Do you ever open your pantry and feel like you have nothing to eat? Maybe it’s missing some essentials that would help you create healthier meals for yourself and your family. If you have your pantry stocked right, putting dinner together last minute can be quick and easy. If you don’t, it could lead to unnecessary trips to the grocery store, resorting to unhealthy comfort foods, or eating out when you’d rather stay home and save the money. Bottom line: knowing how to stock a healthy pantry will save you time, money, and your health.
A well stocked pantry can be a life saver for last minute meal planning. Pantry staples combined with fresh ingredients (produce/meat) you have on hand can easily be worked into many meals and snacks. Pantry items can turn a slab of meat into an elegant entree, or a bag of frozen vegetables into a spicy stir fry. Building a healthy pantry is key to eating healthy and adding some spice to your meals!
If you know how to stock a healthy pantry, you’ll always be able to throw together a good meal, even if it’s last minute. Here are my top pantry picks.
How to Stock a Healthy Pantry
What to Buy: Old fashioned oats or steel cut oats are the most practical options, and they are both better than instant oats. If you’re feeling adventurous and can find them, oat groats are even better for you. Read my Complete Guide to Oats to learn more about the different kinds of oats and their uses.
What to Buy: Whole grain, un-processed rice is the best way to go. I usually choose brown or wild rice, depending on my recipe.
Sprouted Grain Bread
What to Buy: There are several brands of sprouted grain breads on the market, each with their own unique ingredient list. Some are better than others, but I usually opt for Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Bread. It comes in 7 varieties and is widely available in most grocery stores. Their bread is made from sprouted grains, meaning the grain is sprouted into a small plant before it is ground and made into bread. This makes the grain more nutrient dense. The reason I like Ezekiel Bread is that it contains no refined sugar, artificial flavors, or preservatives, making it a wonderful choice all around. Food For Life, the maker of Ezekiel bread, also has a few gluten free bread choices available for those that need them.
What to Buy: When choosing a nut butter, the most important thing to make sure is that it has no added sugar or other unnecessary ingredients. Ideally, a good peanut or almond butter should contain one ingredient, the nut (a little salt is fine, too). Many brands now are touting the “natural” label on their nut butters, but most of them actually contain unnecessary sugars and oils. Don’t be fooled by the marketing. Fortunately, there are several brands, even generic store brands, that keep it simple. And if your grocery has a bulk food section with a nut grinder, you can always make your own!
What to Buy: Buy both canned and dry beans. Canned beans are great to have for certain recipes or when you are in a hurry, but dried beans are more economical. The varieties I keep on hand at all times include: garbanzo beans (for my flourless chocolate chip coconut cake and these chocolate cupcakes), black beans, cannellini beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans (because who doesn’t love chili?).
What to Buy: All varieties of lärabars are great. While some have chocolate chips and fruit, many varieties only have 3 ingredients: dates, nuts, salt. Plus, they are incredibly delicious. You can even make homemade lärabars like Lisa Leake from 100 Days of Real Food does. The homemade peanut butter ones remind me of peanut butter fudge. My husband Casey would want you all to know that although he wouldn’t go that far, he does agree that they are delicious.
What to Buy: These are easy to find at any store, including Wal Mart. They are also cheaper than lärabars which makes them a great 2nd choice for snack bars. Kind bars are usually made from pretty simple ingredients, but they do contain added sweeteners. *Avoid the varieties of fruit and nut kind bars that include soy protein isolate in the ingredient list.
What to Buy: I like to buy popcorn in the bulk food bins to be popped at home (which is the best choice), but I also buy Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt popcorn sometimes for a quick snack. Whatever brand of popcorn you choose, just make sure it isn’t loaded with butter, oils, or sugar.
Honey and Maple Syrup
What to Buy: These are typically my sweeteners of choice as they go through less processing than other sweeteners and contain more nutrients. Unfortunately, they are still sugars and you should consume only in limited quantities. If you can buy them local that’s always best. Otherwise they can usually be found at places like Sam’s club or Costco for the best prices.
What to Buy: Quinoa comes in several colors/varieties – red and white being the most common, but black also being widely available. I don’t usually buy a certain one, but mix it up and pick which one to use based on what would look prettiest in my recipe (or more realistically – whatever I have on hand). I usually find the best deals on quinoa in bulk foods bins at places like Earth Fare or a discounted grocery such as Aldi, Sam’s Club, or Costco.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
What to Buy: Olive oil fraud is entirely too common. In fact, when UC Davis conducted this study testing popular olive oils, 73% of samples of the top 5 brands of imported olive oil failed quality testing. Therefore, look for olive oil produced here in the US (usually California). California olive oil is consistently tested to be more pure and of higher quality than imports.
What to Buy: The different types of coconut oil could be a blog post in itself. Different kinds are better for different things. In general though it is important to avoid hydrogenated and chemically processed coconut oil. I mostly use my coconut oil for baking.
Well Stocked Spice Rack and Sea Salt
What to Buy: Keep a well stocked spice rack with spices you enjoy and use frequently. The ones I use most often are: chili powder, cumin, parsley, oregano, garlic powder, and Italian spice mix. I recommend buying these organic to not only reduce pesticide exposure, but also to avoid fillers commonly found in conventional spices.
Chicken and/or Vegetable Broth
What to Buy: I buy boxes of organic broth to keep on hand for back up. When I have the time I like to keep homemade stock/broth stocked in my freezer.
Diced tomatoes, tomato paste and sauce
What to Buy: Tomatoes are almost always on the Dirty Dozen list that EWG puts out each year, so I definitely recommend buying organic. Make sure any tomato products you buy are free of added sugar.
There you have it! That, in a nutshell, is how to stock a healthy pantry. Review this list before you go to the grocery store so you know exactly what to look for as you build your healthy pantry.