Cooking from a Healthy Pantry

A well-stocked pantry can help you put a nutritious meal on the table quickly. Learn how one of our healthy eating specialists cooks from her nutrient dense pantry.

Layered Veggie Enchilada

More often than I like to admit, when dinnertime rolls around and someone asks, “What’s for dinner?,” I find myself wondering the same thing. As much time as I spend with food and healthy eating, you’d think that I would have this all figured out! But there are plenty of days when the pots are cold, tummies are grumbling, and I start to consider our options and the cost of eating out.Rather than succumbing to the siren song of nearby eateries, my well-stocked pantry comes to the rescue. With the right assortment of ingredients continually on hand, your options are plenty. I’ve also found that many of our “what’s on the shelf” meals have inspired some creative cooking and wound up producing some of my family’s favorite dishes.


The easiest way to ensure that the food on your pantry shelves will contribute to making your meals healthy is to focus on whole, unprocessed food without refined sugars, artificial ingredients or hydrogenated fats.Whole grains are one of our favorites as they supply key nutrients for good health. Quick cooking grains are particularly life saving for last minute meal prep. With whole grains in your pantry, you could make Romantic Rice Bowl with brown rice with an array of vegetables; Basic Millet with Onion and Parsley; or try quinoa in the flavorful Quinoa with Balsamic Roasted Mushrooms or along with the sea vegetable arame in Ancient Grain Stuffed Red Bell Peppers. Whole grain pastas are also a must have, and adding beans is a great way to satisfy even the hungriest appetites, as in Whole Wheat Pasta with Mushrooms, White Beans and Arugula.

Romantic Rice Bowl

Basic Millet with Onion and Parsley
Ancient Grain Stuffed Red Bell Peppers

Whole Wheat Pasta with Mushrooms, White Beans and Arugula

A perfect complement to whole grains, I consider beans to be our saving grace: affordable, nourishing and versatile. All varieties of beans are a good source of low-calorie, low-fat protein. They're also an amazingly economical source of iron, folate, magnesium and fiber. I always like to have plenty of beans and legumes on hand, both canned and dried.

Having multiple kinds of beans in the house and exploring cooking with different kinds ensures that we keep our meals interesting and never repetitious. For convenience, canned beans are my favorite. Easy, filling, and so good for you, we put them in salads and wraps, blend them to make spreads like Black Bean Hummus and Simply Delicious Homemade Hummus, add vegetables for a satisfying dish like Black Bean Salad and the delightful Black Beans and Rice Extravaganza, or even eat them straight as my son does, topped with a little tomato puree.

Black Bean Hummus

Simply Delicious Homemade Hummus

But for value and nutrition plus versatility and tradition, dried beans are essential. Cooking dried beans is one of a cook’s greatest tools. If you haven’t done it before, don’t worry; check out Learn to Cook: White Beans. Wondering what to do with your beans? Try warming Yellow Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup, simple and elegant White Bean and Spinach Salad, or try one of our favorites: black beans topped with cashews that have been blended with a little water, lime juice and jalapeno. Perfect.

Yellow Split Pea and Sweet Potato Soup

White Bean and Spinach Salad

While nothing will replace fresh, frozen fruits and vegetables can come in very handy and can also be nutrient dense. Vegetable Brown Rice with Feta Cheese couldn’t be easier, and even peas get to play in Green Pea Guacamole. Add some shelf stable tomatoes to your ingredient options, and your menu choices expand even further! Try Layered Vegetable Enchiladas for a sure fire crowd pleaser. Breakfast also is made easier with frozen fruit for smoothies. Get Your Greens Smoothie and Cherry Almond Smoothie are both good ones to try.

Get Your Greens Smoothie

Cherry Almond Smoothie

Rounding out our on pantry staples are the flavor adders. Nuts and seeds, plant-based milks, broth and stock, and dried fruits all help make dishes creamy, rich or sweet. Vinegars, mustard, miso and tamari soy sauce are necessary for the finishing touches, adding just the right amount of acidity and saltiness. These finishing touches are highlighted in "Creamed" Kale, which is sure to make a green lover out of anyone, the amazing Orange Peanut Dressing, and hearty Italian Chowder with Cod and Kale.

Beyond dinner, a well-stocked pantry can also come to the rescue when you’re looking for something sweet. Oats and dried fruit natural sweeteners combine together to make Apple-Cinnamon Oat Squares. No-Bake Thumbprint Cookies also uses almond butter to create some water watering jam gems.

Italian Chowder with Cod and Kale
Apple-Cinnamon Oat Squares

No-Bake Thumbprint Cookies

Need a boost to make your pantry healthier? Check out our Win a Healthy Pantry Makeover blog post for more info.

What are you making with what’s on your shelves?

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