Monday, July 6, 2009

No Time for Cooking? Hit the Grocery Store Salad Bar or Deli for a Healthy Alternative to Fatty Fast Food

As I mentioned in my last post on July 2, Aaron and I moved to Indianapolis from Chicago. Last Friday, we loaded up our essential items to move to a temporary apartment until our condo in Chicago sells because our ultimate goal is to buy a single family house with a yard in Indy. We arrived Friday night famished from a long day of packing, loading, and driving 3 hours to our new city. Since everything was still boxed up, I decided to go to the Whole Foods near our new apartment so I could grab a healthy dinner. I took advantage of the salad bar and deli for prepared food that we could eat "picnic" in our new place. Everything I selected was something you could eat cold. I picked out grilled boneless skinless chicken breast from the deli (and on sale for $2.49 each!), spicy green olives from the olive bar, naan bread, roasted beets from the salad bar, and pasta salad and coleslaw from the deli. For the next day, the side dishes were great to have on-hand alongside the burgers that I cooked before the move. Or you could simply serve these ready-made sides with a sandwich in the future.

Our impromptu meal worked really well and I thought of some helpful tips that you might find useful if you're stuck in a jam when you don't have time to cook. First of all, most people in this situation might turn to unhealthy fast food. As your staying committed to a healthy lifestyle, it can be tempting to go for fast food because you don't think about the other alternatives. There are better choices out there!

  • Pick out healthy main dish first: grilled chicken, beef or fish is a great option because you can eat it cold, without reheating. At some grocery stores like Whole Foods, they have microwaves to heat up your food so you can eat it at the store.
  • Look for the sale items (convenience food don't have to break the bank): A great way to stick to your budget when you're buying prepared food is to look for the sales. I saw the grilled chicken was on special and decided to find side dishes that go with that main course. If you find sale items that you like, build your meal around that item.
  • Go for the freshest dishes: By the end of the day, some lettuce or delicate salads may be limp or watery. Pasta or mixed bean salads stand up well even at the end of the day.
  • Ask for samples, if you're not sure how something tastes: Many stores give free samples so you can decide if you will like the dish before you commit to buying it. It's a great way to tell if it is still fresh, too.
  • Salad bar shopping: In my case, I picked out olives because they are a great snack and they keep well in the refrigerator. I also selected beets as a nutritious side dish. You can pick out precut, washed veggies for a simple side salad. The Whole Foods salad bar also has small chucks of cheese and bread so you can grab for a quick picnic easily.
  • Raid the produce section: Fresh fruit is an easy item to grab. When I'm on the road traveling in different cities, I grab apples, oranges, and other fruit that you can eat with without chopping. Or go for the washed and cut fruit that are ready to grab and eat.
  • Stick to your budget: If you have a budget in mind, start with the main dish and build out from there. Whole fruit or precut, washed carrots and dip are a great side dish you can pair with the side dishes. You might spend a bit more money than fatty fast food meals, but think about what those meals do to your body. Stick with the sale items, which there are many especially in the summer, and you'll be okay!
If you have any other no-cook and anti-fast food tips, add your comments to this post.

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