Learn what must-haves you should stock in your pantry to create healthy, delicious balanced meals and snacks.

Canned Beans/Lentils

Canned Beans/Lentils

Beans and lentils, which are packed with satiating protein, are an economical and convenient alternative to meat, poultry and seafood. Plus, they’re filled with fiber, which helps maintain digestive health, reduces cholesterol levels, and keeps blood sugars under control, among other benefits. And talk about convenience—canned and dried beans last for up to two years. You can substitute beans for ground meat in chili, tacos, soups, or burgers or add them to cold salads. (Dried beans require soaking first, and canned varieties come ready to enjoy.) Unlike dried beans, lentils don’t require pre-soaking and they cook up quickly. Simmer lentils with diced tomatoes and seasonings for a hearty side dish or add dry lentils to soups or stew to increase protein without relying on expensive meats.

 

 

Canned Fish

 

Canned Fish

The health benefits of eating omega-3 rich fish like wild salmon are clear, but the price of fresh fish can be hard to swallow, especially if you’re feeding an entire family. Canned wild (Alaskan) salmon, sardines, and light tuna is a much more budget-friendly way to get your weekly fish quota (white albacore tuna is too high in mercury to enjoy on a regular basis, so buy “light” tuna instead), and the cans keep for a while in your pantry. They’re each packed with protein and can be added to salads and casseroles, formed into patties, or incorporated into all sorts of recipes.

Nut and Seed Butters

 

Nut Butters

Nut and seed butters are a great shelf-stable staple that delivers the same health benefits as nuts. Peanut butter, for instance, is a concentrated source of protein, as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamin E, and B vitamins. Opt for natural nut butters without added sugars or additives. Other great options include almond butter, cashew butter and walnut butter. Also, soy nut butter and sunflower seed butter. It’s amazing on sandwiches and toast, of course, but be creative and work it into meals and snacks in fun ways, as with these clever Apple Nachos.

Balsamic Vinegar


 

Balsamic Vinegar

This pantry staple is a great way to add flavor to a variety of dishes without adding fat or calories. It’s a no-brainer to use on salads, but there are so many other delicious ways to enjoy it. I use it in on chicken (try my Balsamic Chicken), over sides, as in my Roasted Balsamic Carrots, and even for dessert (you’ll love these Grilled Pineapple Skewers with Balsamic Dip). It’s inexpensive and totally versatile. Feel free to experiment with different flavors!

10 Must-Have Pantry Staples

Headed to the supermarket? Make sure to add these 10 items to your list. With these must-haves stocked in your pantry, you can make a variety of healthy meals and snacks. And bonus: Most are easy on your wallet…and your waistline!

Olive Oil

Olive Oil

This is one item you’ll always find in my pantry. I use extra virgin olive oil for non-cooking needs (like salad dressings) and regular olive oil for cooking (when I’m sautéing veggies or meat). I actually pour both into oil misters and spray instead of pouring right from the bottles; you’ll use significantly less this way and help cut fat and calories from recipes.

Oats/oatmeal

 

Oats/Oatmeal

Oats are one of the healthiest breakfast options around. A ½-cup of dry oats boasts the power pair of 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. If that’s not impressive enough, it goes for just about 30 cents (and only 150 calories). Plus, it’s ridiculously easy to personalize it to your plate by mixing in yummy fruit—fresh or dried—such as diced apple, sliced banana, berries, or raisins, a few teaspoons of preserves, peanut butter, or chopped nuts.

Jarred Marinara Sauce

Jarred Marinara Sauce

Always keep a jar of marinara sauce in your pantry—it will allow you to throw together a quick dinner, whether you’re simply warming it and pouring over whole grain pasta, using it to whip up my Grilled Chicken Parm recipe or topping a baked potato with it. Look for brands with lower sodium to keep salt intake in check, as brands can vary greatly. Simple yet scrumptious!

Whole Grain Pasta

 

Whole Grain Pasta

This versatile ingredient works as a main or side dish—and nowadays, there’s a wide variety of noodles to accommodate all sorts of eating styles (from chickpea and black bean to whole wheat and gluten-free). Top it with jarred marinara sauce (or make your own using canned tomatoes) and some steamed or sautéed veggies, like broccoli, squash or peppers, or serve it cold. I usually whip up a big batch on the weekend and use it all week long.

Brown Rice or Quinoa

Brown Rice or Quinoa

These two sides are so versatile—they work well with virtually any main meal, from pork to chicken to fish to vegetarian options like tofu. Of course, I use quinoa forclassic dinner dishes like casseroles (give my Quinoa-Black Bean Casserole a shot), but I even work it into breakfast, too, including my Quinoa-Yogurt Parfait. And brown rice is a go-to side—I use it in many of my own recipes, including this nutrient-packed Edamame and Brown Rice Salad. Delicious, nutritious, easy to use, inexpensive and versatile—you can’t go wrong with either one.

Whole Grain Bread


Whole Grain Bread

Whether you’re whipping up a satisfying sandwich or serving up a side of toast, whole grain bread is a high-quality carb that can add a bit more fiber and nutrients to your plate. I love whipping up Happy Toast for my kids in the morning to get them started off on the right foot—and with a smile on their face. As for lunch, there are so many good-for-you sandwich toppers to choose from. And I often like to serve my sandwiches open faced to get double the bites. For instance, try my Open Faced PB Banana Sandwich. Of course, sandwiches and toast can also be served for dinner in a pinch!