10 Pantry Staples And How To Turn Them Into Easy Meals

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Shorter Version


Est. Reading Time: 3 Minutes

From pantry to table, you can make a healthy meal using the simplest of ingredients.

Many circumstances might require us to lean on our pantry staples rather than fresh items such as coming back from vacation, traveling for work, limited transportation, or simply having the inability to get to the store.

Learning to mix and match pantry staples is a great skill that allows for trying new recipes, being creative, and exploring different flavors.

What about balance?

Not only is knowing how to healthfully stock your pantry important but so is knowing how to incorporate those items into a well-balanced meal. Have fun with building something delicious out of something simple.

Be flexible with swapping ingredients. For example:

  • If a recipe calls for fresh garlic, use garlic powder for a similar flavor instead
  • If a recipe uses potatoes, try using brown rice as an alternative carbohydrate source.

The list below of non-perishable items is not comprehensive, but is a great start. Make pantry meals fun and have a fearless attitude in the kitchen!

Pantry staples and suggested uses

  • Canned or dried legumes – The legume family includes a variety of options like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils. Legumes are fiber-rich, plant-based protein sources full of vitamins and minerals. The fiber in beans is known to improve cholesterol and ease digestion. Use chickpeas for hummus. Turn beans into burger patties or taco “meat.” Toss a multi-bean salad with homemade dressing. Mix any legume with rice or quinoa.
  • Frozen green peas – These little peas are also full of fiber and plant-based protein contributing to satiety. They come with a punch of vitamins B and K, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Add peas to scrambled eggs for added protein and some energizing starch. Blend in smoothies in lieu of protein powder. Use as a base to pesto. Mash and add to guacamole. Add to soups for extra veggies or toss them in with a light pasta dish.
  • Whole-grainsWhole-grains are found in foods like pasta, bread, desserts, and even soups. It’s recommended to eat at least half your daily grains as whole-grains. Grains like oats, brown rice, quinoa, farro, and polenta (or cornmeal) are extremely versatile with the ability to eat them warm or cold. Try using quinoa as a base for a salad or swap coarsely ground rolled oats for breadcrumbs in meatballs. Add brown rice or farro to soups. Use rolled oats or pre-cooked steel cut oats for oatmeal.

Dietitian Tip: Turn any grain into a “flour” for homemade breads, muffins, or desserts by blending in a high-speed blender until it reaches a flour consistency.

  • Canned fruits & veggies – Veg it up from a can! Canned fruits and veggies can be just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. Keeping canned varieties of produce on hand ensures you don’t miss a meal filled with color and helps you to meet the recommended 4-5 servings of fruits and veggies per day for adults. Choose no added salt versions of vegetables and fruits packed in water rather than syrup. Always rinse whole or cut veggies in a colander before consuming to rid of any excess residue from the can. Add veggies to store-bought pasta sauce, soups, stews, and stir-fries. Turn canned tomatoes or tomato sauce into a simple pasta sauce, base to soup, or Indian dish. Stir canned fruits into oatmeal or add to smoothies. Keep these canned goods as simple as a side dish to an entrée.
  • Frozen fruits & veggies – More matters! If canned isn’t your thing, keep frozen varieties of fruits and veggies stocked. Frozen varieties may be the most nutrient-dense as they are frozen immediately after harvest with less time to lose nutrient quality along the food production chain. Similar to canned versions, purchase those that are just the fruit or vegetable. Avoid fruits with added sugar or veggies mixed in a sauce.
  • Nuts, seeds, nut butters – Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of healthy fats, protein, trace minerals, and fiber that help us feel full and improve heart and brain health. Homemade banana nut bread, anyone? Add nut butter to smoothies or stir into oatmeal. Top salads and soups with slivered almonds or sunflower seeds. Sprinkle onto fancy breakfast toasts. Add a healthy dose of nuts or peanut butter to decadent desserts. Or simply use nut butter as a snack dip for fruits and veggies (who remembers ants on a log?).
  • Canned and frozen seafood – As great sources of protein and healthy fats, shelf-stable canned seafood like tuna, salmon, and sardines, and frozen fatty fish or shellfish like halibut and shrimp are extremely versatile. Whip up a quick canned tuna salad. Canned salmon turns into salmon cakes. Frozen shrimp quickly cooks into stir-fry or pasta.
  • Eggs – Eggs are a healthy addition to a well-balanced diet providing protein, a small amount of fat, and vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, choline, vitamins A and D, folate, and more (mostly found in the yolk). Use eggs to make omelets or make-ahead breakfasts like egg muffins or casseroles. Add hard-boiled eggs to salads or add one to a homemade bento box meal. Crack a few on top of canned tomatoes for a traditional shakshuka recipe.
  • Low-sodium broths – A low-cost pantry staple that adds moisture and flavor to recipes like soups, stews, marinades, chili, and cooked grains.
  • Dried herbs and spices – Small yet powerful in flavor and nutrition, herbs and spices last much longer than fresh and make it easy to add or improve flavor to any dish.
  • Condiments – Similar to dried herbs and spices, condiments also provide an easy source of flavor. Keep a variety of condiments on the shelf if you like to experiment with global cuisines like Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern. Look for low-sodium soy sauce, pure cooking oils like olive oil, different kinds of vinegar (rice, apple cider, balsamic, etc.), salsa, whole-grain mustards, and more.



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Actionable Steps


1

Start with a stocked pantry

Load up on the pantry staples above and whatever fresh produce you will use within the week. Find more Staple Ingredients for Quick Healthy Meals from the American Heart Association.

2

Make a meal plan using your pantry staples

Planning for the week ahead builds confidence in your ability to use your pantry items and ensures every ingredient has a purpose. Learn more tips for Meal Planning here.

3

Properly store foods

Use the FoodKeeper app to properly store foods and reduce food waste.

4

Use websites to find new recipes

Use FridgeToTable.com or SuperCook.com to find recipes using what you have on hand or items that need to be used up in your fridge.

5

Have fun and be creative!

Cooking at home should be fun, so make the most of it by cranking some tunes that inspire creativity and adventure!

6

Read the longer version

Registered Dietitian Anne gives her Healthy Pantry Staples List (+ Recipes with Pantry Items). McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN has 20 Easy Pantry Meal Ideas to Makes from Staples You Already Have on Hand. The Nutrition Twins have 10 Quick, Easy Healthy Meals you can make from the items already in your fridge.

Still need help? Ask the coaches!

About the Author


shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
Full Bio | LinkedIn


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