By Shauna Schultz, RD
With the current stay at home order, it’s time to turn to your pantry. You may be dusting off cans and jars you didn’t know existed or stocking up on food. Either way, relying on pantry staples to build healthy meals has never been more important. Stocking up on healthy essentials can save money and keep the immune system running strong. But, what should you have on hand? The list below includes healthy pantry essentials that have a long shelf life and many uses, along with ideas on what to do with them.
Grains: Whole grains often compare at price to whole grains and are nutrient-dense with fiber to keep you satiated. Stock up on brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta to use as the foundation of a meal. The possibilities are endless: Make a burrito bowl with rice; Add quinoa to chili; Try fried rice as a one-pot dish; Enjoy a pasta bake; Use oats to make muesli. Items like bread and tortillas keep for quite a while in the refrigerator and can also be frozen. Don’t forget popcorn – you can even pop it in a paper bag in the microwave and season it yourself!
Beans and lentils: Dried beans win on price and number of servings per pound, but canned versions are still nutritious and great for a fast meal. Dried lentils are packed with protein and fiber and quick to cook. Keep a variety of beans and lentils on hand to prepare meals like soup with white beans, hummus, lentils and rice, black bean burritos, three-bean salad, barbeque pinto bean tacos, or curried red lentil stew. Beans also blend well into burgers to extend the number of servings.
Produce: Choose fruits and vegetables that have a longer shelf life. Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be a meal on their own. Winter squash is wonderful in soups with quinoa and lentils or pureed as a pasta sauce. Carrots paired with bean dip make for a healthy snack and roasted root vegetables are a tasty side dish (e.g., beets, parsnips, yams). Canned vegetables like tomatoes are a must: they can be added to soups or used to make pasta or enchilada sauce. Apples and oranges keep for up to a month when stored in the refrigerator and are nature’s fast food! If you have fruit on hand that is perishable, try freezing it for future use in a smoothie.
Frozen foods: Don’t pass up the frozen vegetables! They are nutritious and convenient – choose whatever you like, you can’t go wrong. Edamame is fun for a snack, peas are a great addition to an Asian noodle bowl, and corn is essential in any Southwest-themed dish.
Nuts and seeds: Nuts are nutritional powerhouses and keep for a long time in the freezer. They also add a little something extra to a dish. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are inexpensive and add a crunch to grain dishes; plus, they are rich in zinc and iron. Walnuts are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and can be used to make pesto or as a topping for oatmeal. Let’s not forget about peanut butter! There are so many uses for peanut butter – mix it with oats, dates, and seeds and roll into balls for a quick snack. Or, keep it simple with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or celery with peanut butter and raisins.
Baking staples: There has been a shortage of flour and yeast, but if you have these handy, consider baking! Or, make whole-grain pancakes, waffles, and muffins to freeze for a future date.
Dehydrated and dried: There are some fun choices here that can really elevate a dish and fill in for more perishable and out of season produce. Keep dried mushrooms on hand to add to soups or pasta dishes, or sun-dried tomatoes to make a simple red pesto. Boxed items like falafel mix, vegetarian chili, or taco mix are also great in a pinch.
Keeping essentials on hand will limit trips to the grocery store. But if you are starting from scratch, start stocking up once a week. With a little preparation, healthy meals will be at your fingertips. Now is also a good time to consider growing your own food. Even if you have a small space, containers on a patio work well and herbs can be grown inside. For recipes that utilize pantry staples, visit www.eatfresh.org and check out the following recipe for Sweet Potato Black Bean Flautas which uses just three ingredients!