Keeping some basic pantry staples is one of the best tips I can give for consistently eating a healthy diet. It will provide you with the base for quick and healthy meals so you can easily cook at home rather than turning to take-out. The following pantry staples are the foundation to make well balanced meals that emphasize vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats. Keeping at least some of these pantry staples will prepare you with the basic ingredients to make a satisfying, nutrient-dense meal anytime.
1. Beans and Legumes
A good source of protein and fiber, you can use either canned or dried beans and legumes. Add them to salads, soups, chilis, pasta, or use them to make homemade veggie burgers. There are many types to choose from including black beans, black-eyed peas, cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, or split peas. If you use canned beans make sure to rinse them off to control the sodium level.
2. Nuts, Seeds, and Nut Butters
Nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fats. They make easy, portable snacks or can be added to a salad, smoothie, or bowl of oatmeal. Nut butters can be spread on whole grain toast for a quick breakfast or smeared on an apple or banana for a snack. There are lots of types of nuts to choose from: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, and walnuts. Some types of seeds to keep in the pantry include chia seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
3. Whole Grains
Whole grains can be used as the base for so many healthy meals. Use your favorite type to make a nourish bowl, add to soups or salads, make a grain salad like tabbouleh, or make a side dish like a pilaf. I like to keep my pantry stocked with brown rice, quinoa, farro, barley, millet, and bulgur.
4. Whole-Grain Pasta
Pasta is a versatile base that can be paired with whatever fresh or frozen vegetables and protein you have on hand. Make a pasta salad or top it with a sauce like pesto or tomato sauce and add some additional toppings such as olives, fresh herbs, or grated cheese.
5. Healthy Oils
Oils that I always have on hand include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. Extra virgin olive oil is great for making homemade salad dressings or to drizzle over grilled vegetables. The high smoke point of avocado and coconut oil makes these oils good for sauteing or roasting vegetables, making a stir-fry, or baking.
Keeping a variety of vinegars in your pantry allows you to easily make a vinaigrette or some other type of simple salad dressing. Some good ones to have are apple cider vinegar, balsamic, and rice wine vinegar. A quality balsamic vinegar is good to drizzle over roasted vegetables, while rice wine vinegar, which has some sweetness to it, can be used to make a stir-fry sauce. Since vinegar is acidic, it can also be used as the base for a marinade.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Roast them, mash them for a side dish. make a sweet potato and black bean chili, or make a creamy sweet potato soup. Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place. I keep them in a basket on the floor of my pantry.
Although you can use powdered garlic while cooking, nothing really replaces the flavor of fresh garlic. Add it to a stir-fry, soup, stew, sauce, marinade, or salad dressing. You can also roast it which will give it a mildly sweet flavor.
9. Dried Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices can completely change the flavor of a dish. Keeping your pantry stocked with a variety of herbs and spices will give you endless possibilities for meals Choose some of the following to incorporate into your meals:
- Dried herbs: basil, oregano, tarragon, dill, thyme, sage, bay leaves, herbs de Provence.
- Spices: cumin, chili powder, curry powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, coriander, garam masala, turmeric, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, smoked paprika.
10. Canned Tuna and Salmon
Canned fish is a cheap source of protein. Add it to a salad, pasta dish, or grain bowl, or make a sandwich. You can also make tuna or salmon cakes for a quick dinner.
11. Vegetable Broth
A carton of broth is an essential base to make quick soups. You can also use it to cook grains in for extra flavor, make a sauce, or to braise vegetables.
12. Canned Coconut Milk
Coconut milk can be used to make a quick curry dish or add to a soup or stew to make it rich and creamy. It’s also good for making dairy-free desserts such as pudding, custard, ice cream, or even cake. Coconut milk is a healthy fat that can also be added to a morning smoothie to make it more filling.
Olives are a healthy fat that can add a lot of flavor to a dish. Toss them with pasta, make a Greek salad, or use them to make a tapenade. They also make a great snack if you want something salty.
14. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce can add a lot of flavor to a meal. Use it in a marinade or to make a dipping sauce, stir-fry sauce, or seasoning for a healthy fried rice dish. Substitute soy sauce for tamari if you need a gluten-free alternative or for coconut aminos if you want to avoid soy.
15. Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a good ingredient for making vegan dishes. It’s a good source of protein and B vitamins that can be used to make vegan cheese sauces, sprinkled over vegetables for added flavor, or stirred into soup.
Tahini is a ground sesame seed paste that’s very versatile. Use it to make hummus, salad dressings, or make a sauce to drizzle over steamed or roasted vegetables, a grain bowl, or tempeh. It can even be used in baking in place of oil.
17. Tomato Sauce
Tomato sauce is very versatile. You can use it to make a homemade pasta sauce or enchilada sauce. You can also mix it with zoodles or whole wheat pasta, add it to a pot of chili, or use in many Italian dishes such as eggplant parmesan.
18. Thai Red or Green Curry Paste
Thai curry paste is a staple in my pantry because it makes a quick one-pot meal that uses any vegetable or protein that you already have. All you need is some Thai curry paste, a can of coconut milk, and whatever veggie and protein you want and you have an easy, healthy meal in no time.
19. Almond Flour or Almond Meal
This is one of the best flours for gluten-free baking, but can also be used in place of breadcrumbs as a coating for fish or vegetables. It has more protein and fiber than white flour and makes a good substitute for flour when making pancakes, quick breads, or even cookies or cake.
20. Cacao Powder
Cacao powered is a healthy fat that can satisfy your need for a chocolate fix. Use it to make healthier versions of brownies, fudge, or hot chocolate. You can also add it to smoothies to make them rich and chocolaty.
Now that you have your kitchen stocked with healthy pantry staples, you are ready to start creating simple yet nutritious meals. No more last-minute take-out or extra trips to the grocery store. You’ve made one of the most important steps towards developing and maintaining a healthy diet!
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