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Healthy Eating for Busy Days: Food Ready to Go

The beauty of "prepared foods"—food that's ready to go—is that you can eat delicious and nutritious fare no matter how busy you are, how late you're working, or who's coming to dinner! The trick, of course, is to locate a great source for them--like your food co-op, where skilled cooks prepare wholesome, scrumptious foods of all kinds, from soups and casseroles to fresh salads, savory sandwiches, and grilled-to-perfection meats and fish.

Whether your co-op features a full service deli counter or a "grab and go" case (or both), prepared foods are a great, affordable alternative to eating out.

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of prepared foods:

  • Sample. Full service deli counters are a great place to discover a new ethnic dish, a new way of preparing an old favorite, or an entirely new ingredient. When you see something you'd like to try, ask the staff for a taste.
  • Remember, it's not all or nothing. Consider purchasing an entrée and making your own side dish or serve with fresh vegetables you have stocked in your refrigerator. Or if you have the main dish covered, pick up a lively side or two to round out the meal.
  • Take advantage of shortcuts. Maybe you're in the mood for a stir-fry but don't have the time or desire to prepare all those vegetables. Why not pick up a container of just-the-right-amount of chopped vegetables from the salad bar? Or if you're itching to grill, check with the meat department for grill-ready options in meat and poultry (oven-ready meats are another possibility). Cooked seafood, meats, and poultry like grilled salmon or rotisserie chicken are often available.
  • Keep in mind when shopping for prepared foods that, unlike eating at a restaurant, you can purchase just the amounts to suit yourself (one veggie burger and a few very small sides, for example!).
  • Ask the staff for recommendations. What are some of the most popular items? What's their favorite sandwich? What's the best way to heat up your dish once you get it home?
  • Bring home a menu from the prepared foods counter, if available. Encourage family members to jot down what they'd like to try next time you stop (another bonus: you don't all have to eat the same thing for dinner!).

What's your favorite take-home from the prepared foods counter?