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 are packed with nutrients and many are packed with fiber, too. Use brown rice, quinoa or bulgur as flavorful foundations for Mighty Bowls opens in a new tab like this one opens in a new tab 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 opens in a new tab 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 opens in a new tab or Quick Italian Spinach and Pasta Soup opens in a new tab.
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 opens in a new tab or Simply Delicious Homemade Hummus opens in a new tab.
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 opens in a new tab, while peanut butter makes a tasty sauce for recipes such as Sesame-Peanut Noodles opens in a new tab.
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.
Stock up Now: 17 Healthier Pantry Staples
Brown rice, barley, quinoa, bulgar, millet, or rolled and/or steel-cut oats
Whole grain pasta
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
dried apricots, dates or raisins
a variety of vinegars or lemons and limes
your favorite dried herbs and spices
— Additional reporting by Kathy K. Downie, R.D.
Hungry for more? Check out our tips on stocking your pantry with healthier snacks opens in a new tab, choosing healthier foods opens in a new tab, healthier cooking techniques opens in a new tab and much more!