Stocking your pantry is essential for planning and preparing healthy meals. While meal planning is a whole creature on its own (I’ll save that for another day), let’s talk about what items should be in your pantry at all times.
Herbs and spices. Add flavor to your dishes without the calories or sodium. Try to avoid buying the spice mixtures that you only use once and then lose to the black hole in your spice cabinet. Instead, start with the basics: black pepper, cumin, dried basil and oregano, garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and paprika.
Broth. Buy the reduced-sodium broth, whether its chicken, vegetable or beef. You can always add salt to your dishes at the end if you need to. Broth can be used for soups, stews, casseroles and sauces.
Canned beans. Black beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans are a quick and inexpensive way to add protein to a meal (think three bean chili or black bean enchiladas). Dry beans are great too, but I personally don’t have the patience to soak them overnight, so canned it is. Make sure to rinse your canned beans to get rid of the excess sodium.
Canned tomato products. You’re probably thinking “OK, enough with the canned food.” But really, whether its whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes with green chiles, crushed tomatoes or even tomato paste you can get pretty creative.
Whole grains. While you may not want to stock up on loaves of bread, you can stock up on whole grain items such as pasta, brown rice, oats and quinoa. Make half of your grains whole grains to make sure you’re getting enough fiber.
Oils. Canola oil, extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, and peanut oil are just a few of the more common oils that fall under the “good fats”, or unsaturated fat, category. If you’re going to pick just two, canola oil and olive oil are the most versatile and most frequently used in recipes. Remember, any oils or fats that are solid at room temperature are high in “bad fats,” or saturated fats, and should be used seldomly (butter, lard, coconut oil, etc.)
Condiments. Mustard (I personally enjoy spicy brown and plain yellow), soy sauce, Sriracha or any other hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and mayonnaise.
Fridge staples. Cheese, need I say more? Seriously though, it’s always good to have some shredded cheddar cheese and some parmesan cheese stocked in the fridge. Eggs are another item that can be whipped up in a pinch.
Freezer staples. I always like to keep a variety of frozen vegetables on hand so that I’m never without a healthy side. Broccoli, spinach, peas, and carrots can be added to just about any dish. If you have leftover fresh produce, such as bell peppers or celery, and don’t want it to go bad, you can chop and freeze that as well.
I could go on and on with pantry staples but this list will get you started. We all have different taste preferences so personalize this list to meet the needs of you and your family. By having the right foods on hand you can say goodbye to last minute drive-thru excursions and hello to quick healthy meals.
Try this simple soup recipe using your pantry staples.
Spinach Tortellini Soup
1 medium yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
15 ounce can tomato sauce
½ teaspoon each, dried oregano and basil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
12 ounce bag of dried tortellini
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese + extra for garnish
1. Place the onion, garlic, and olive oil in a 6-quart soup pot or dutch oven. Saute over medium heat for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.
2. Add in the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, chicken stock, and heavy cream. Stir to combine. Simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Place the tortellini into the soup and cook for 12-15 minutes or until the tortellini are tender and cooked through.
4. Stir in the parmesan cheese.
5. Serve and garnish with parmesan cheese.
Jordan Luxa is a Food, Nutrition and Health educator for Nebraska Extension in Washington County. She can be contacted at 402-426-9455, email@example.com, or visit the Washington County Extension website at www.washington.unl.edu.