Pantry staples are key when it comes to putting together a last-minute meal.
When you’re unable (for whatever reason) to make it to the grocery store, it’s nice to open up the pantry door to find a treasure trove of shelf-stable foods waiting to be made into something great. The key is doing just a little bit of pre-planning and mixing in some creativity, and you’ll be ready to turn a mere can of beans into a nutritious and satisfying main meal.
Lisa Wingrove, RD, CSO, registered dietician and manager of campus and community initiatives at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, offered a few tips for keeping your cooking healthy even when you have to rely on non-perishables.
First, throw out the cookbook. “What I would encourage people to think about is not losing their mind over recipes that require ingredients that they don’t have,” says Wingrove, “but just feel comfortable mixing some things together and know that it’s probably going to be fine.”
Wingrove also recommends buying canned goods that are marked as low-sodium. “I like to be able to control the sodium content in the food that I’m making,” she says. This will allow you to salt your dishes to your own taste.
As for a shopping list, we’ve rounded up 10 items to keep stocked for easy cooking, plus 10 delicious recipes to use them in.
Chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) have an almost indefinite shelf-life and are incredibly versatile and healthy. They are a plant-based protein and full of fiber and iron. Blend them up with spices for hummus, mash them for a creamy pasta sauce, or roast them for added crunch in a salad.
The liquid in the can, called aquafaba, can also be used to thin out hummus that’s too thick or as an egg white substitute. “It’s really nice just to stir into things for some protein, but also as a binding agent. If you were making a vegetable patty, you could stir it in and it would actually get things to stick together,” says Wingrove.
COOK WITH IT: Alison Roman’s Chickpea Stew is a favorite of Wingrove’s right now.
A can of tomatoes can be almost as versatile as chickpeas. Easily turn it into tomato soup, or puree it into a pizza or pasta sauce with the addition of some onion, garlic, and chili flakes. “I like the flame roasted tomatoes,” says Wingrove, “but if you haven’t got that on your shelf, any can of tomatoes is going to be good.”
COOK WITH IT: A play off the traditional shakshuka, Wingrove recommends adding chickpeas for additional protein.
Perfect to snack on and one of the easiest grab and go foods. Be sure to buy nuts raw and unsalted. When nuts are roasted, they lose a lot of their nutrients so to get the full health benefits from them, better to have them raw. They are filled with fiber and healthy fats so they will curb your hunger and keep you feeing full!
COOK WITH IT: Apple Cinnamon Spice Protein Truffles
4—Dried and Frozen Fruits
Dried fruits have a bad reputation for being caloric and high in sugar. But if eaten/used appropriately they can be the perfect addition to any healthy diet. Pair them with nuts and you have the perfect snack to throw in your bag as you head out the door. Dried dates can be used to sweeten recipes instead of using maple syrup, agave syrup, or honey. Wingrove recommends soaking dried figs in a little water until they plump up and eating with cottage cheese for a healthy protein-carb combo.
Since they are frozen at the peak of their season, frozen fruits are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts and are less likely to be wasted.
COOK WITH IT: Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies
Protein powder is a great addition to a smoothie to make it a complete meal. Protein powders can be intimidating because there are so many on the market. Take a look at the ingredients and, in particular, what sweeteners are in them. Powders that are naturally sweetened and don’t have too many ingredients are going to be the healthier option.
COOK WITH IT: Sweet Potato Pie Protein Smoothie
Oats are so versatile. They can be eaten in the morning as traditional hot cereal, chilled for overnight oats, or they can be ground and used as a flour alternative in a recipe. There are many types and each have their purposes and cooking variability. Generally, it is always good to get foods in their whole form. A good rule of thumb is: The longer it takes to cook, the better it is for you.
COOK WITH IT: Golden Milk Overnight Oats
Grains are key when it comes to putting together a last-minute meal. Cooking a pot of brown rice or quinoa at the beginning of the week allows you to enjoy it all week long on top of salads or as a side dish. Quinoa, served with some fruit, also makes for a protein-rich breakfast porridge.
COOK WITH IT: Apple Sweet Potato Quinoa Casserole
Wingrove recommends keeping chia and flax seeds around as a source of Omega-threes when other options (like salmon) aren’t available. They are also great for whipping up a batch of energy balls to have on hand. Just put chia seeds, dried fruit, and a teaspoon of nut butter into a food processor and form the mixture into bite-sized balls. “They’re really great for those small snacks that athletes need throughout the day as a protein and carb combined,” she says.
COOK WITH IT: Raspberry Chia Pudding
Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter—they all have healthy fats, protein, folate, b-vitamins, and manganese (an essential mineral). “It really doesn’t matter which one you use,” says Wingrove. “Obviously some people are allergic to peanuts, but peanut butter is as good as any of the others.” Add a tablespoon to hummus, create a creamy vegetable sauce, or use it more traditionally in smoothies and sandwiches. “There’s nothing wrong with a peanut butter sandwich. If that’s all you can manage, that’s totally fine,” she adds.
COOK WITH IT: Thai Quinoa Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing
Plain yogurt is Wingrove’s go-to dairy option. It makes a great substitute for sour cream, can be used for a tzatziki sauce, or into a delicious parfait with just some fruit and honey.
COOK WITH IT: Baked Falafel with Tzatziki Sauce