Grocery store produce departments have changed quite a bit in the last several years. And that’s good news for those following low sodium diets. Not only is there a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables available now, but the variety is unbelievable too. And there are so many pre-prepped options offered for the home cook. That’s particularly good news for low sodium dieters with busy schedules, physical limitations, or minimal cooking abilities. Let’s take a look!
The refrigerated salad greens section is bursting with packages of all kinds of lettuce mixes. You can easily “gussy” up any dish by serving it on a bed of fancy salad greens. The leafy lettuces are good for you and, as an added bonus, cut down the total sodium content of a dish too. But beyond just salad greens, you’ll find packages of coleslaw mix, sliced mushrooms, spinach leaves, broccoli and cauliflower florets, sugar snap peas, snow peas, bean sprouts, baby carrots, shredded carrots, celery & carrot sticks, chopped kale and other dark & leafy greens... and more!
Depending on the store, you might even find ready-to-cook green beans, cubed butternut squash, radishes, stir-fry mixes, etc. My local stores all carry tubs of diced celery, bell peppers, and onions. They also carry tubs of pico de gallo (diced tomatoes, onions, chili peppers) and miripoix (diced onions, carrots, celery). Some stores even carry ready-to-cook potatoes! As always, you have to check the ingredient labels of these ready-to-cook packaged vegetables to make sure there is no salt added. But, happily, you’ll find that most of them are just cleaned and prepped and ready to use.
And then there are the herbs… Most supermarkets sell bunches of parsley, cilantro, and basil. But now you can choose from an array of fresh herbs in smaller plastic snap-shut containers. The great thing about these is that you’re only buying a few sprigs. Just enough to use in one or two dishes ‒ not enough to go bad before you can use them all up. I can find fresh mint, chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, dill weed, tarragon, oregano, and more in those little packs.
Don’t forget garlic & ginger. Along with the fresh versions, most stores carry jars of whole, peeled fresh garlic in their produce department’s refrigerated section. You usually can find jars of minced and crushed garlic (packed in oil or water) displayed near the potatoes & onions. Nearby you should also find dried tomatoes, either plain and in bags or jarred packed in oil. Jars of crushed ginger are generally close at hand too. If you’re not a fan of chopping big onions, consider picking up green onions or scallions. They’re a lot easier to deal with. And, last but not least, you can get fresh lemons and limes. However, if squeezing lemons isn’t your thing, nowadays, most produce sections also carry the plastic bottles of lemon & lime juice.
You can pick up already sliced fresh apples, pineapple chunks, and even grapefruit sections in the refrigerator cases too. Sometimes you can find packages of nuts and dried fruit in the produce section too. I’ve picked up slivered and sliced almonds, along with pine nuts, pecans, walnuts, & even peanuts. I’ve found raisins, dried cranberries, dried pineapple rings, and dried apple slices there too.
OK, so I’ve proved that you can pick up a wide assortment of pre-prepped vegetables, herbs, & fruits in your local grocer’s produce department. So what? Well, these conveniently packaged produce items can make a big difference when following a low sodium diet. I’m a mainly from-scratch type cook. But I realize that not everyone trying to eat & cook low sodium has the time, skill, or inclination to prepare every meal from scratch. Sometimes we all need shortcuts. That’s where your local grocery store and the abundance of prepared produce now available in most supermarkets comes into play. Here are some examples:
It’s winter and soup sounds really good for supper. But the chief cook (let’s pretend that’s me) is under the weather. Canned soup all by itself, although convenient, is not a great option because of the high sodium content. So I write out a list for my husband. Stuff he can buy and then throw together with a minimum of fussing and a great certainty of success. From the produce aisle: Pick up some baby carrots or carrot sticks, celery sticks, green onions, jarred minced garlic, sliced mushrooms, baby spinach greens, and some fresh thyme. Then pick up a pound of lean ground beef (or turkey or chicken) from the meat section. Get a can of NSA tomato sauce, a package of NSA beef or chicken broth, and a package of orzo.
Once he gets home, I direct things from my sick bed. Chop up the carrots, green onions, & celery sticks and add them to the sautéing meat. For added nutrition I could tell him to toss in a handful some frozen vegetables from the freezer too. Pour in a package of NSA broth, stir in a spoonful of the minced garlic and the tomato sauce. Season with some dried thyme or oregano and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and 1/3 cup of dried orzo. Continue to simmer until orzo is tender, adding more water if necessary. Toss in the spinach leaves and let them wilt. Sprinkle with the fresh herbs and add a splash of lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Voila! Fresh, tasty, & homemade low sodium soup prepared by a non-cook. Thanks to the produce aisle.
Want something even easier? Do essentially the same thing but use a can of Campbell’s Healthy Request soups to start with. Most of them weigh in at 410 mg. sodium per serving. Just simmer the chopped vegetables in a cup or two of plain water. Once the vegetables are done to your liking, add the canned soup. Heat and serve. Again, a tasty lower sodium soup, chock full of fresh vegetables but with little culinary effort. Thanks to the produce aisle.
Stew is super easy too. Just grab your favorite stewing meat (cut up beef, chicken pieces, or even pork). Then go wild in the produce section ‒ potatoes (baby or fingerling potatoes are great because you won’t have to fuss with peeling or cutting up), baby carrots, celery sticks, onions, sliced or whole mushrooms, garlic, turnips/rutabagas, green beans, squash ‒ whatever strikes your fancy. When you get home, all you need to do is brown the meat (you can even omit that step if you want), add some liquid, and simmer until the meat is just about tender. Season the stew with your favorite dried herbs. You could even add a bit of wine to the cooking liquid. Then add the vegetables you've chosen and continue cooking until both vegetables and meat are tender and done to your liking. If you’re making beef stew, use NSA beef broth. A couple of packets of salt-free beef broth granules would boost the beefy flavor too. NSA chicken broth could be used for chicken stew. If you like a gravy consistency, thicken the stew with some Wondra flour or cornstarch. Be sure to add plenty of freshly ground pepper and a healthy dose of your favorite fresh herbs right before serving. Once again, an easy yet hearty & tasty low sodium meal thanks to the supermarket produce department.