10 Healthy Pantry Staples Nutritionists Always Buy
These healthful shelf-stable ingredients are affordable, easy to use and deserve a spot in your pantry.
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How to Stock Your Pantry with Healthy Food
Stocking your pantry doesn't mean you have to rely only on unhealthy foods. There are plenty of pantry staples that have health benefits and are ingredients you'll use often. When stocking their pantries, nutritionists choose items that are healthful, easy to cook and have a long shelf-life. We asked registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) from around the country for their must-have pantry staples and ways they use them.
Olive oil is a pantry staple and can be used for making salad dressing, sauteing or roasting foods and more, says Julie Upton, co-founder of Appetite for Health or San Francisco Bay Area-based registered dietitian. "EVOO is one of the foundational foods of the Mediterranean Diet that has long been heralded as one of the healthiest eating patterns to help add more years to your life and life to your years!"
Canned Cannellini Beans
"As a mom of three girls living a mostly plant-based lifestyle, cannellini beans are a pantry staple I cannot live without," says Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of Solve Picky Eating. Malkani explains that canned versions are an amazing source of plant-based protein, fiber, iron, antioxidants and many other vitamins and minerals, and offer an unbeatable combination of nutrients, affordability, and convenience. Plus, their creamy, mild texture makes them an ideal addition to salads, casseroles, soups and stews. "I like to boost the protein and fiber content of smoothies by adding a handful of cannellini beans, and my girls enjoy snacking on them straight out of the can, once they’ve been drained and rinsed," says Malkani.
Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN says her pantry staple is oats. "Oats are always in my pantry, as this shelf-stable whole grain is rich in heart-healthy fibers, plus it is so economical and versatile," she explains. Palmer’s go-to breakfast is cooked oats with seasonal fruit and nuts, which is a healthful breakfast that satisfies her until lunch and beyond. "In addition, I make my own granola with oats — just mix it up with dried fruit and nuts of your choice, bake it, and store it in an airtight container. I also like to use oats in baking bars, cookies and breads, as well as a binder for homemade veggie burgers and patties."
Abbie Gellman, a New York City-based RDN and chef and author of The Mediterranean DASH Diet Cookbook must have dried lentils. "I love keeping all types of dried lentils, including green, brown, black and red. Dried lentils cook in less than 30 minutes and are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, iron and a range of vitamins and minerals." Gellman particularly loves lentils because they are so versatile. She suggests trying out brown or red lentils in a hearty vegetarian soup or pureeing them to use in vegetarian burgers. Black lentils have more of an al dente bite, so they're great mixed with a variety of your favorite chopped vegetables and vinaigrette to eat as a vegetarian entree or side dish. Lentils can also hold up with ground meat, so try swapping out some ground meat for lentils in your next bolognese and serving it with pasta or zoodles.
"Not only is canned tuna incredibly versatile, but it's packed with nutrients your body needs" says Chrissy Carroll, RD and USAT Level I Triathlon Coach. "Crack open a can and you're treated to both omega-3 fatty acids (key for cognitive and heart health) and protein (for muscle recovery and helping you stay full longer). Not sure what to do with it besides a good 'ol tuna sandwich? Try making a spicy tuna bowl by combining it with rice, cucumbers, avocado, soy sauce and a little Sriracha-infused mayo. Or toss the tuna with some quinoa, chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley and a fresh vinaigrette."
"My one must have pantry staple is canned chickpeas" shares Deanna Segrave-Daly, RD, blogger at Teaspoon of Spice and author of The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet. "Toss them into any pasta or grain dish for an instant protein and fiber boost. Mash them and mix into ground beef or ground turkey to extend the amount of meat you are using for chili, tacos or Sloppy Joes. Or make homemade hummus by adding the can (along with the liquid to make it super creamy and smooth) to a blender with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter."
"Peanut butter is a staple in my house because not only is it a shelf-stable complete protein on its own, but it's also a great condiment to use in dressings, sauces, dips and baked goods," says Elizabeth Shaw MS RDN CPT and author at ShawSimpleSwaps.com. Plus, Shaw explains that peanut butter contains all three macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates and protein. "The fat in a true peanut butter (meaning a peanut butter that contains just peanuts and salt) comes from predominantly monounsaturated fats too, meaning it's a healthy ingredient you can feel good about serving your family."
Diced Canned Tomatoes
Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, Los Angeles-based nutritionist and healthy cooking expert says her pantry must have is canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes. "Packed at the height of freshness, canned tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and other important antioxidants like lycopene, a heart-healthy plant nutrient that may help protect against certain types of cancer and sunburn," explains Bannan. Plus, canned tomatoes provide fiber and potassium for gut and heart health. "Diced tomatoes are an inexpensive and versatile ingredient in soups, pasta dishes, baked entrees or use them to make a homemade marinara sauce that will put store-bought options to shame."
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids and founder of RealMomNutrition.com knows how to make the most of boxes of pasta. "Whether it's white or whole wheat (both are nutritious and have fiber, vitamins and minerals), pasta is a quick, simple base for all kinds of meals. You can toss it with steamed or roasted vegetables, protein-rich foods like chicken or tofu chunks, and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil. It's also wildly affordable and the ultimate comfort food — and comfort is something we can all use more of right now."
You will always find Katherine Brooking MS, RD, co-founder, AppforHealth.com checking the pantry to make sure she has enough tea on hand. "I drink black tea every morning (unsweetened) and a recent study found that tea can help you live longer," she says. "People who drank tea more than three times a week cut their risk of heart disease and stroke by 20 percent compared with those who didn't regularly drink tea or never consumed it [according to the study]."