I was recently asked how to make healthy meals with what we have on hand. The answer to that would lie in what to stock up on in the first place.
The following is a list of food items we always make sure we have in our pantry. We highly recommend this list for you too, especially in a pandemic where people are hoarding food and going to the grocery store is harder. These foods are all very nutrient dense (they are packed with protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats and have all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidant properties your body needs to stay strong and healthy) and will give you the most bang for your buck financially as well. From here, you can pretty much make any kind of staple meal.
In a time like now, fresh produce might be the most difficult for people to buy. We try to purchase organic when we can, but right now just getting anything fresh is more important. Please make sure you wash ALL produce before eating. Thank goodness for all the hard working grocery store employees (who are helping more then we know right now) as most bigger stores offer online ordering, pickup or delivery so people don’t have to go in to shop. This list features whole foods that have a longer shelf life so you really can’t go wrong on stocking up a bit.
- Beans– Canned or dried, beans are the ultimate staple food. They are jam packed with nutrients like protein, fiber and carbohydrates, have a long shelf life and are budget friendly. They have virtually endless uses too. We use them as our main ingredient in most dishes but can be added to almost any dish and be a great substitute for meat. You can also bake brownies with them! Dried beans offer the better value, but take a bit longer to prepare since you have to soak them first. We love black, garbanzo, cannellini, pinto to name just a few.
- Lentils– Similar to beans on many levels. They are nutrient dense, can be used in almost any dish and have many, many uses. They are also easy on your wallet. We use red lentils the most because they cook up softer and are perfect for Indian style dishes, which we absolutely love. Brown or green lentils can be cooked or simmered into a soft purée. Black lentils are best for salads, bowls, and stews. Store them in a cool, dark and dry place in airtight containers.
- Whole grains– Rice (all varieties), quinoa, oatmeal, popcorn are our top four go to grains. There are LOTS of other grains to choose from like amaranth, buckwheat, barley, millet, bulgur, maize, rye, teff, triticale, farro to name a few. Whole grains are packed with plant based protein, which most people don’t know, but are also a great source of fiber. They are staples in our diets because they help lower the risk of disease and inflammation and are loaded with lots of other nutrients to keep our immune system strong. People who consume whole grains regularly are shown to live longer, healthier lives.
- Nuts/Seeds– Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, Brazil nuts (one a day for your daily serving of selenium) are what we usually stock. Again, lots of choices, but these are all very nutrient dense and give you your dose of healthy fats. Watch your consumption though, as we recommend to keep fat intake low.
- Potatoes/tubers– Gold, baby red, Yukon, fingerling, sweet potatoes, yams and the like. Packed with all sorts of nutrition, these guys can last a couple months stored in a cool, dry and dark place. Also very versatile, we use them in lots of recipes from curry to vegan potato salad to homemade fries.
- Onions– White, yellow, red have a long shelf life and help make any dish taste better. They are high in nutrients like selenium, zinc and Vitamin C to help strengthen your immune system. Store in the usual dry, dark and cool area for a longer shelf life.
- Garlic– Like onions, they bring lots of flavor to dishes and have a long shelf life, but they are an even better choice to strengthen your immune system. Garlic has proven itself since ancient times as an effective killer of bacteria and viruses thanks to a compound known as allicin. Garlic can prevent infection inside or outside the body and because of that it can ward off many different diseases and aliments.
- Ginger/Turmeric– Fresh if possible, but powdered form is ok too. Ginger, like garlic, is known to fight viruses and turmeric is a strong anti-inflammatory. Both have a decent shelf life if kept in the fridge. We add the fresh version to smoothies and blend, but also grate to add flavor and health benefits to a lot of meals.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables – These are pretty self explanatory because they are both known for being high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help keep your immune system strong. Berries, bananas and beets are always around in our house, but we keep with what’s in season. Apples usually last quite a while and are available year round. Carrots, celery and peppers last quite a while too. We tend to have kale, mixed greens, mushrooms and avocado always in the fridge because we eat them daily. Try to eat a mix of different fruit and vegetables every day.
- Citrus– Lemon and lime add a pop of flavor to pretty much anything, but they also are high in disease fighting antioxidants like Vitamin C. Oranges are great too because they last quite a while in the refrigerator as do lemon and lime. We use all three to add flavor to many recipes and also our water. And oranges make great snacks in between meals.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables– If they are flash frozen these can actually pack almost as many nutrients as the fresh kind. We always have frozen strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries because we make lots of smoothies. We also freeze quite a few bananas. And we just LOVE frozen peas and corn. Both go in just about anything. But we try to have frozen squash on hand as well. With fresh produce harder to buy right now, the frozen variety will probably get a lot more love.
- Dried Dates/Figs/Raisins– We like Medjool dates and Turkish or Black Mission Figs. Thompson raisins are also great. These all make great snacks, but can be used in so many ways to make sauces and pastes or to curb your sweet tooth. We throw raisins in our oatmeal to help give it a little sweetness.
- Whole Grain Bread/Tortillas– We don’t eat many bread products because they are more processed, but if we do we try and eat sprouted grain. These items can last quite a while in the freezer and come in handy because they’re very versatile. If you have kids, these items help make quick and easy meals like almond butter and banana sandwiches. Tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas… the list goes on and on with tortillas.
- Whole Grain Pasta– We don’t eat a lot of pasta either, but it’s always good to have some in stock as it can last for years. It’s very versatile and makes quick meals. Also easy on your wallet.
- Canned Tomatoes/Tomato Sauce/Pasta Sauce– These are all budget friendly and can help make a quick meal or add more flavor to dishes. Tomatoes are packed with lots of antioxidants like Vitamin C and lycopene and the canned version has a long shelf life. This is great if it’s harder to get to the grocery store. One of our favorite recipes is Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas made using tomato sauce. https://wholiciousliving.com/2019/12/
- Hummus– You can never say no to hummus. It makes a wonderful and healthy snack that’s great for dipping pretty much anything. It’s easy to make yourself too. Just blend up some chickpeas, cold water, fresh lemon, garlic, tahini (ground sesame seeds) and ground cumin. You can substitute any kind of nut butter for tahini. It’s high in fiber and chickpeas help fight high cholesterol. With people working from home and snacking more this is a great option to have on hand.
- Tofu– A great source of protein and makes a great egg substitute for those of you who eat animal products. Eggs are high in cholesterol so tofu is definitely the way to go. If we want to swap out our beans for something different, we use tofu. It’s great because it soaks up flavors easily, is versatile and it’s also budget friendly. Tofu also has a decent shelf life if kept in the fridge and it freezes well.
- Plant Based Milk– We like unsweetened soy the best because it has the most whole ingredients with minimal fillers. It also boasts quite a long shelf life. We mostly use it to make our oatmeal and hot tea more creamy.
- Herbs/Spices/Condiments – We always have cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, garam masala, oregano, onion and garlic powder, thyme, paprika, cayenne, Chinese five spice, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, coriander, fajita/ taco seasoning, sea salt, pepper. For the condiments it’s ketchup, mustard, curry paste, tamari (soy) sauce, pickles/relish, salsa. This is how we flavor our food. Most American recipes rely on fat, sugar and salt. We like to rely on herbs and spices to do the work.
- Immune Boosting Herbs– Echinacea and Black Elderberry are great to keep illness away. Studies show that Echinacea increases the number of white blood cells (the good guys that fight infection), but it’s best to take when you start to feel your immune system being compromised or at the very first sign of symptoms. An antioxidant known as anthocyanin, gives Black Elderberry its antiviral properties by clearing the body of free radicals that damage cells. This helps to prevent or reduce the severity of certain common infections.