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Pantry Makeover: Stock Up on Healthier Staples

Updated July 24, 2017

We’ve all been there. It’s 6:45 pm (or 7:45 or…10) and you’re wondering what on earth to eat for dinner. Here’s the good news: with a little planning, you can hunger-proof your pantry and make it easier to create fast and good-for-you meals with staples you always have on hand!

A healthier pantry starts with some of the same basics that build a wholesome plate: whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and healthy flavor boosters such as vinegar and low-sodium soy sauce.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are packed with nutrients and many are packed with fiber, too. Use brown rice, quinoa or bulgur as flavorful foundations for Mighty Bowls like this one with pinapple and ginger. Barley and brown rice are tasty, but take the better part of an hour to cook, so be sure to stock up on some quick-cooking varieties like bulgar or quinoa for busy days. (Frozen grains can be a lifesaver when you’re pressed for time too.)

Don’t forget about whole grain pasta. Two ounces (dry) of whole wheat spaghetti or linguine, for example, can deliver about 6g protein, and it’s perfect for pantry meals like Puttanesca Pasta or Quick Italian Spinach and Pasta Soup.

Beans

Beans provide a shelf-friendly source of protein, fiber and phytonutrients. Cooking dried beans from scratch is easy (though it takes some time at the stovetop) and affordable, while canned beans are key for convenient meals on the fly. With plenty of beans in your pantry, you can whip up salads, burritos, Quick and Easy Veggie Chili or Simply Delicious Homemade Hummus.

Nuts and Seeds

They may be small, but nuts and seeds pack a powerful wallop of flavor and texture. Although they tend to be high in fat (and, therefore, calories), it’s primarily monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, and they can also offer fiber, protein and a host of vitamins and minerals.

Nuts and seeds can work double duty, too. When you are making salad dressing, look to nutbutters and seedbutters as flavorful alternatives to other milder extracted oils. Tahini adds mellow, nutty flavor to Creamy Sesame Greens, while peanut butter makes a tasty sauce for recipes such as Sesame-Peanut Noodles.

Flavor Boosters

Don’t forget those indispensable ingredients that pull everything together! A short list includes low-sodium vegetable broth, no-salt-added canned tomatoes, low-sodium soy sauce, vinegars and your favorite dried herbs and spices.

pantry staples

Stock up Now: 17 Healthier Pantry Staples

Whole Grains

  • Brown rice, barley, quinoa, bulgar, millet, or rolled and/or steel-cut oats
  • Whole grain pasta

Beans

  • Dried beans and lentils
  • Canned no-salt-added beans

Nuts and Seeds

  • Raw almonds, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
  • No-salt-added peanut or almond butter

Flavor Boosters + Extras

  • canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • low-sodium vegetable broth
  • unsweetened plain soymilk
  • unsweetened plain almondmilk
  • mellow white miso
  • tahini
  • dried apricots, dates or raisins
  • Dijon mustard
  • a variety of vinegars or lemons and limes
  • your favorite dried herbs and spices
  • nutritional yeast

Additional reporting by Kathy K. Downie, R.D.

Hungry for more? Check out our tips on stocking your pantry with healthier snackschoosing healthier foods, healthier cooking techniques and much more!