Part of cooking healthfully is having the right ingredients on hand. I try to keep my kitchen well stocked so that pulling together a tasty, wholesome meal is easy. My go-to healthy dish to round out dinner is often a cooked whole grain drizzled with fresh lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil. (I feel prepared for anything when I have fresh lemons and quick-cooking quinoa.) I asked some of the nutrition pros at Whole Foods Market to share their healthy kitchen staples and best applications to inspire you to try these nutrient-rich ingredients, sodium-smart seasonings, or multi-tasking pantry must-haves.
Here are their top picks:
Start your day with fiber-filled old-fashioned rolled oats, which cook quickly (or even easier, soak them overnight for a no-brainer healthy breakfast). The multitasking whole grain can be used as a binder in meatballs, as a nutty-flavored flour when pulsed in a food processor, or as a part of a breading mixture for chicken.
A nut butter, such as 365 Everyday Value® Organic Unsweetened No Salt Added Peanut Butter, also ranked high for must-haves. Besides adding protein, fiber and great texture to your favorite recipes (think smoothies, a stir-fry sauce, or dressing), this no-salt-added and unsweetened peanut butter contains just one ingredient: Dry roasted organic peanuts. If you need an excuse to bake with it, try this grown-up take on peanut butter cookies.
Use some of that nut butter to make a spicy nut sauce to toss with quick-cooking rice ramen. Unlike its wheat-based counterpart, most rice ramen is gluten-free (always check labels). Another bonus: Whole-grain rice options, such as brown rice or black rice noodles, are available to score another serving of whole grains.
If you’re watching sodium, or just want to add a hint of ocean-y flavor to soups (like your ramen broth), dressings or salads, reach for kelp granules. Compared to one teaspoon of fine sea salt’s 2300 milligrams sodium — a day’s worth according to government nutrition guidelines — the same amount of kelp granules contains only about 100 milligrams sodium. Plus, the powdery granules are vegan and umami-rich (read: full of savory flavor), perfect for a mock tuna salad.
Canned pinto beans are a nutritional and culinary powerhouse. Opt for the no-salt-added version (or rinse and drain regular canned beans before using in recipes) to minimize the sodium impact. Packed with fiber and protein, canned pinto beans can be whirred in a food processor to start quick refried beans, added to salads or to cooked rice, or simply heated and spritzed with fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of ground cumin.
Another great virtually sodium-free flavor enhancer: Fresh herbs. Many of our nutrition pros cited basil, parsley, and thyme as go-to herbs that can perk up a veggie soup, whole grain, or roast meat or poultry. Fresh thyme and rosemary are great roasted with chopped vegetables, and more delicate basil and parsley are great to add at the end of cooking. And if you’re wanting to cut costs as well as sodium, grow your own herbs in pots. Grow cilantro, basil, rosemary and thyme in containers at home and you’ll have these whenever you need them.
And mild-flavored hemp seeds are another smart option to add to your rotation. You don’t have to grind these seeds to reap the nutritional benefits: Just two tablespoons are full of heart-healthy unsaturated fats (and some plant-based omega fatty acids, too) and about six grams of filling protein. Try them stirred into hot breakfast cereal, smoothies, breading mixtures, burgers and baked goods.
Another all-star kitchen staple: Red lentils. These nutrient-dense legumes are brimming with protein, fiber and potassium, plus have smaller amounts of many vitamins and minerals. And the real boon is that, unlike beans, these cook quickly and don’t need to be pre-soaked. Because they are very soft and don’t hold their shape during cooking, try them in a soup or dip.
Stay tuned for more healthy kitchen staples from our nutrition pros, including Dan Marek, Whole Kids Foundation School Programs Manager and Chef; Dani Little, MS, RD, Engine 2 Program Director; Allison Enke, MA, RD, Product Compliance & Nutrition Analyst; Jess Kolko, RDN, LD, Nutrition Senior Research Analyst; Mandy Marino, Global Prepared Foods Associate Coordinator and Health Starts Here program coordinator; and Kathy K. Downie, RDN.
What is on your healthy kitchen staple list?