Turn Ready-To-Eat Grub into Healthful Gourmet Fare

Athletes live in a busy world of deadlines and demands, all of which can leave you with little time and energy to spend in the kitchen rustling up meals. That’s why when life gets hectic, a smart fitness fanatic should lean on certain convenience foods from the supermarket to help push the easy button. The key is to use shortcut items as the foundation to building more nutritious meals. Here’s how to make a handful of ready-to-go foods work harder for you.

Frozen waffles

Nutrition upgrade: Most subzero waffles are a refined carb bomb. Instead, look for brands such as Nature’s Path that list a whole grain like whole wheat as the first ingredient. That way you’ll rise and dine on extra nutrients and fiber.

Meal upgrade: Toast two frozen waffles according to package directions. Stir together cup ricotta cheese, cup frozen thawed blueberries and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract. Spread 1 tablespoon almond butter on one waffle and top with ricotta mixture and a second waffle. Boom: breakfast waffle sandwich.

Instant oatmeal

Nutrition upgrade: Packets of oatmeal can whip up a near-instant breakfast. But flavored versions can harbor more sugar than boxed cereal with a cartoon character. Instead, choose those labeled “plain,” and jazz it up yourself.

Meal upgrade: Prepare plain instant oatmeal using brewed coffee instead of water. Once heated, stir in 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon maple syrup and ½ teaspoon each cinnamon and vanilla. Top with sliced pecans and thawed frozen pitted cherries. Dig into mocha oatmeal.

Canned chili

Nutrition upgrade: About as fast as you can reach for a can opener, you could be spooning up protein and fiber to quell hunger pangs. Compare brands and opt for a bean-based canned chili that delivers at least 15 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving, and caps sodium levels at about 600 milligrams. If you’re concerned about BPA (a sketchy chemical that lines many canned foods), choose a brand like Amy’s that uses BPA-free tins.

Meal upgrade: To make chili tacos, blend together ½ cup light sour cream, half an avocado and juice of half a lime until smooth. Place baby spinach on warmed corn tortillas and top with canned chili, avocado sauce and cilantro.

Mac and cheese

Nutrition upgrade: On its own, the creamy kid favorite known as boxed mac and cheese will never be a nutritional standout. But at least you can now find brands that work to limit the fat and sodium damage and use some whole grains in the macaroni. Plus, it’s easy to up the ante with a few stealthy add-ins.

Meal upgrade: Prepare mac and cheese according to package directions. From there, stir in 2 pouches of tuna (try Wild Planet), 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, 1 cup sliced Peppadew or roasted red pepper, a handful of sliced basil and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika.

Rotisserie chicken

Nutrition upgrade: Whether worked into salads, pasta or sandwiches, the big bird offers a cook-free way to load up on muscle-building protein. Remove the skin before slicing to save yourself a bunch of fat calories and slash
sodium numbers.

Meal upgrade: Prepare boil-in-bag brown rice according to package directions. To assemble a burrito bowl, place rice in a bowl and top with baby kale, sliced rotisserie chicken, canned black or pinto beans, cubed avocado, thawed frozen corn and a couple dollops jarred salsa. Scatter on shredded cheese.