8 Foods You Should Be Buying, Not Making, According to a Dietitian
Some foods are worth the toil and effort it takes to make them from scratch-even if only occasionally (think: tomato sauce, chicken stock or fresh tortillas).
Then, there are the foods that aren't automatically healthier just because they're homemade. Cheese, sauerkraut and kombucha are good examples in this category. They may be fun to make at home, if you know how, but there's unlikely to be anything better or healthier about them just because you made them under your own roof.
Lastly, you have a selection of foods that are delicious and healthy, but time-consuming and just as pricey to DIY. Many of these foods just happen to be fairly easy to find in stores.
"Once a year for Christmas, the women in my family make homemade tortellini. There is no better food in the world! But during the rest of the year when I want tortellini, I can find a nutritious option at the grocery store that fits the bill," says Holley Grainger, M.S., RD, owner of Cleverful Living with Holley Grainger.
If you're a fan of convenience, these as-good-as-homemade items from the grocery store shelves will make mealtime prep easier, and dinner will be just as delicious and nutritious as if you'd made every ingredient from scratch with your own two hands.
Pictured recipe: Vegan Mushroom Stroganoff
Making your own pasta is precise, tedious and time-consuming-which is why it's high on the list of items to simply purchase. Plus, from a nutrition standpoint, there isn't much difference between homemade and store-bought pasta. The ingredient list is often as short as two ingredients (flour and water or eggs), there's little to no sodium in a serving, and you'll get a little hit of protein and fiber if you purchase whole-wheat or new bean-based varieties.
Pictured recipe: Zucchini Noodles with Pesto & Chicken
During the summer months when fresh herbs are plentiful, homemade pesto is hard to beat. However, there are many commercial options that boast the same bright flavor and versatile application for when you don't have time to DIY or your basil plant bites the dust.
Pesto is traditionally made with olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, basil and Parmesan cheese, making it a heart-healthy swap for salty marinades and creamy spreads. But when you're buying it off the shelf (or from the refrigerator case), be mindful of the sodium count, as it can vary widely. Also, some brands sneak in sugar unnecessarily.
Related: How to Turn Any Herb into Pesto
Pictured recipe: Spiced Crackers
Do a quick search for a homemade cracker recipe online and you'll see that making your own is often a multi-hour process. Picking up a box of crackers, on the other hand, takes just minutes, and the direct comparison doesn't bear out the need for the long process of doing it yourself. In other words, the store-bought version cam be just as healthy and a whole lot easier.
For the most nutritious store-bought cracker, keep three things in mind:
- Aim to buy one that is made with whole-wheat flour. You want to see that first in the ingredient list, if possible.
- Sodium is almost always considerable in crackers, so seek out one with less sodium.
- If your crackers are whole-wheat, chances are they include a touch of added sugar, so read the ingredient list, and choose a cracker where sugar is either not on the list, or fairly close to the bottom.
Pictured recipe: Avocado-Egg Toast
Your avocado toast may be slightly more delicious on homemade toast, but store-bought bread is a convenient stand-in. Like crackers, buying bread instead of making it yourself means big-time savings, both in cost and time. Also, the things you should watch out for with crackers are similar with bread: to hit your whole-grains target, buy a whole-wheat bread; check the sodium, and pick a brand that's on the lower end; and be mindful of sugar, something that's almost always added to whole-wheat breads. We love these BLATs (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado and Tomato), pictured above, served up on store-bought sprouted wheat bread.
Pictured recipe: Avocado-Yogurt Dip
Making your own yogurt doesn't seem to improve the food's nutrition profile over the store-bought kind, a notorious store of sneaky sugar. But that's because all yogurts contain a natural sugar called lactose, so they all have a baseline sugar number. Unflavored yogurts are all a solid choice nutritionally and, since yogurt is fermented, deliver gut-healthy probiotics. It's the flavored varieties that you should compare to find one with the least amount of added sugar.
Pictured recipe: Simple Sauerkraut
Most of us don't have weeks to spend waiting for our sauerkraut to ferment before we eat it (though if you do, it's a lot of fun to make your own). Enter: store-bought kraut. Homemade or premade, sodium will always be an issue when it comes to sauerkraut, so try to buy one with the least amount of sodium. Also, if you want the good-for-your-gut probiotic benefits of sauerkraut, be sure to buy a refrigerated-not canned-kind.
Pictured recipe: Tomato Salsa
Mild, medium, hot. Regular versus chunky. Sweet or savory. We're not saying homemade won't be tastier, but with so many salsa options at the store, keeping a jar on hand to spice up taco night is easy to do. As with many other products on this list, sodium ranges widely between salsa brands. Some have sugar in their ingredient list, even if they're meant to be savory or spicy. And, lastly, if you don't like stabilizers or thickeners, this is a category to be mindful of, as they are in some (both shelf-stable and refrigerated) brands.
Pictured recipe: Double-Tahini Hummus
The number of hummus brands available at the store is expanding daily. Nothing against whirring chickpeas at home when you have time, but you can buy so many varieties that are cheap, tasty and nutritious.
Plus, "store-bought hummus is a great base to which you can add, dress up and make it your own," suggests Grainger. "I have been known on many occasions to drizzle the top of a premade hummus with a good extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with smoked paprika. The result is a homemade flavor with only a fraction of the effort."
When selecting a hummus, know that they don't differ nutritionally all that much, except for sodium, so compare sodium across brands (or even flavors within brands), and choose one that's on the lower end.
Try These: Healthy Hummus Recipes