Best Store-Bought Sides
Take your meal from tepid to terrific with these nutrient-packed side dishes. By: Karen Ansel, MS, RD
Deciding what to cook for dinner can be difficult. Deciding what to serve alongside it can be even trickier. Done right, side dishes can pump up the flavor, texture, and health quotient of your meal. But if you’re not careful, they can be drowning in hidden fat, calories, and sodium. Here are 9 accompaniments that will make your meal shine – and get you in and out of the kitchen in a flash.
If you’re trying to lower your cholesterol, it’s time to break out the beans. A 2002 compilation of 11 studies found that frequent bean eaters have cholesterol that’s 7% lower than those who don’t do legumes. Goya makes getting yours a cinch with their Red Kidney Beans spiced with pepper, tomato, and olive oil. These beans are ready to heat in your microwave and eat in minutes. The result? A side that pairs perfectly with tacos, quesadillas, or fajitas. With only 160 calories, you’ll get a hefty 10 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber in a 1/2 cup.
This airy, pizza-inspired vegetable soufflé is a win-win for adults and kids. Loaded with tomatoes, onions, red and green peppers, and – surprise – cauliflower, each cheesy soufflé dishes up 15% of your daily dose of calcium and vitamin A along with a whopping 70% of your day’s vitamin C. Because it’s made with egg whites, it also delivers a walloping 12 grams of protein. Plus, it’s gluten free. Pop one in the microwave on a busy weeknight and dinner is served 5 minutes.
If you just can’t look at another side of rice or couscous, consider farro. This ancient Egyptian cousin of wheat cooks up like risotto but with a chewier, nuttier bite. Plus, it’s a nutrition powerhouse. With 170 calories per serving, a ¼ cup uncooked farro packs twice the protein and fiber of brown rice. For a speedy side that’s ready in just 20 minutes, simmer with sautéed onions, tomatoes, and chicken stock. Try one of our delicious recipes, like this Onion, Feta, and Bell Pepper Farro Salad.
No time to shop for fresh veggies? No problem. Whole Foods elevates frozen produce to a whole new level with its genius blend of green peas, carrots, corn, and kale. Made from 100% vegetables and packed in a steamable microwave bag, these good-for-you veggies are so tender you’d swear they came straight from the produce aisle. And with 3 grams of fiber, 240 milligrams of blood-pressure balancing potassium, and only 30 milligrams of sodium per cup, they’re heart-smart too.
These crispy, sweet potato puffs take the guilt out of satisfying your spud craving. Unlike many frozen taters, these tots are made with canola oil, so they’re saturated and trans fat free. They’re curiously low in total fat too, with less than 4 grams per serving. Made from ultranutritious sweet potatoes, 2/3 of a cup contains 70% of your day’s immune-boosting vitamin A plus 2 grams of fiber, all for a respectable 130 calories. Pop them in a 400° oven and they’re table-ready in just 22 minutes.
Who says whole grains can’t taste great? This organic brown rice and quinoa combo delivers serious Moroccan flavor along with nutrition to boot. And more spice means less salt. With only 240 milligrams of sodium per cup, this grain duo is way lower in sodium than most boxed sides. It’s also an instant energizer courtesy of ample complex carbs and B vitamins like niacin and thiamin that help convert food to energy. Each serving offers up 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber for a reasonable 180 calories and only 1.5 grams of fat. For a veggie boost, toss in a handful of shredded carrots.
If you think you don’t have time to cook fresh veggies, you haven’t tried T-Joe’s Brussels Sprouts. Cleaned, prepped, and ready to go in their own microwave bag, these cruciferous veggies are ready in 3 minutes or less. That’s good news since Brussels sprouts are loaded with cancer-combating compounds known as glucosinolates. One 40-calorie, 4-sprout serving also packs more than your entire daily dose of immune-enhancing vitamin C and bone-building vitamin K.
You could dig this dish for its tasty combo of organic brown and wild rice with red and green lentils; but that’s not the only reason. Even though it’s vegetarian, this marriage of legumes and rice provides all the amino acids your body requires to manufacture the complete protein it needs to synthesize hormones, build muscle, and keep your immune system strong. In fact, one serving contains more protein than a large egg. At the same time, you’ll score as much fiber as you’d get from a bowl of oatmeal - all for 180 calories and only 1.5 grams of fat. Since there’s no salt added, it’s nearly sodium free.