Lets face it: The dream of having our very own personal spa chef whip up delicious, good-for-us grub probably isnt happening in this economy. So we found the next best thing—great stuff that makes eating healthy affordable and, honestly, almost effortless. Check out our top picks:1. The end of the brown rice rut
Because nobody has an hour to devote to a midweek side dish, quick-cooking quinoa and whole-wheat couscous are truly revolutionary. With the same satisfying texture and nutty flavor as brown rice (plus more fiber), these 10-minute grains give new meaning to fast food.
2. Almonds by the pound
If youre sick of schlepping to crunchy co-ops to buy nuts, dried fruit, and grains in bulk, youll be happy to hear that mass grocery stores are rediscovering these money-saving bins. That means we can buy less-processed, less-pricey raw almonds, unsalted sunflower seeds, organic trail mix, and more where we stock up on milk and other basics.
3. Generation 2.0 market bag
Buying fresh means buying often. And if youre biking or walking to the market to stock up, you need a tote thats up to the task. The new reusable, planet-friendly bags do it all—theyre big enough to carry loads of goodies, truly leakproof, and way cuter than granny carts. On the fence about bringing your own? A single reusable bag could eliminate more than 1,000 plastic grocery bags in its lifetime.
4 and 5. Our own herb stash—and mincer!
Fresh herbs add flavor and depth to a dish but practically zero calories and no fat. They also bruise easily, spoil quickly, and arent cheap. So were all for the grow-your-own-herbs window boxes that are everywhere now. Get an herb mincer to prevent bruising those delicate leaves. If you have a black thumb, herbs in a tube are a good alternative to the fresh stuff. With a fridge shelf life of three months, your cilantro wont go bad before you can use it up.[ pagebreak ]
6. The mini movement
One downsizing trend were on board with—guilty-pleasure foods (think: burgers, cupcakes) getting shrinky-dinked. Twee portions are de rigueur on restaurant menus and at bakery counters. And with all the mini baking pans out there, we can whip up sane-size muffins, cupcakes, quiches, and more without feeling the least bit guilty.
7. Souped-up sea salts
Leave it to gourmands to take a humble essential element and turn it into something spectacular. With a gazillion types of flavored and specialty sea salt—from hickory-smoked to Hawaiian Red Alaea—on shelves now, its never been easier to add tons of flavor and complexity to a dish. Coarse-grain sea salt has slightly less sodium than table salt and contains trace minerals that may have added health benefits. Theyre definitely pricier, though, so sprinkle a hint on a finished dish instead of using it to salt your cooking water.
8. Frozen edamame
These protein-packed pods were once a rare treat found only in Japanese joints. But now theyre staples in the frozen-foods aisle, serving as a healthy snack or emergency side. Its hard to beat the nutritional wallop of whole soybeans: Theyre 60% richer in calcium than peas, a source of cancer-fighting isoflavones and vitamin E, and a great vegetable source of complete protein. For a snack, sprinkle steamed edamame pods with olive oil and sea salt; pop the beans out and discard the pods.
9. A free-range chicken in every store
Its never been easier to find real chicken—the kind raised on a veggie diet sans growth hormones or antibiotics. For years, these pampered birds were exclusive to expensive gourmet markets or out-of-the-way farmers markets, but theyve finally gone mainstream. Were thrilled about the health perks (fewer chemicals in our bodies), but what do we really love? Its chicken that tastes like, well … chicken.
10. Dot-com cooking
When we just cant think up one more halfway-interesting twist on grilled chicken, the online recipe database is a virtual lifesaver. Go to Health.com, type in whatever random stuff is languishing in your fridge, and youve got dinner. A healthy one at that!