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Healthy and Inexpensive Allergy-Friendly Convenience Foods

Hidden Gems in Your Grocery Store

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Updated May 14, 2009

No food is allergy-safe for everyone. There are too many foods that can cause allergy-symptoms to tout any one food as an allergy wonder food. But a few foods in your grocery store are real finds -- safe for a wide variety of allergies, nutritional powerhouses, quick, tasty, and cheaper than most foods aimed at consumers with allergies. Sound too good to be true? Read on.

Note: Always read labels carefully. These foods should include no "big eight" (most common) food allergens among their ingredients, but do be aware of manufacturing cross-contamination.
How to Decipher a Food Label

Precooked Brown Rice

This comes in frozen -- manufacturers include Birds Eye and some grocery store brands -- and shelf-stable varieties. Precooked rice doesn't have the same "bite" as home-cooked, and it's somewhat more expensive (though you can sometimes find coupons). But you can't beat the convenience. It takes about five minutes to heat the frozen varieties and about ninety seconds for the pantry versions. Not bad for a whole grain that can be maddening to cook by the usual absorption method. Try it in your favorite fried rice recipe.

Quinoa Pasta

By far the easiest way to add quinoa (pronounced KEEN-waw) to your diet, quinoa pasta is available at a growing number of major supermarkets. Among its best features? It cooks up no differently than "regular" pasta, although you'll find that leftovers are a bit tough. It's often less expensive than some other types of gluten-free pasta. Quinoa pasta is generally blended with corn, itself a fairly common allergen.

Baby Carrots

Most precut, prewashed, or otherwise prepared produce adds an exorbitant surcharge for the convenience. "Baby" carrots (which aren't usually young at all but are simply peeled and cut) are certainly more expensive than their unprocessed counterparts. But (at least in my area) they go on sale frequently, and their ease of use and flexibility makes them useful. Eat them raw, dip them, steam them, use them in soups or other recipes. They also last a long time in the refrigerator, which is a boon to anyone who travels frequently and wants to come home to something nutritious in the fridge.

Whole-Grain Rice Cakes

Brown rice and wild rice cakes (both of which are available from Lundberg) both feature whole grains with minimal additives and few extra ingredients -- just what you're looking for when you head down a grocery store snack aisle. They're not just for grown-ups, either -- some toddlers and preschoolers love rice cakes.

Peanut Butter Substitutes

As more and more school districts enact peanut- and tree nut-free policies, more and more peanut butter substitutes have entered the market. Many of these have a great nutritional profile -- relatively high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats plus fiber and minerals. Sunflower butter and pea butter are two notable options that your family may enjoy.

Steam-in-Bag Vegetables

These can be tricky, as many of these include sauces which can include a host of allergens. But most manufacturers of frozen microwave-steam vegetables make several varieties that include nothing more than produce and, perhaps, a pinch or salt or baking soda. There's no easier way to include vegetables in your diet.

Hummus

Check for additives, and beware of sesame allergies -- a very common allergy in many parts of the world that's becoming more and more so in this country. That said, if you're looking at a brand that's mainly tahini and chickpeas with fresh vegetables or herbs, there are few things you can find at the deli counter that you can buy with less guilt.

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