6 healthy pantry staples to have for everyday meals

Having a well-stocked pantry can help you make healthier choices on weekdays, especially when dinner is rolling around and you do not already have a plan in place. Pantry staples can be used to complement fresh fruits and vegetables you already have on hand, or serve as an alternative to frozen pizza and instant ramen.

When buying canned beans, broth, vegetables and other durable foods, it is worth taking a look at the nutrition labels as these types of foods often have more salt and sugar than their fresh counterparts.

“Definitely look at sodium if you are at risk for high blood pressure or have high blood pressure,” said Jonathan Valdez, owner of Genki nutrition and spokesman for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (and no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day for people with high blood pressure), Valdez told the HuffPost that the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day.

If you are keeping an eye on your sodium intake, look for low, reduced or no sodium options if available. Similarly, experts for canned fruits recommend finding options where the fruit is packaged in its own juice or water (instead of syrup).

“Looking at the ingredient list to see if anything has been added is the best place to look for this,” said Meredith Price, a plant-based registered dietitian and co-founder of Plant-Fit Besties, told HuffPost.

We asked registered dietitians to share their staples and their preferred ways of using them. Below we have gathered their top picks.

Nutritional yeast

“This is a must in any plant-based person’s kitchen,” Price said and noted that nutritional yeast is a great source of protein, fiber and B vitamins. In addition, it lasts for up to two years and gives the food a cheesy taste.

“It’s also low-FODMAP-friendly, which is great for anyone with digestive problems, especially IBS,” she said.

Price likes to sprinkle nutritional yeast over popcorn for a healthy snack, and she also uses it to make vegan macaroni and cheese (mix cashews with nutritional yeast to make a creamy vegan sauce).

Here are some more tips on what you can do with it.

Nutritious yeast is a scaly vegan ingredient that gives a cheesy flavor to the dish you add it to.

Brent Hofacker / 500px via Getty Images

Nutritious yeast is a scaly vegan ingredient that gives a cheesy flavor to the dish you add it to.

Dried lentils

Lentils are a great source of plant-based protein, fiber and iron, Price said, adding, “they are a great meat substitute for many dishes.”

Dried lentils are the star ingredient in some of her favorite evening meals, including daal (lentil stew) and lentil curry, which she serves with rice. When cooking with pantry staples, Price tries to incorporate at least some kind of fresh ingredients, even if it’s just an onion.

“I like to have some fresh vegetables next to it to make the meal more flavorful and nutritious, such as a side salad, sautéed kale or roasted carrots,” she said.

Do you want specific recipes? How to make a bag of lentils for three meals.


Rice is a great base for adding protein and vegetables, and any leftovers you have can be made into fried rice the next day. Throw in an egg, chopped garlic and the vegetables you have withered away in your fridge, and thank us later – leftovers have never tasted so good.

“It goes with pretty much any dish and has a very long shelf life,” Valdez said of the grain.

Ali Webster, Director of Research and Nutrition Communication at International Food Information Council, is partly for brown rice because it is whole grain.

“It’s higher in nutrients like fiber, manganese, magnesium and selenium compared to white rice,” Webster told HuffPost.

Here are 21 rice recipes you can make from pantry ingredients.

Canned vegetables that are not in season

If fresh vegetables are not available, frozen is the next best option. And then after that, canned goods are good to have on hand.

“In the rare cases where I can not find the vegetables I am looking for in the grocery store, I love to turn to canned corn to get something that is easy and microwave safe, especially if the corn is not in season,” he said. Valdez. He uses canned corn in the ramen, on salads and more.

Canned beans

Canned beans add fiber and protein to soups and salads, Webster said, and they can also be mixed into dips like hummus or paired with tortillas and other toppings for tacos in the evenings.

“The versatility of canned beans is unsurpassed,” she said.

At home, Webster and her family cook with a lot of pantry items because they cut down on preparation time and help get healthy meals on the table quickly. Unlike dried beans, which can take hours to soak and boil, canned beans can be heated and added to dishes in minutes.

Find great recipes that use canned black beans here.

Nut butter

Whether you like peanut butter, almond butter or any other type of nut butter, this is your reminder to fill up.

“Peanut butter is a source of protein and fiber, and they are high in healthy fats,” Webster said. “They can be used for everything from toast to smoothies to sauces.”

Webster likes to use peanut butter to make peanut sauces for dipping vegetables in or as a supplement to rice noodle dishes.


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