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Easy and healthy instant meals our physicians love

January 17, 2023 Posted in: Recipes , Blogs , English

You buy fresh produce at the beginning of the week with the hopes of making a spectacular meal. Then, the end of the week comes along, and all that produce has gone bad. You no longer need to worry about using all your greens before they rot—instead, substitute these frozen or canned options that our Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physicians use.

Instant meal staples to keep in your pantry

When shopping for instant foods, there are a few things to consider. Look through the nutrition label for simple ingredient lists with whole foods and low to moderate amounts of sodium. Avoid buying packaged foods that include preservatives, trans fat, artificial sweeteners, and added sugars.

Dr. Alexandria Roden, primary care physician with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group, explains the best way to shop for your pantry staples and some items on nutrition labels to avoid.

Canned and frozen foods

“When I am looking to buy canned and frozen items there are a few things I always look for. One thing to look out for is the amount of sodium in each item. Canned food and frozen meals can have a lot of them! When it comes to frozen meals, the sodium is used as a preservative and to enhance flavor. Look for the sodium content when purchasing those microwavable meals from the freezer section. Keep in mind that the daily recommended value of sodium is 2000mg. Some people may need to eat even less if they have certain health conditions. When we eat too much sodium it can cause our bodies to retain water and can increase our blood pressure. Many of the freezer meals available have close to that amount in one serving! I would suggest that when buying canned items such as beans to choose the “low sodium” options. If that is not available, you can drain the canned vegetables and rinse them in the sink to lower the sodium content.”
“Frozen vegetables are a great option if you’re looking to add vegetables to your diet. They have no added sodium (unlike their canned counterparts) and have just as many nutrients as fresh vegetables. If vegetables seem daunting, try grabbing an easy steam bag from the freezer aisle and eat it alongside your meal. It doesn’t take any prep or planning, and there is a variety of flavors to choose from. Another easy way to buy the variety bags with many different vegetables (peas, broccoli, and cauliflower for example). These can be added easily to any meal! You could cook these in the microwave and easily add to a whole wheat spaghetti dish. You can also add them frozen straight into a soup! No cooking required.” 

Watch out for added sugars

Dr. Roden warns “another thing to keep in mind is the sugar content when buying canned fruit. Buying fresh produce can sometimes be a hassle, but there are other options. Canned fruit is often in a sugary syrup. Fruit itself has sugar and doesn’t need any more added. If you’re looking to buy canned peaches for example, try to choose the cans that say “in 100% juice”. This will help you choose fruits that are in their natural fruit juice, and not syrup. If you cannot find these options, rinse the canned fruit in the sink to remove the syrup. Another option is choosing frozen fruit. Frozen fruit does not have any sugar added to it. You could easily buy frozen peaches and berries and allow them to thaw. They make great additions to low fat yogurt, low fat cottage cheese, or oatmeal. They also can be a great frozen snack during those hot summer months!”

Beans, beans, beans

“Canned beans can be a great addition to any meal. They add fiber, protein, and nutrients to every meal. They have a low glycemic index, which means that they will not spike your blood sugar. That is because their carbohydrates and nutrients are packaged in plant protein and fiber! Did you know that beans also contain chemicals that fight off cancer and help fight obesity?  Canned beans can be used in a variety of recipes. You can smash black beans and use them as filling for black bean quesadillas. You can use white beans and make a delicious side salad packed with protein. Chickpeas make great snacks if you roast them. They can also be smashed with avocado and spices to spread between two whole grain bread slices for a filling and easy lunch!”


Dr. Roden likes to keep oatmeal in her pantry as well. She “suggests avoiding the “instant oat” packages such as the classic brown sugar oatmeal packet. These flavored prepackaged servings are often packed with sugar. Eating this much sugar early in the day is going to spike your blood sugar and lead to an energy crash in a few hours. You need a breakfast that will power you all morning! It is a much better option to get steel cut oats or old fashioned oats. These are less processed which means no added sugars or salts that the instant oats tend to have.  Did you know that you can make oatmeal overnight in a crockpot or by soaking in milk (or plant milk)? Try topping your oatmeal with blueberries (full of antioxidants) and cinnamon. Another option is slices of half a banana and a tablespoon of nut butter.”


Two easy and healthy pantry recipes

You can store most of the items in these easy recipes in the pantry or freezer for optimal food lifespan needs. Serve healthy meals full of nutritious ingredients with these recipes.

Easy smashed bean quesadillas with jicama

  1. Whole wheat tortillas (2)

  2. Low fat shredded cheese (1/4 cup)

  3. One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

  4. One jicama: peeled and cut into cubes

  5. Tajin

  6. One lime

Peel your jicama and cut it into cubes. Cut lime into wedges and squeeze onto jicama. Sprinkle with Tajin. Heat a small saucepan on the stove. Add black beans with ¼ cup of water. Turn heat on medium low to begin warming beans. As they cook, use a fork or other utensil to smash the beans. Cook until water is absorbed and beans are warm. Spread warm beans on two whole wheat tortillas. Sprinkle on your shredded cheese and fold in half. You can also enjoy this with ¼ cup of salsa. Enjoy your plant based protein packed meal! 

Frozen berry smoothie

  1. ½ cup of plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt

  2. 1 cup of frozen blueberries

  3. ½ cup of frozen or fresh spinach

  4. 1 tsp of cinnamon

  5. About ½ to 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk 

  • Blend all ingredients together for an antioxidant rich breakfast smoothie. You can add more or less milk depending on how thick you would like your smoothie. This is a great way to sneak some veggies into a meal! 

Get started creating meals with staple pieces you have right in your pantry! If you have more questions relating to diet and nutrition, schedule a visit with a Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician to get the best recommendations for your lifestyle.

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