Stock Your Kitchen: Best Healthy Pantry Staples
Do you dread planning out meals and going to the grocery store to shop for food? Consider stocking your kitchen pantry with a few staple items to always have on hand. That way you can easily grab a few key staples out of your cupboard, pair them with a few fresh produce items from the fridge, and make a quick and easy dish.
Read on to discover our top 6 best pantry staples for healthy eating. In just a few simple steps you can turn these real food items into a delicious one-pot meal or another easy-to-prepare dish.
How to Stock Healthy Kitchen Staples
Between your kitchen cabinets, fridge, and freezer you should have plenty of food that will last weeks if not months. Frozen produce can keep up to a few months while fresh fruits and vegetables will only last a week or two. Canned food and packaged dry goods are your best bet for long-term storage – lasting many months or even years.
Before you embark on stocking up on healthy pantry foods, you should go through your kitchen and check expiration dates. Toss items that are past their use-by date and donate items that are still good but you don’t think you’ll ever use. Now is also a good time to purge any overly processed, high sodium, high sugar content foods. This will help you start with a clean slate and give you more room to store healthier pantry items.
Top Healthy Pantry Staples
Healthy meal prep pantry staples can be grouped into a few main categories:
- Herbs and spices
- Beans and lentils
- Rice and grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Soups and broths
Healthy Pantry List
Use this section as a summary of the top pantry staples to stock up on. Anytime you go shopping, take a quick look at what you have one hand. Then create a list of items to buy at your favorite grocery store or local farmer’s market.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are essential to any dish where you want to add an extra burst of flavor. If you have access to fresh herbs at your grocery store or grow your own garden at home, great! But a well-stocked pantry filled with dried herbs and spices will keep your dishes filled with flavor even during the middle of winter. Shop for your favorite dried herb staples such as rosemary, oregano, sage, dill, thyme, or parsley.
Pre-ground spices are fine, but why not make your own spice mixes? A simple coffee grinder or mortar and pestle set lets you prepare freshly ground spices as needed. Look for cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cumin seeds, allspice berries, and other whole spices. Whole spices also keep longer than ground as there is less surface area for oils to evaporate. Another great item to add to your kitchen pantry is whole peppercorns – available packaged in its own spice grinder at most supermarkets.
Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils have many uses. You can buy them dried in bulk bags or canned in smaller portions. Dried beans usually require soaking overnight in water before cooking the next day. But canned beans are already cooked – just drain them and rinse them under cold water before adding to recipes.
Canned beans are shelf-stable for up to 2 to 5 years while dried beans can last for 10 or more years when stored properly. Look for black beans, navy beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, split peas, lentils, and more. Use this healthy pantry staple in a variety of soups, stews and curries.
Rice and Grains
Jasmine rice, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, oats, couscous and pasta all fall into the rice and grains pantry staple category. You can find them in bulk bins, large bags, or smaller containers at most stores. Quick cook rice can be used in a pinch but has a shorter shelf life due to being pre-cooked and often has a high sodium content.
Use rice, grains and pasta in pilafs, soups, salads and as the main component of your next vegan Buddha bowl. When stored at room temperature, in air-tight containers, this pantry staple will keep for many months if not years.
Nuts and Seeds
Store nuts and seeds at room temperature for up to 6 months depending on the variety. Look for bulk unshelled nuts if you don’t mind a bit of extra work and are looking to save money. Certain types like walnuts and brazil nuts are harder to crack so you may want to purchase them preshelled. Add nuts to trail mix, granola, yogurt, oatmeal, or a fresh green salad.
The flavor of some nuts and seeds, such as sunflower seeds and cashews, is enhanced when roasted. Look for unsalted nuts and seeds so as to keep sodium to a reasonable level. You can also stock up on nut butter if desired as peanut butter and almond butter both taste great when added to smoothies or spread on top of waffles and pancakes.
Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Although there’s nothing like the taste of fresh fruits and vegetables, they have a relatively short shelf life. Look for fruits packed in water or light syrup to cut back on sugar content. When shopping for canned vegetables, look for low sodium or sodium-free versions to cut down on salt content.
The good news is there are many canned fruits and vegetables to choose from. Stock your pantry with canned peas, potatoes, diced tomatoes, corn, mandarin oranges, pineapple, pumpkin, and more.
Easy breakfast potatoes
This recipe is a blast from the past – going back to the late 80s when our communications manager was still in college. Her mother and father often sent care packages filled with pantry staples to help her stretch her limited food budget. Ah, the good old days.
- For a quick addition to your breakfast table, drain a 15 oz. can of whole new potatoes
- Dry off excess moisture with a paper towel, then chop the potatoes into 1-inch chunks and set aside
- Add 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil to a large frying pan placed over medium to medium-high heat
- Add ½ cup diced onion and cook until they begin to turn translucent
- Remove the onion from the pan and set aside
- Add more oil to the pan if necessary then add the potatoes and stir frequently
- When the potatoes have started turning golden brown turn the heat down to low
- Stir in the cooked onions
- If desired, you can add ½ cup of cubed Velveeta cheese at this point and stir until the cheese melts and coats the onion and potato mixture
- Turn off the heat, sprinkle with chopped parsley or chives if desired and serve immediately
Soups and Broths
Soups and broths are the number one best pantry item to always have on hand. Soups are the perfect meal option when you are short on time. Look for hearty soups and stews such as corn chowder, clam chowder, chili and everyone’s favorite – chicken noodle soup.
You’ll also want to stock up on plenty of canned vegetable, beef, or chicken broth for adding to homemade soups, sauces and crock pot masterpieces. If you are trying to limit salt content in your diet look for low sodium or sodium-free versions. Many soups, stocks and broths are available in large 32-oz boxes – perfect when making a large batch of soup to enjoy on a cold and blustery day. Share leftovers with friends and neighbors or store in the freezer for up to a few months.
Misc Healthy Eating Pantry Staples
Besides the 6 categories listed above, there are many more pantry staples to consider stocking up on. Here are a few of our favorites.
- Canned tuna
- Canned chicken
- Pasta sauce in glass jars
- Salsa in glass containers
- Premade gravy
- Coffee or whole coffee beans
- Tea bags
- Nutritional drinks and protein shakes to get you through inclement weather and other emergency situations
- Cooking oils such as avocado, coconut, or EVOO
- For an occasional special treat stock up on baking supplies including flour, sugar, chocolate, baking powder and vanilla extract
And don’t forget to get a few boxes of boxed dairy or non-dairy milk. Unlike bottled milk, boxed milk is shelf-stable and doesn’t require refrigeration until after you open it. Choose from whole milk or sweetened or unsweetened almond milk, hemp milk, oat milk, rice milk, or soy milk.
Cheap Healthy Pantry Staples
If you worry about blowing your food budget stocking up on pantry items, just buy a few at a time. Wait for things to go on sale, check the weekly sales flyers, and look for BOGO (buy one, get one) specials.
Also, buying in bulk is still a great way to save money. Many grocery stores and food co-ops have bulk bins filled with oats, rice, dried beans and other pantry staples. You simply fill up plastic bags with individual items and store them in glass or plastic containers once you get home.
You might want to look for stores promoting zero waste shopping where they let you bring in your own containers. You simply weigh your container before filling with the pantry staple of your choice. This is a great way to help save the planet and reduce the need for single-use plastics.
Wholesale warehouse clubs, such as Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s are great places to shop for healthy pantry deals. If you live alone, or you and your partner are empty-nesting now that your children are grown, you might not have a need for shopping in bulk. However, you could coordinate shopping trips with friends, family, or neighbors. This lets you split the bounty by breaking large case packs into more manageable sizes to give you the most bang for your buck.
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