Top 5 Pantry Must-Haves

by in Grocery Shopping, Healthy Tips, July 23, 2009

Even with loads of fresh produce coming into season now, you still need to keep your pantry stocked with some go-to staples. In addition to standards like brown rice and whole-wheat pasta, here are some other pantry must-haves that are affordable, healthy and easy to find.

1) Quinoa
We’re cautious about throwing the term “superfood” around, but quinoa is a definite food star. It has the same calories as pasta or brown rice but more fiber, iron and B-vitamins (including folate and thiamin). One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein, compared to 5 grams in a cup of brown rice. Quinoa cooks up in less than 15 minutes; it has a chewy texture and nutty bite that works for salads, stuffings or a simple side dish. I love to make quinoa salad with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, scallions and feta cheese or a hot breakfast cereal with honey and cinnamon.

2) Spices for Sweet & Savory Flavor
Spices like cinnamon and curry powder are versatile and delicious — you just need to know what to do with them. Add cinnamon to oatmeal, smoothies and dry rub marinades. Use curry powder to liven up chicken salad, seafood, soups or noodle dishes. These spices also have unique health benefits. Cinnamon has been linked to lowering blood pressure and controlling blood sugar; while curry contains turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Stick to buying small containers and skip the bulk-sized ones (you’ll never use all of it before the spices get stale and bland); or go for bulk and divvy them up among friends and family — and split the cost.

3) Dijon Mustard
Dijon mustard brings on the flavor without the fat and calories — better yet, it’s free of that pesky high-fructose corn syrup, which lurks in many other condiments. Use it to add creaminess to sauces and salad dressings without the fat and calories of oil or mayo. At 5 calories per teaspoon, tangy Dijon isn’t just for sandwiches; it makes light and delicious marinades, dips and sauces for chicken, pork or seafood.

4) Walnut Oil
This one might be a bit exotic to you. Walnut oil is a concentrated source of healthy omega-3 fats, which is hard to come by in other nuts. It has a rich, nutty flavor that’s different than any other oil in your pantry. A little goes a long way — it’s perfect for a light drizzle over grilled fish, salads or roasted vegetables. There’s no need to heat this oil; it will lose some of its flavor.

5) Local Honey
Honey is a natural sweetener with more flavor and nutrients than refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Since it has the same calorie count as sugar, just use a drizzle. Look for locally honey at the farmers’ market or grocery store — they are often more affordable. Use it in baked goods, salad dressings, hot or cold drinks and marinades. I also love it on toasted bread.

Must-Ditch Items
Your kitchen is better off without these packaged goods. They contain few nutrients and too much sodium, trans fat, sugar and preservatives. They’re often more expensive, too.
• Sugary Cereals
• Packaged Baked Goods (cookies, muffins, pastries)
• Canned soups (low-sodium varieties are okay)
• Snack foods — especially cheesy crackers and wild flavored potato chips

TELL US: What’s the one item in your pantry you can’t live without?

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Comments (25)

  1. Bailey says:

    I like to keep canned tuna and black beans for last minute healthy tasty meals or snacks.

  2. Lauren Swann says:

    The big re-sealable canister of Old Wessex oat bran, can of crushed tomatoes (for turkey chili), reduced fat Triscuits and whole wheat angel hair pasta.
    My sacred spice trio – garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper. and always have cinnamon for the oat bran
    and agree with the black beans and tuna packed in water

  3. jdud says:

    Olive oil is a must in my pantry. Walnut oil is good, but it has a short "shelf" life after opening. Hummus and garlic Melba toast can satisfy me for a dinner or just make a good snack. I always have them in the house.

  4. Malia says:

    Local honey is great for keeping allergies at bay. Find some local haoney start taking a teaspoon a day and after a month you will see huge change in your allergies. It is also great to give to kids instead of the over the counter junk that is out there. My 2 1/2 year old thinks it's a treat. It also works as a good negotiating tool for your kids. ;-)

  5. Chere Bork says:

    The way to organize your life is to organize your kitchen! And, having foods on hand helps you intentionally and healthfully live. Like sugar or honey, high fructose corn syrup has calories. Excessive calories, from whatever source, can promote weight gain. But replacing high fructose corn syrup with sugar will not reduce obesity or improve health. They are nutritionally the same. No single food or ingredient is the sole cause of obesity – rather, the primary cause is too many calories and too little exercise. A sugar is a sugar, whether it’s honey, high fructose corn syrup, table sugar, or fruit juices. You shouldn’t eat too much of any sugar. High fructose corn syrup isn't any sweeter than sugar. And they both have the same number of calories, 4 per gram. It all comes down to what I learned 30 years ago as a Registered Dietitian ~~ planning, moderation and variety!
    Chere Bork, MS RD LN

  6. Krissa says:

    That is a great tip about local honey… I had forgotten that. I wonder if it works for pets with allergies? My puggle is has some seasonal allergies – is honey alright for dogs?

  7. Robbie says:

    Olive oil! I don't know what we'd do without it. It really is versatile and a good olive oil can dress up even the most basic of dishes.

  8. Gary says:

    Steel cut oats

  9. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.Keep working ,great job!

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