As we rush, and sometimes slog, through our busy days and weeks, we may not realize that we are on the leading edge of trends that shape what is sold to us and how it is sold. What would seem like opposite needs: the desire to eat balanced, healthful meals and the need to find quick, delicious food can frequently be found freshly made at your grocer. As displayed in full service supermarket delis, ethnic specialty food shops and convenience shops, ready-to-eat foods are the fastest growing segment of the grocery business. Reviewing the wide variety of such offerings can contribute to the craft and finesse of eating solo in ways you might not expect.
Salad bars are the most common grab & go option and can help you build other meals. The cut vegetables can provide the basis for your pasta or potato salad, or for a stir fry with rice. The cut fresh fruit can provide a companion to your morning granola or oatmeal.
Many Produce Sections now offer a vast selection of packaged, ready-cut vegetables and fruit. The carrots and celery sticks that you pick up to eat with hummus can also be used as part of the chili you plan to make. See previous post, “Chili from the Shelf.” Yes, the ready cut items are a bit costlier, but you are paying for the convenience of saving some time and you won’t have the unusable parts or wasted fruits or vegetables, which makes the whole items costlier when part of it gets tossed out.
Many full service grocers are going so far as to have chefs on staff to develop quite a varied array of Heat & Serve entrees and side dishes which may be offered in their display case or pre-packaged. Everything from oven roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes for dinner to pasta and high protein grain salads are available to pack for lunch. If you have any food allergies or sensitivities, they should have ingredients lists for each prepared dish.
The Heat & Serve Section can provide meats and other entrees that might not be practical to make for one like a half rack of ribs, pot roast, pulled pork, or prime rib. Often times, there is a “Daily Specials” list that can likely be found on the store’s website. I would recommend buying the items that are displayed refrigerated rather than ones that are displayed in heated wells, as they could sit on the heat too long and dry out. Be sure that the label has instructions for proper heating when you get the item home.
As you venture beyond the large supermarket to the ethnic grocers, you can find unique ready-to-eat specialties. I can think of Italian stores in three different cities that have wonderful prepared entrees and salads ready to pick up. Savory spicy meatballs and a hearty slice of lasagna are great additions to the monthly rotation.
The Mexican shop may have their specialty tamales, freshly made tortilla chips, or their secret recipe guacamole. If your city has a Greektown or a Chinatown, seek out the grocer and look for their specialties that they have prepared with pride. These are very often their signature offerings, like a Greek spinach feta pie, called spanakopita, that customers have been coming back to buy for years. If you are not sure what something is, ask. These specialty shops truly have pride in their items and love talking about their food.
Not only is a well-balanced, healthful diet necessary for our well-being, but a balanced approach to food preparation is necessary as we balance all the demands on our time. The goal doesn’t have to be to make everything from scratch when we have choices that can fill our plate with delicious variety.