Top 5 Pantry Must-Haves

In addition to standards like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, here are some other pantry must-haves that are affordable, healthy and easy to find.

Even with loads of fresh produce coming into season now, you still need to keep your pantry stocked with some go-to staples. In addition to standards like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, here are some other pantry must-haves that are affordable, healthy and easy to find.

We're cautious about throwing the term "superfood" around, but quinoa is a definite food star. It has the same calories as pasta or brown rice but more fiber, iron and B-vitamins (including folate and thiamin). One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein, compared to 5 grams in a cup of brown rice. Quinoa cooks up in less than 15 minutes; it has a chewy texture and nutty bite that works for salads, stuffings or a simple side dish. I love to make quinoa salad with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, scallions and feta cheese or a hot breakfast cereal with honey and cinnamon.

Spices like cinnamon and curry powder are versatile and delicious -- you just need to know what to do with them. Add cinnamon to oatmeal, smoothies and dry rub marinades. Use curry powder to liven up chicken salad, seafood, soups or noodle dishes. These spices also have unique health benefits. Cinnamon has been linked to lowering blood pressure and controlling blood sugar; while curry contains turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Stick to buying small containers and skip the bulk-sized ones (you’ll never use all of it before the spices get stale and bland); or go for bulk and divvy them up among friends and family -- and split the cost.

3) Dijon Mustard

Dijon mustard brings on the flavor without the fat and calories -- better yet, it’s free of that pesky high-fructose corn syrup, which lurks in many other condiments. Use it to add creaminess to sauces and salad dressings without the fat and calories of oil or mayo. At 5 calories per teaspoon, tangy Dijon isn’t just for sandwiches; it makes light and delicious marinades, dips and sauces for chicken, pork or seafood.

4) Walnut Oil

This one might be a bit exotic to you. Walnut oil is a concentrated source of healthy omega-3 fats, which is hard to come by in other nuts. It has a rich, nutty flavor that’s different than any other oil in your pantry. A little goes a long way -- it’s perfect for a light drizzle over grilled fish, salads or roasted vegetables. There’s no need to heat this oil; it will lose some of its flavor.

Honey is a natural sweetener with more flavor and nutrients than refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Since it has the same calorie count as sugar, just use a drizzle. Look for locally honey at the farmers' market or grocery store -- they are often more affordable. Use it in baked goods, salad dressings, hot or cold drinks and marinades. I also love it on toasted bread.

Must-Ditch Items

Your kitchen is better off without these packaged goods. They contain few nutrients and too much sodium, trans fat, sugar and preservatives. They're often more expensive, too.

• Sugary Cereals
• Packaged Baked Goods (cookies, muffins, pastries)
• Canned soups (low-sodium varieties are okay)

• Snack foods -- especially cheesy crackers and wild flavored potato chips

TELL US: What's the one item in your pantry you can't live without?
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