March 1, 2011 — -- With today's busy lifestyles, we can't always make nutritious meals from scratch. But luckily, there are some great packaged foods on the market that you can feel good about eating and serving. Prevention.com ranked their favorites.
Imagine a weeknight meal without at least one packaged item (think frozen veggies and a box of pasta). We want to give our readers the healthiest, most delicious options for the meals they're actually cooking every night.
Prevention.com asked registered dietitians and food bloggers for their favorite new and healthy packaged foods, editor-in-chief Diane Salvatore told "GMA." The magazine tasted (and tasted) and then compiled a list of top choices -- 21 in all. Each one not only tastes terrific, but all are trans fat-free, lower in sodium and sugar than their competitors, and are chock-full of key nutrients.
Best Cereal: Ambrosial Venetian Vineyard Granola
Why it's a winner: This sweet and crunchy organic granola wowed our taste buds with its combination of walnuts, dates, and raisins. It packs in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and 28 g of whole grains and has no added oil.
Healthy highlights: Though it's a little caloric, at 230 calories and 7 g of fat per 1/2 cup serving, it contains 5 g of fiber, 6 g of protein, and 10% of your daily dose of iron.
Try it: Over yogurt or mixed with fat-free milk and fruit. One blogger we talked to adds it to oatmeal or uses it to make a delicious trail mix.
Best Yogurt: Chobani Lemon 0% Greek Yogurt
Why it's a winner: Creamy and decadent, the new flavor of this über-popular yogurt brand will practically have you licking the carton. Its not-too-sweet citrus taste satisfies while still providing all the nutritional benefits of Greek yogurt.
Healthy highlights: This nonfat yogurt contains 140 calories and provides you with nearly one-third of your daily intake of protein as well as 15% of your daily calcium.
Try it: For breakfast, as a snack or, heck, mix it with a teaspoon of honey for dessert.
Best Oatmeal: Country Choice Organic Instant Oatmeal With Flax
Why it's a winner: You'd never guess that these convenient, creamy oats come from a packet. And with just two ingredients—whole grain rolled oats and flaxseed—you know you're starting the day with a healthy, fiber-filled breakfast.
Healthy highlights: This on-the-go packet contains 110 calories and 2 g of fat, 3 g of fiber, and 4 g of protein. The addition of flaxseeds gives you 10% of your daily dose of ALA omega-3s.
Try it: Mixed with fruit and nut butter, or try mixing uncooked oats in Greek yogurt for a smooth yet crunchy snack.
Best Cheese: Sargento Sliced Reduced-Sodium Pepper Jack Cheese
Why it's a winner: It's hard to cut down on salt without cutting down on flavor. But this reduced sodium cheese has a deliciously bold taste that will add a kick to a lackluster turkey sandwich or bring zesty flavor to your next taco night.
Healthy highlights: With 70 calories, 6 g of fat, and 90 mg of sodium, this cheese is diet friendly. Plus you get 15 percent of the bone-building calcium you need daily in each slice.
Try it: Make your grilled cheese spicier by using a slice, or use it on an Egg and Cheese Sandwich!
Best Soup: Trader Joe's Organic Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup Low-Sodium
Why it's a winner: Thick and savory, this boxed soup is so delicious, you'd never know it was low in sodium.
Healthy highlights: 100 calories, 3.5 g fat, 140 mg sodium, 2 g each fiber and protein, 10 percent of your vitamin A.
Try it: With a grilled cheese sandwich or with one of a filling low-cal salad.
Best Wrap: Tumaro's New York Deli Style Wrap - Pumpernickel
Why it's a winner: With just 80 calories per serving, the pumpernickel variety is made from whole wheat flour and has a delicious deli flavor you don't find in many wraps.
Healthy highlights: This 10-inch wrap contains 80 calories, 2.5 g of fat, and 10 g of fiber.
Try it: Toss in veggies, turkey, and a little mustard for a healthy lunch
Best Deli Meat: Applegate Farms Organic Roasted Turkey Breast
Why it's a winner: This organic meat has a wholesome and delicious flavor that stands out among sliced turkey. It's free of preservatives, antibiotics, and nitrates, so you can be sure that what's going on your sandwich is as natural as possible.
Healthy highlights: 50 calories, 0 g of fat, and 10 g of protein per 2-ounce serving. Though a serving contains 360 mg of sodium, it is comparatively lower than other packaged sliced turkey breast.
Try it: In a chef's salad or folded into a Tumaro's Pumpernickel Wrap
Best Fish: Wild Planet Canned Wild Albacore Tuna
Why it's a winner: Enjoy this tuna knowing it's an eco-friendly way to get your fish fix. This canned fish is wild, caught using environmentalist-approved fishing methods, and 100% compliant with environmental agencies' fishing guidelines. It's far lower in mercury and much, much higher in omega-3s than other canned tuna. Plus it tastes really good!
Healthy highlights: Each can contains 2.5 servings, with 120 calories, 6 g of fat (0.5 g sat fat), and 16 g of protein. You also get 3,460 mg omega-3s without added oil, water, or fillers.
Best Pasta: Annie Chun's Pad Thai Brown Rice Noodles
Why it's a winner: This 100-percent whole grain pasta is a delicious substitute for brown rice, with none of the grainy texture some whole wheat pastas can have. It's a gluten-free alternative that's delicious in stir-fries, soups, or pasta salads.
Healthy highlights: 200 calories, 1 g fat, 4 g fiber, 4 g protein
Best Meat: Coleman Natural's Gourmet Chicken Meatballs Spinach, Fontina Cheese, and Roasted Garlic
Why they're a winner: These 100-percent natural precooked chicken meatballs are free of fillers and preservatives, but full of savory flavor. At less than 40 calories per meatball, they were gobbled up by our tasters, who declared they were "Tasty, juicy, and moist." Even though they contain a good bit of sodium—470 mg—they got RD and ADA spokesperson Sari Greaves' seal of approval. "Stick to one serving and balance them with a side of steamed vegetables or a salad dressed with olive oil and vinegar/fresh lemon juice," she advises.
Healthy highlights: 130 calories per serving (4 meatballs), 9 g fat, and 13 g protein.
Best Vegetarian Entree: Amy's Light and Lean Black Bean and Cheese Enchilada
Why it's a winner: Frozen meals aren't known for being healthy or necessarily tasty, but this new dish from Amy's is both. The filling entrée contains only 240 calories, but our tasters said it kept them full for hours, and they loved the rich and bold Southwestern flavors.
Healthy highlights: 240 calories, 4.5 g fat, 480 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 8 g protein, 20 percent of a day's vitamin A
Try it: for a convenient lunch or dinner. Boost veggie intake by pairing with a side salad.
Best Marinara: Lucini Rustic Tomato Basil Sauce
Why it's a winner: Each bite of this marinara sauce is bursting with authentic Italian flavor. The ingredient list is full of whole foods — tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, onions — and it is sweetened with carrot puree, not processed sugar. The low-carbon-footprint packaging is microwaveable and leaves you with an easy clean-up.
Healthy highlights: 80 calories, 4.5 g fat, 380 mg sodium, 20% vitamin C
Snacks & Drinks
Best Kid-Friendly Dish: Dr. Praeger's Sweet Potato Littles
Why it's a winner: These adorable sweet potato bites will be devoured in seconds. Plus, with just a few ingredients in them, your family won't be getting any unwanted extras. The dinosaur shapes may help win over the younger crowd, but the sweet flavor and crispy texture of these Littles are just as good for grownups.
Healthy highlights: 60 calories, 2 g fat, 85 mg sodium, 16% of your vitamin A
Try them: as a side with sandwiches, or as a snack
Best Chips: Laurel Hill Multigrain Chips
Why it's a winner: If you have a chip craving, these babies will satisfy your need to munch and crunch. Brown rice, quinoa, flaxseed, and stone ground yellow corn combine to add fiber to this snack, but what keeps you coming back for more is the light, crispy texture with the perfect hint of salt.
Healthy highlights: 140 calories, 6 g fat, 2 g fiber, 80 mg sodium
Best Nuts: Planters Jalapeño Pistachios
Why it's a winner: Tasters loved the spicy taste of these nuts, claiming it was hard to scarf down more than the recommended portion because the zesty flavors made them so satisfying. Plus, pistachios are rich in heart-healthy fats, are a good source of protein, and studies show they may help lower cholesterol.
Healthy highlights: 160 calories, 12 g fat (1.5 sat fat), 3 g fiber, 125 mg sodium
Try them: as a snack, mixed in a homemade trail mix, or crush a handful and use to coat a meat dish.
Best Bar: KIND Bars Pomegranate Blueberry Pistachio
Why it's a winner: One look at this bar and you can actually see the almonds, cashews, blueberries, and raisins. Readers liked the tart and tangy taste that wasn't "too sweet." With 50 percent of your daily supply of vitamins A, C, and E, you can be sure you're getting health boost in each bite.
Healthy highlights: 170 calories, 8 g fat, 4 g fiber, 3 g protein
Try it: as a cure for the afternoon slump — they're perfect to throw in your purse.
Best Nut Butter: Barney Butter Almond Butter Snack Packs
Why it's a winner: Almond butter lovers will literally go nuts for these 90-calorie portable packets, which offer easy portion control, because nut butters can be high in calories. Food blogger Maria Lichty of twopeasandtheirpod.com, is a huge fan. "I love Barney Butter because it is all natural, contains no hydrogenated oils, and the texture and taste can't be beat."
Healthy highlights: 90 calories, 7.5 g fat, 0.75 g saturated fat, 3 g protein. Contains vitamin E, iron, and magnesium
Try it: Spread it over a piece of whole wheat bread or use it to make a creamy milk shake
Best Juice: Apple and Eve Fruitables Tropical Orange Juice
Why it's a winner: This drink may be packaged for kids, but it's great for all juice drinkers. Although it's always better to get your vitamins from whole fruit, this is a refreshingly light sip. Juices from fruits and veggies, including oranges, butternut squash, and carrots, are combined with water in a portion-controlled 6.75-ounce container, with one-third less sugar than other fruit drinks.
Healthy highlights: 70 calories, 0 g fat, 10% vitamins A and E, 100% vitamin C, 15 g sugar
Try it: Instead of your morning OJ for fewer calories.
Best Milk: Almond Breeze Original Unsweetened Almond Milk
Why it's a winner: This rich and creamy beverage is gaining popularity not only for its taste but also its nutrition. With fewer calories than fat-free milk, you can get 20% of your calcium and 50% of your recommended intake of vitamin E.
Healthy highlights: 40 calories, 3 g fat, 25 percent vitamin D, 20 percent calcium
Try it: In your cereal, mix it in your coffee, or use it to make creamy, low-cal smoothies.
Best Tea: Numi Organic Tea NUMI Jasmine Green Tea – Monkey King
Why it's a winner: Green tea is full of antioxidants and has powerful disease-fighting capabilities. Unfortunately, the taste can be a little, well, boring. But this jasmine-flavored caffeinated tea was a hit with our tasters. "The jasmine flavor was floral but not overpowering—smooth and soothing," said one.
Healthy highlights: 0 calories, 0 g fat. Green tea has been shown to lower cholesterol, boost metabolism, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Try it: Sip it as an alternative to coffee or blend it into a smoothie
Ice Cream: Talenti Gelato Argentine Dulce de Leche
Why it's a winner: Sure, you don't want to eat the whole carton, and according to one taster, you don't have to. "It satisfies my sweet tooth in two bites," she said. This all-natural ice cream is made with milk that's free of hormones and real Argentine dulce de leche, luxurious flavors that make it worth the splurge.
Healthy highlights: 180 calories, 8 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 15 percent calcium
Try it: Have one scoop to squash a sugar craving.