I’d like to get something straight. I love to eat, but like the rest of the world, I don’t want to be in the kitchen all. day. long. I tend to bend towards ethnic cuisine like Thai, Mexican and Indian, but also like Italian, which I ate a lot of growing up.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a handful of products that I really don’t want to live without. Granted, a few may be higher in sodium than some people can tolerate, but for the most part, these are things that are simple, convenient and relatively healthy to make food a little more palatable.

I’ll start with True Lemon. I first was introduced to this product when I worked as a clinical dietitian at the VA Medical Center. True Lemon had just come out and like other companies with a new product, they graciously sent lots of samples. Unlike other powdered drink mixes, what I like about this product is you have the option of plain, crystallized True Citrus products without sweetener or the artificially sweetened versions of tea or kool-aide type drinks. While fresh lemon is great to freshen water, it may be contaminated in restaurants and you can’t add lemons to a suitcase when traveling. True Lemon has multiple flavors including lime, orange and grapefruit. I often find boxes of it at the Dollar Store. Bonus!

The next product that honestly, I should buy stock in, is squeeze ginger. I prefer Spiceworld’s version because you get so much bang for your buck. You can find a 10 oz. container for $2.99 at most big box groceries. I use this stuff in EVERYTHING. It’s great for marinades for chicken, fish or pork, or you can season sweet potatoes, broccoli, green beans or spinach with it. I’ve used it in stir fries, oatmeal and quinoa. It is less pungent that fresh ginger and a lot more convenient. It is located behind the bananas with the salad fixins at Kroger.

Along with squeeze ginger goes chili garlic paste. I typically find this in the Asian food section but have found it with other condiments at Big Lots as well. Chili garlic paste can be used to make spicy Szechuan green beans, spicy broccoli or Thai peanut noodles. It just kicks the flavor of things up a few notches.

Another favorite seasoning that I often find in small Hispanic markets to big box groceries is Goya Foods Sazon seasoning. It is my secret weapon for chili, black beans, tortilla soup and brown rice. I realize it contains sodium and some food coloring if you get the type with annatto, but there is a salt-free, annatto free variety. The type that has cilantro added is especially delightful.

Finally, the ridiculously cute marketing of Bubly sparkling water tickles my funny bone. From the smile on the can to the tiny “hiya” and “oh hi” on the pull tabs, I can’t resist it. Oh, and the flavors are great, too! My favorite is cherry. It tastes like the memory of a cherry Dum Dum sucker you got at the bank as a kid. There are multiple flavors including lemon, grapefruit, apple, strawberry and more. The best part is it’s calorie free, color free and no artificial flavors. Check them out and if you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed.

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