Maybe you’ve got 99 things to do and cooking isn’t one of them, or your daily M.O. is grab and go. Whatever your meal sitch, the last thing you want to reach for are overly processed foods or pounds of jerky to keep you going. Knowing what to look for in a pinch from readily available items is key to reaping the nutritional benefits you need when you’re busy.
“As a default, stay as close to nature as possible by relying on whole foods,” says Lee Yonish, a certified nutrition consultant in Princeton, New Jersey. A good rule of thumb: Always include some protein, fat, and color (legumes, nuts and seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables) in every meal, and buy organic whenever possible.
“Choosing whole rather than highly processed foods can help assure you’re getting the most nutrient-richness in every bite,” says New York City–based nutritionist Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN. When you do reach for packaged foods, Newgent recommends skipping trans fats and limiting added sugar to 5 grams or less per serving. “It’s actually not about the quantity of ingredients; it’s about the quality. Some strange-looking terms on ingredient lists might simply be added vitamins and minerals,” she adds. “But do steer clear of anything artificial, like synthetic food dyes. Ultimately, if your body doesn’t need it, why eat it?”
Before hitting the grocery aisle at your local Walgreens, consider opening a myWalgreens™ Credit Card, which you can use to pay for food items and earn Walgreens Cash rewards (i.e., 10 percent on Walgreens branded products and 5 percent for all other in-store items and pharmacy purchases, although exclusions apply).* If you’re approved for the myWalgreens Mastercard®, you can also earn 3 percent on groceries and health and wellness purchases outside Walgreens and 1 percent on everything else wherever Mastercard is accepted.*
Now, Yonish’s suggestions for how to pull together a day’s worth of quickie meals, using healthy snacks and a few kitchen staples. Take notes right now.
Yogurt + fruit + nuts + seeds + cinnamon
Grab a yogurt (preferably plain), add any available whole fruits (strawberries, bananas, oranges), mix in tree nuts like almonds and seeds like sunflower kernels, and add a dash of cinnamon. Yogurt is chock-full of beneficial bacteria for the gut while fruits like strawberries and citrus lend a boost of fiber, vitamin C, electrolytes, and minerals, Yonish says. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, and other tree nuts are amino acid powerhouses. They also have healthy fats and fiber, along with minerals and vitamins,” adds Yonish. Seeds are packed with similar nutrients, and adding a sprinkle of cinnamon amps up the antioxidants.
Lettuce + tuna + feta + hardboiled eggs + EVOO + balsamic + almonds
Dark leafy greens like spinach are nutritional powerhouses packed with fiber, iron, and the phytonutrient lutein, which is good for your eyes and heart. Top a bowl of greens with pair of hard-boiled eggs, which have 12 grams of protein, and sprinkle ¼ cup of feta cheese for a calcium boost. Feta is lower in fat and calories than aged cheeses like cheddar or Parmesan. Top with fresh veggies and ½ cup of pre-made tuna salad. Tuna is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation and may even ease menstrual cramps. Finish with a sprinkle of almonds and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and vinegar.
Whole grain crackers + cottage cheese + carrots + EVOO
Grab whole-grain crackers—the fiber in them will help you feel fuller longer—while giving a satisfying crunch. Cottage cheese (organic, if possible) has protein for more satiety and B vitamins, which help your body convert food to energy.
This is also one instance when fat is your friend. “A full-fat (4 percent) version has the added benefit of keeping you feeling full longer,” Yonish says. Add baby carrots for a boost of vitamin A and K as well as potassium, and for an added nutritional punch, drizzle the veggies with EVOO, which has anti-inflammatory properties, according to Yonish.
Whole grain bread + sliced turkey + carrots + hummus
Make a sandwich with whole-grain bread, which typically has protein and fiber, and turkey, an excellent source of protein. Turkey contains the full profile of amino acids, which are essential for absorbing nutrients, says Yonish. This “includes the nine essential amino acids that must be obtained through diet (our body cannot manufacture them like they can the other amino acids),” she adds. Grab some baby carrots as a vitamin A–rich alternative to chips and hummus. “It’s made from garbanzo beans, a legume that is rich in fiber, some B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids,” says Yonish.
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