For our Greatist-Approved Groceries series, we're narrowing down the tens of thousands of products out there to the ones we think are worth buying so you can get in and out of the store faster. (Past lists have included the best popcorn, ice cream, and nut butter.) With the help of Elizabeth Jarrard, R.D., we came up with a set of standards to figure out what is best. Every item must:
- Contain only recognizable ingredients
- Have no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners (stevia and monk fruit are OK)
- Never list sugar as the first ingredient
- Have a reasonable serving size
- Taste absolutely amazing
- Cost a reasonable price
What's more, these top picks for pasta and grain mixes must also contain 4 grams or more of fiber and less than 550 mg of sodium per serving; include only 15 to 20 ingredients; and use only whole grains, which play a significant role in lowering risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. Jonnalagadda, S., Harnack, L., Liu, R., et al. J Nutr. 2011 May; 141(5): 1011S–1022S.
Unlike most packaged mixes, these contain real ingredients you can actually pronounce and taste like you’ve spent the entire afternoon sweating over the stove, instead of walking in the door minutes before. Consider them your ticket to a fast (and nutritious) gourmet dinner any night of the week.
Editor's note: Items are listed in no particular order.
Melty mac and cheese just got a makeover. A health-minded cheese-lover's dream come true, this gluten-free pasta is made with nutrition-packed lentils and quinoa (one serving provides 16g of protein and 7g of fiber!). And it still has all the creamy, gooey goodness you want in that perfect macaroni. $2.99
Topped with a savory garlic and olive oil sauce, this spiral pasta tastes great straight from the box, or serve it with some chicken, beef, or shrimp for extra protein. Try the spinach and rosemary or roasted red pepper versions for some additional flavor options—all are gluten-free. And rest assured, the non-GMO rice used in the pasta comes from a family-owned and operated California farm that's committed to eco-friendly, organic farming methods. $3.30 for 6 ounces
Started by a group of busy moms who wanted to make mealtime easier but still please the whole family, Modern Table’s mixes focus on beans as a good source of plant-based protein. The gluten-free, non-GMO pasta's made with red lentils, packing in 17g of protein per serving. With corn, black beans, and a roasted tomato sauce with chili lime seasoning, this healthy, fast meal has a zesty, southwestern zing that anyone will love. Starting at $6.99
Traditional Indian spices, vegetables, and crunchy peanuts lend this dish a bold, fresh flavor that tastes incredible. And it's ready after just one minute in the microwave (sure beats waiting for delivery!). The company takes its social and environmental responsibility seriously: Eighty percent of the energy used to make their products comes from renewable sources. From $2.50
This gluten-free mix, high in fiber and plant protein, is full of spices (jalapeño, cumin, and chili pepper) to amp up the Creole flavor. The addition of bell peppers and carrots helps round out the texture and adds a little extra nutrition. Give it even more staying power by topping it with cooked sausage, diced ham, or shrimp. $3.69 for 6 ounces
An ancient roasted grain, freekeh (pronounced free-kuh) is comparable to quinoa in protein and fiber and has a tasty nutty flavor. This flavorful, vegan mix can be used in soup, salad, side, or even breakfast recipes. Plus, the Minnesota-based company works with a U.S. family farm to produce and process the hand-roasted green wheat, and uses minimal, organic ingredients. Starting at $3.99 per bag
In this Indian-inspired dish, hearty kidney beans and lentils are slow-cooked with spices in a creamy tomato sauce. The delicious mix tastes great as a chili or soup, or served hot over rice. It’s high in protein and fiber and contains only 11 ingredients. The best part: All it takes is one minute to make. $15.83 for 6 10-ounce pouches
This Latin-influenced rice mix is a unique blend of Poblano chilies, corn, and cilantro, giving it a spicy, savory flavor that will make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean without actually hopping on a plane. Plus, you're not only eating well, but you're also doing good: This company, which orginally started as a seed company, selling organic, heirloom varieties, gives back 1 percent of its net sales toward sustainable farming initiatives around the globe. $3.49
Started by Bob and his wife, Charlee, in Oregon in 1978, Bob’s Red Mill is now entirely owned by his employees through an employee stock ownership program—a gift from Bob on his 81st birthday. A hearty blend of seeds, beans, and whole grains, plus a savory seasoning mix, this soup is perfect for a chilly winter night. Add veggies or chicken to fit your personal taste. $4.99 for 26-ounce bag
With 10 grams of plant-based protein and lots of iron and vitamin C, this vegan rice blend is just what the doctor ordered. While the veggies and spices make for a delicious Indian-inspired dish on their own, you can also dress it up a bit by topping with mango, peas, raisins, or chopped tomato. $2.49 for 2.5-ounce cup
Oats aren't just for breakfast anymore. With 100-percent whole grain oats, savory spices, bell peppers, celery, and tomatoes, this mix will take your taste buds straight to the Bayou. Serve as a side or top with your fave protein (we like shrimp for a classic New Orleans twist) for a simple yet filling dinner. Starting at $4.99