and other vegan options are great for those who are allergic to eggs, vegan or otherwise trying to avoid eggs.
10. Meats (natural and lean)
Grilled chicken breasts, rotisserie chicken, sliced turkey breast (all-natural, Applegate Naturals or equivalent), beef (ground or steak), pork, fish, seafood, fresh / frozen turkey burger patties, or any other lean protein options you enjoy.
13 Essential Pantry Items:
1. Long grain brown rice
This is a wonderful whole grain food and a gluten-free alternative to bread and pasta – Lundberg Family Farms brand or equivalent.
Keep some cooked and ready to heat in the fridge as well as packaged in the pantry.
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2. Sweet potatoes
Keep in the pantry for cooking and cooked / diced in the fridge to reheat quickly. This 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 statement.
4. Gluten-free pasta
Jovial brand, brown rice pasta is recommended.
5. Long grain brown rice cakes
For snacks, Lundberg recommended brown rice and salt only ingredients (tasty snack topped with almond butter).
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Almonds (whole, natural preferred), pecans, walnuts and pistachios.
Be sure and carry some nuts with you, or other healthy, low glycemic snacks, so that you don’t find yourself hungry in transit.
7. Nut butter
Almond butter is excellent, containing no oils or added sugar.
Once opened, I stir in stevia and salt which enhances the taste. But watch out for peanut butter, peanuts are in fact legumes. It’s a common food and used by many, but not a nut butter.
8. Chicken, vegetable, and beef broths
Pacific Foods brand, organic in an aseptic package for soups, pilaf and other recipes.
Gluten-free steel-cut or quick-cooking rolled oats from Bob’s Red Mill.
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. Cacao nibs and cacao powder
Navitas organic brand or equivalent, for smoothies, toppings, shakes, coffees, and hot healthy hot chocolate.
Putting a little extra effort and knowing what you can purchase around you, along with having good staples on hand, will put you in the driver’s seat of making the right decisions.
With a little discipline, creativity, and research your meals will be “in the queue” and your healthier future unfolding right before you.
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Becky Smith is a Certified Health Coach and Wellness Expert with a background in Menu Development / Food & Beverage procurement in the restaurant industry. She shares her knowledge of healthy food and healthy lifestyle habits to help people achieve their own health / wellness goals and to have the motivation and discipline that it takes to succeed. Go to her website to learn more.