7 Healthy Groceries You Should Buy for Your Air Fryer, According to Dietitians
In addition to a high-powered blender to whip up ultra-thick healthy smoothies and an Instant Pot to make everything from brown rice to roast chicken in no time, an air fryer often earns a spot in the rankings for "top-three best appliances" among dietitians.
Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., RDN, CPT, a San Diego-based registered dietitian and owner of ShawSimpleSwaps.com says, "I started looking at air fryers back in 2019 after I had just finished writing the Instant Pot Cookbook For Dummies. After recognizing so many innovative ways to cook in the pressure cooker, I knew there had to be more modern-day appliances that would save me time and money in the kitchen. Lo and behold, the air fryer was the hidden gem out there I didn't know I needed—but now I can't live without."
It's such an essential part of Shaw's culinary routine now that she literally wrote the book on it: Air Fryer Cookbook For Dummies.
"Cooking in the air fryer not only can lower the total fat of traditionally deep-fried foods, resulting in a lower-calorie meal plan, but it also offers the accessibility to quickly create nourishing meals in quite literally a matter of minutes," Shaw says.
Jenna A. Werner, RD, creator of Happy Strong Healthy in Middletown, New Jersey, invested in her air fryer around the same time and admits, "I think I've used it every single day since then—multiple times per day! I bought it to make cooking easier, and it has certainly delivered."
Once Michelle Hyman, RD, a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss in New York City, noticed several clients buying their first air fryer, she purchased one too: "I wanted to be able to offer input about using the appliance to meet their health-related goals, including reduced cholesterol levels, improved blood pressure and weight loss," she says.
And even though she says, "I didn't often eat frozen foods or 'fried' things," Ashley Reaver, M.S., RD, an Oakland, California-based registered dietitian and the creator of the Lower Cholesterol Longer Life Method, says that she, too, added one to her online shopping cart on Black Friday 2019. "In an air fryer, the food becomes crispy due to convection cooking, which quickly circulates hot air to dehydrate the outer layer of foods and make it crispy. I started seeing how versatile they were for cooking veggies and proteins with minimal cleanup and no need for the oven," Reaver explains.
Speaking of veggies and protein, all four dietitians love making quick work out of meal prep by cooking fresh items like Brussels sprouts, potato wedges ("which taste just like that basket of restaurant fries with 70% less fat," according to Shaw), salmon fillets and cauliflower in their air fryers.
Werner's recent rave from the produce aisle is carrot chips; those thinly sliced, wavy-cut veggies designed for dipping: "Carrot chips get so crunchy and they're so delicious on top of a salad or by themselves as a snack. Just spritz with oil, add garlic salt and air-fry for 8 to 10 minutes," she says. "I've air-fried everything from kiwi wedges (they taste like candy!) to red onion wedges to artichoke hearts. Air-fried blackberries literally melt into oatmeal and yogurt, too."
7 Healthy Groceries You Should Buy for Your Air Fryer, According to Dietitians
If you're not in the mood to start from scratch, the dietitians agree that air fryers can also be a lifesaver to level-up leftovers "like sandwiches, quesadillas, waffles and pizzas that would otherwise become soggy with reheating in the microwave," according to Reaver, as well as frozen foods including the dietitian favorites below.
Trader Joe's Multigrain Toaster Waffles
Wake up to a low-stress and energizing breakfast by following Shaw's lead. She takes two of these whole-wheat flour-based waffles from Trader Joe's and gives them the royal treatment in the appliance. (Don't have a TJ's near you? These other healthy frozen waffle selections would be great too.)
"A quick trip in the air fryer for 5 to 6 minutes, flipping once, at 370 degrees gets them perfectly crisp to enjoy as a quick breakfast. Just top with a little nut butter and fresh fruit and you can enjoy breakfast on your way out the door," Shaw says.
Sunshine Plant-Based Foods Shiitake Mushroom Burger
Since the air fryer crisps up the outside, which essentially forms a hard outer barrier that's delightfully crispy and ready to take on even the strongest of condiments and toppings, "frozen veggie burgers like Sunshine's Shiitake Mushroom Burgers cooked in the air fryer taste much better than microwaved," Reaver says. "This makes the veggie burger feel much more like a cohesive patty instead of a crumbly mess."
Reaver adores these high-fiber (11 grams per patty!) plant-based burgers that are made with brown rice, ground raw sunflower seeds, carrots, cooked quinoa, cooked shiitake mushrooms, onion, garlic, sea salt and nothing else.
"I'm also a big fan of making quick burgers in the air fryer," Shaw says. "It's a great way to enjoy the burger you crave year-round, whether rain or shine!"
Use the "find a store" tool to see availability near you.
Alexia Foods Crispy Truffle Fries
Hyman's top side-dish selection? These thinly sliced potato fries are dusted in dried truffles (for flavor) and a bit of cornstarch (so they get extra crispy; read more about the magical powers of cornstarch on spuds here).
"Frozen french fries, tater tots and potato wedges also make a great carb addition to meals when you don't feel like cooking a grain. They cook very quickly in the air fryer, and the texture is perfect because air completely circulates all sides of the product, not just the ones not touching the pan," Reaver adds.
Find these at Whole Foods and most major supermarkets in the freezer aisle.
Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Chicken Breast Nuggets
Shaw and her family stock up on this Trader Joe's frozen food—that's packed with 16 grams of protein per serving—to help them all feel like kids again.
"We like to keep Trader Joe's Gluten-Free Chicken Breast Nuggets on hand because they're one of the few I've found that's dairy-free and made with fresh chicken! While still frozen, the chicken is raw, so you need to ensure you thoroughly cook to 165°F before eating, but they're the best chicken tenders that my toddler and husband can both agree on," she says. "I usually cook at 390 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes, shaking the basket every few minutes to get the perfect crisp."
Any of Trader Joe's fried frozen foods turn out very tasty in the air fryer, Reaver continues: "While healthier than deep-frying them at home, [these are] still foods that are fun sometimes but shouldn't be eaten all the time."
Strong Roots Mixed Root Vegetable Fries
"Strong Roots Mixed Root Vegetable Fries; just air-fry these. Trust me," Werner says.
That's because these are essentially just sliced carrots, parsnips and beets tossed with a bit of sunflower oil, starches and seasonings. But pop them in the air fryer and the veggies transform into fries that resemble something you'd score at a fast-food restaurant.
"When I talk about air fryers with clients, they are always confused that there is no oil involved in the cooking! Just a quick spray with oil is all you need to achieve that perfectly crisp outer layer instead of deep frying. It is also a great improvement in terms of the crispy results compared to a toaster oven," Reaver says.
Tres Latin Foods Kale & Pinto Bean Pupusas
Pupusas, which originate in El Salvador and Honduras, are similar to arepas (which hail from Venezuela and Colombia). The stuffed cornmeal or rice-flour griddle cakes are comforting and craveable, but can be a challenge to master from scratch. So Reaver hits the "easy button" and enjoys Tres Latin Foods Kale & Pinto Bean Pupusas semi-homemade-style in her air fryer. Each one adds 4 grams of fiber to her daily tally.
"An air fryer requires a bit more time than heating in the microwave, but you are rewarded with a crunchy outer layer that holds its structure while enjoying the completely warmed goodness on the inside," Reaver says.
Top with a scoop of curtido-like Quick and Easy Pickled Cabbage for a street-food-inspired snack. (Psst … Tres Latin Foods also offers bite-size mini pupusas that are perfect for parties. Use their "where to buy" tool to find them near you; most Whole Foods locations stock them.)
Amy's Frozen Black Bean & Quinoa Burrito
Sure, these burritos are designed to be reheated in the microwave. But Reaver likes to break the rules and crunch-ify the crepe-like wrap on Amy's Frozen Black Bean & Quinoa Burrito in her air fryer. With 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein per burrito, add sides of black beans and salsa and you have a well-rounded, restaurant copycat entree.
Buy Amy's Kitchen products online or look for them at most major supermarkets and select convenience stores.