Healthy Cooking from the Convenience Store or Drug Store

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

According to the White House, 23.5 million Americans currently live in what are known as 'food deserts.' Food deserts are essentially nutritional wastelands that lack reasonable, affordable access to grocery stores. They exist primarily in urban and rural areas of the country, but can be found just about anywhere. And the people who live in them, more often than not, are forced to stock their cupboards with food from the convenience store, or even the drug store.

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity initiative has set the goal of eliminating all America’s food deserts in the next seven years. But if you’re living in a food desert, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do until then to stay healthy and eat right.

Janine Whiteson, author of “Cooking Light: What to Eat,” has some ideas. She's a nutritionist who’s visited convenience stores and drug stores in some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods, and she’s found that it’s actually possible to eat healthily in a food desert if you have some practical guidelines.


  1. Shop high and shop low…nutritious foods tend to be on the top and bottom shelves while processed brand name food tends to hold the eye-level prime real estate.
  2. Read food labels. Look for whole grain, reduced fat, low fat, low sodium and no trans fat foods. Also, keep an eye out for the stamp from the whole grain council.
  3. Don’t be afraid of canned goods. There are many, which means you won’t get bored and will have lots of nutritious options. Beans can be a great source of vitamins and fiber. Canned tuna and salmon are high in protein. Canned vegetables are actually picked at peak of freshness and then canned by manufacturers, so they’re almost as nutritious as fresh vegetables.
  4. Wash your canned beans and canned fish before eating. Doing so will reduce sodium by 40%.
  5. Keep in mind that some packaged foods are actually better for you than fresh foods. Tomato sauces and tomato paste are a great foundation for sauces and soups. They’re high in vitamin C. And here’s the bonus: they actually have more of the antioxident lycopene than fresh tomatoes.
  6. Know the smart substitutions. If you can’t find whole grain bread at your corner store, go for high fiber cereal like Kashi good friends, Fiber One cereals, or high fiber crackers. If you’re craving Cheetos, reach for Fritos instead. They only have three ingredients (corn, vegetable oil, and salt) and contain no trans fats or artificial colors.



  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons bottled minced garlic or garlic powder
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1  (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4  (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 3/4  cup (3 ounces) shredded cheese (cheddar or queso blanco)
  • Dried parsley or cilantro if available


  • 1 can whole-kernel corn (fiesta style, with red bell pepper, if available)
  • 2  tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1/2  teaspoon  bottled minced garlic or garlic powder
  • Dried parsley or cilantro if available

To prepare the quesadillas, preheat the broiler.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and beans; cook 5 minutes or until liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Place tortillas on a baking sheet coated with a thin layer of olive oil. Top each tortilla with 1/2 cup bean mixture and 3 tablespoons cheese; fold in half. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts and tortillas begin to brown. Cut each tortilla into 3 wedges.

To prepare salsa, combine corn and remaining ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Serve with quesadillas.


  • 1 can Tuna (rinsed in cool water)
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup dried pasta (such as Barilla)

Sauté tuna with canned tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients until the mixture starts simmer.  Boil the pasta al dente.  Drain the pasta and add the tuna with tomatoes mixture.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese to taste.




Janine Whiteson

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [3]

jenn laurie

wow- thanks - I made the salmon cakes and everyone in my Bible study group loved it.

Jun. 03 2010 03:14 PM

I understand and appreciate the concept. But in reality, how many of the people who utilize corner stores to purchase foods are going to read this book? Please do not think that I am implying that these consumers do not read. But I live in a neighborhood that has several corner stores. There are a lot of decent food choices available. But wouldn't it make sense to educate the store owners as well as the consumers? Because their purchases eventually will impact the consumers choices.

Jun. 02 2010 08:40 AM
Julie Widrow from Stoughton, MA

I agree with Janine, canned fish is an excellent and economical source of protein and vitamins if used in moderation. Try this recipe for Salmon cakes - my family loves them!

Salmon Cakes:
1 can Salmon
1 egg
2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 c bread crumbs
1 tsp lemon juice concentrate (or fresh, if available)
1 can of fried onions (if available or more bread crumbs

Mix first five ingredients in a bowl. Shape into patties, roll in crumbs or onions. Pan fry in a small amount of vegetable oil or grill on tin foil. Serve with rice, pasta or on a hamburger roll. Enjoy!

Jun. 02 2010 08:22 AM

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