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It’s a common misconception that putting made-from-scratch meals on the table has to be time-consuming or complicated. Meal prep can be relatively easy (and, hopefully, enjoyable!) with a few shelf-stable ingredients on-hand.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that is incredibly versatile and good for your heart. It makes a great staple cooking oil – due to its high smoke point (410 F) – to keep in your kitchen for everything from frying an egg to roasting veggies to baking salmon.
EVOO is also perfect for making your own delicious dressings, like tasty honey mustard or balsamic vinaigrette, in seconds!
Prepared stocks have come a long way! Keep chicken, beef, or vegetable stock on hand for making soups, poaching vegetables and meats, and making sauces.
These also come in handy when whipping up your own soups! Use veggies you have on hand and broth to blend up the perfect soup. Here are some of our favorites!
While not technically in your pantry, frozen produce – from berries to corn to spinach – is one of the best things you can stock up on from your grocery store. They’re affordable, convenient, and just as nutritious, if not more so, than their fresh counterparts.
Nuts, like almonds, peanuts, cashews, and walnuts, are not only a satisfying snack, but they can be stretched and used multiple ways in the kitchen! They’re great by themselves (added to salads or side dishes, for example) or used to make nut butter or nut milk. Add a scoop of your favorite nut butter to your blender when whipping up a smoothie, or experiment with them in savory dishes. A simple peanut butter sauce adds bold flavor to a classic stir-fry. Nut milk can be used in baking, cooking, smoothies, or an elevated homemade latte.
Seeds, like flax, chia, hemp, pumpkin, or sunflower, may be tiny, but these plant proteins offer a mighty dose of health-promoting nutrients. Sprinkle seeds atop salads, yogurt, or a smoothie bowl to reap their many benefits. When it comes to nuts and seeds – and all plant foods, in general – they all offer benefits. So, if you’re watching your wallet, you can get the least expensive ones and still feel good about what you’re putting in your body.
In addition to nutrition, seeds’ special properties help keep these bite-sized snacks together – try sesame or carrot cake bites.
Popular beans include pinto, black, and garbanzo. Canned beans offer you a hefty nutrition bang for your calorie buck. They’re packed with protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They’re a great addition to salads, side dishes, and soups, or can be used to make a quick dip. Just be sure to drain and rinse them prior to use, which has been shown to reduce the sodium content by 41 percent.
Carbohydrate-rich foods often get a bad rap, but intake of whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, and oats, is actually linked with better health and longevity. Add cooked grains into stews, use as a base for stir-fries, sprinkle into casseroles, serve as a side dish, or enjoy on the sweeter side for breakfast.
Tomatoes are a precious source of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been shown to help protect us from several chronic diseases. Since ripe, fresh tomatoes are perishable and not always available, canned tomatoes are a good substitute. An added bonus? Lycopene becomes more bioavailable to your body after processing, so canned tomatoes offer even more nutritional benefits than their fresh counterparts.
Try making this versatile marinara for a quick pizza or pasta sauce.
The most popular American vegetable, the humble potato is incredibly versatile in the kitchen and offers fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. Bake them, steam them, roast them, sauté them, or mash them as a side dish. You can also add them to soups and casseroles. The options are endless!
Pantry favorites include apricots, raisins, cranberries, or dates. Not only is dried fruit a nutrient-rich snack, it can be used to naturally sweeten recipes and other foods while also contributing fiber and anti-inflammatory benefits to your day. Top a warm bowl of oatmeal with raisins, add a pitted date to your favorite smoothie blend, incorporate dried cranberries into a green salad, or stir chopped, dried apricots into a plain bowl of yogurt.
Not just for snacking, dried fruits are great for making your favorite jams in a pinch. Try our jam hack by pulsing your favorites together. Make an easy Cranberry Fig Jam for toast, crackers, or your charcuterie board.
Having these ingredients on hand will make preparing meals more convenient without sacrificing the nutrients your body needs. What’s your must-have pantry item?
McKenzie JonesMcKenzie is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for NutriBullet who aims to make the world a healthier, happier place. She believes that living a healthy lifestyle and eating for your health isn't meant to be complicated -- it's meant to be simple, enjoyable, and judgment-free (with room for dessert). When she’s not dishing out nutrition tidbits, you can find McKenzie running after her energetic toddler, hiking along her favorite trails, visiting her local farmers market, or cooking in her sunny kitchen.