Comfy, homey, and quick: When time constraints get the best of us, instant ramen is perfect in every way… except for the health factor. Most ultraconvenient varieties are overly processed, fried in palm oil, and contain sodium- and additive-filled flavor packets.
But even when quick comfort is the highest priority, it’s still possible to get in a serving of good nutrition. All it takes is two healthy ingredients to transform any curly noodle brick into a more nourishing meal.
Think of the following recipes like three-ingredient pasta, but with instant ramen.
And psst — depending on how hungry you are, you can use half the noodles and add more delicious toppings for better nutrition.
Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy food in the freezer section, particularly vegetables not in season. As they’re typically picked and flash frozen at peak freshness, frozen veggies can often be more nutritious than fresh produce — which may have been sitting in delivery trucks for miles. Don’t be afraid to stock up on frozen seafood, either. It can often be a more economical option, especially when there’s a sale.
Serve: Throw away the flavor packet and boil your instant noodles. Drain and toss them in with cooked shrimp and stir-fry veggies. Soy sauce and sesame oil also make a great flavor combo.
Tip: For some superfood power, Paldo makes green tea and chlorella noodles. Chlorella is a type of green algae that can complement the shrimp flavor. Look for shrimp that boasts labels from independent regulatory groups like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Marine Stewardship Council, or Naturland to support sustainability.
Kimchi, a fermented Korean side dish, helps feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut for better digestion. It’s typically made with cabbage, and contains immune-boosting vitamin C and carotene. You may want to try this particular combo with Shin Black Noodles, a spicy South Korean favorite. Be aware these noodles are very processed, though.
Serve: Chop the tofu into small cubes and stir into the soup. If you prefer a little more flavor, marinate cubes of tofu in a mix of tamari, garlic, and sesame oil in the morning. You’ll thank yourself later that night when you pop them in the broth. You can also pour some kimchi juice into the ramen for some extra tang.
Tip: Wait until the noodles are done cooking and cooled a bit before stirring in the kimchi or kimchi juice. Probiotic foods are “alive,” and boiling broth will kill off the kimchi’s gut-friendly bacteria.
Ramen enthusiasts know everything’s better with an egg on it. You can cook it fresh or marinate the eggs in tamari for a more seasoned add-in. Either way, you’re getting a nutritious blend of B vitamins from the eggs, which are crucial for the nervous system. Feeling stressed? Broccoli’s vitamin C actually helps us cope, especially with anxiety.
Serve: Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add eggs. For two eggs, you’ll want to boil for five minutes. Stirring in egg yolk also adds body to the broth.
Tip: You can batch prep soft-boiled eggs not just for ramen, but for snacking throughout the week. They keep well in an airtight container for two to four days. For more eggs, experiment with different times to achieve your desired level of goo in your yolks.
Make your inner meal prep maven glow with pride with your own chashu pork. This jazzes up a boring bowl of instant noodles, especially when mixed with vibrantly green bok choy. Braised pork belly (look for pasture-raised meat) provides protein and fat to keep you satisfied, while bok choy may prevent cancer, reduce inflammation, and protect cells from damage.
Serve: Cook the pork ahead of time, slice thinly, and freeze in single layers before storing in an airtight container to pop in your broth later on. If pork or bone broth isn’t easily accessible, you can try Nissin Demae or Marutai Kumamoto Tonkotsu’s instant versions, using just a sprinkle of the flavor packets. Stir in chopped bok choy before serving to let it wilt slightly.
Tip: Although preparation is mostly hands-off, it does take a good chunk of time. You can make more pork and freeze it for future meals. Also consider asking your favorite ramen restaurant if you can buy just the broth to take home.
You never realize just how much of a food there is until you whip out the spiralizer. Suddenly, one carrot is actually a giant bowl of orange curls. Though it’s the same amount of food, it does help to visually stretch out your meals, allowing you to eat slower and better recognize your satiety signals. Shelled edamame adds another pop of color with some bonus protein.
Serve: Depending on the width of your carrot noodles, cook them just a little bit longer than the rice noodles, unless you prefer a crunchier texture.
Tip: If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can shred the carrots on a box grater and stir in while the noodles are cooking.
This is a green, iron-rich take on miso soup. We know the many health benefits of spinach, but seaweed has some amazing perks as well. Seaweed is an incredibly nourishing food for thyroid health and a complete source of protein with essential amino acids that our bodies don’t produce. Together, these ingredients make an umami-packed, mineral-rich bowl.
Serve: Avoid the flavor packet with this recipe. Blend 2 cups of hot water with a handful of spinach, 2 tablespoons of miso paste, and 2 tablespoons of wakame, a type of seaweed. You can add cashews for some extra creaminess. To preserve the miso paste’s probiotics, cook the noodles separately in water and add to the broth when ready.
Tip: Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, it’s important to check if the seaweed brand you’re purchasing has been tested for radioactivity. Seaweed has detoxification qualities and cleans water in the same way that plants cleanse soil. You want seaweed that comes from sources uncontaminated with pollution or radiation. The United States and Japan are actively monitoring the situation to ensure there’s no public health risk.
Depending on their ingredients, noodle brands will differ in nutrition. A guideline I like to stick to for any packaged food is to make sure I can pronounce all of its ingredients, or potentially be able to purchase them individually. The idea is that the prepackaged product is wholesome enough for you to make yourself if you wanted to.
To make the whole dish even healthier, swap out the fried noodle brick for brown rice vermicelli. It cooks just as fast while giving you the same texture as wheat noodles. Also, keeping your pantry stocked with different types of broth, spices, and liquid seasonings — like tamari and Sriracha — means you can toss the MSG soup packet.
Or just make a batch of rich bone broth that you can freeze and take out whenever the need for comfort food strikes.
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Kristen Ciccolini is a Boston-based holistic nutritionist and founder of Good Witch Kitchen. As a certified culinary nutrition expert, she’s focused on nutrition education and teaching busy women how to incorporate healthier habits into their everyday lives through coaching, meal plans, and cooking classes. When she’s not nerding out over food, you can find her upside down in a yoga class, or right-side up at a rock show. Follow her on Instagram.