Is healthy cooking your kitchen hang-up? If you’re like the rest of us—frazzled, busy, hurried, scattered—you’re not quite sure what belongs on your shelves and what should be banned. We understand. In the American food world, well-marketed junk tends crowds out actual food products. Snacks in colorful packaging and fast food from the dollar menu scream for our attention.
Sure, it’s convenient to load up on ready-to-eat treats or to grab takeout on the way home from work, but preparing healthy (and tasty) meals in your own kitchen is not nearly as time consuming as most people think. But to avoid temptation, you have to have a properly stocked pantry.
The biggest barrier to eating healthfully is not having time to plan. Most of us don’t know what we’re having for dinner until late in the afternoon, and by then, we’re usually getting hungry and our judgment starts to go south. A well-stocked pantry is the best defense, because it means you always have great options.
Some of the items on our must-have list may already be in your pantry. All the items are designed to make it easier for you to prepare delicious meals for your family.
When you return from a grocery run, make the most of your goods by following these organizational tips:
- Once you have a set inventory of staples, use a dry-erase board to note when something is used up.
- Buy or recycle small containers to store spices, and buy only small amounts in bulk for freshness.
- Keep grains in tightly sealed glass jars. (If a few sneaky bugs hatch, they won’t spread.)
- Keep onions and garlic in a hanging wire basket or loose in a drawer.
- Keep potatoes in a cool, dark place, away from the onions and garlic.
- Don’t use the egg keeper in the door of the fridge. Too much air circulation ages the eggs, so leave them in their box and stash them on a lower shelf.
- Label and date everything in the freezer. Never put open food items or cut produce in fridge drawers without bagging or packing in a reusable container.
- To thaw freezer items quickly, choose ones that are in smaller pieces, like shrimp or scallops, instead of whole chickens and large cuts that take hours to thaw. If you store spaghetti sauce or soup, pack it in zip-top bags and lay it flat on its side to freeze in a thin sheet for easy stacking and thawing.
With a properly stocked dry-goods cupboard, you can craft entire meals without even checking the fridge or freezer. Here are some essentials:
- Bottled artichoke hearts
- Canned and pickled beets
- Dried cranberries and apricots
- Dried mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, maitake)
- Jarred peppers (piquillo peppers, roasted red peppers, chipotle peppers in adobo)
- Mandarin oranges
- Sun-dried tomatoes, canned whole tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste
- Water-packed canned fruits
- Canned beans (refried beans, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans)
- Lentils and dried, ready-to-eat bean mixes
- Pasta (various whole-grain, soba and rice noodles)
- Quinoa, oats, millet
- Rice (basmati, Arborio, sushi, wild)
- Black peppercorns
- Cajun seasoning
- Dried herbs (basil, mint, dill, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage)
- Dried spices (cumin, chili powder, coriander, mustard seeds, red- pepper flakes, saffron, ginger, paprika, turmeric, curry blend)
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- Sesame seeds
Oils, Condiments, Flavorings
- Canola oil
- Chili paste
- Coconut milk
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Fish sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Hot pepper sauce
- Naturally brewed soy sauce
- Real maple syrup
- Tahini paste
- Teriyaki sauce
- Thai curry pastes
- Vinegars (balsamic, apple cider, red wine, rice wine, exotic flavors like mango chili and orange mango)
- Wasabi powder
- Canned anchovies
- Canned sardines
- Canned smoked oysters
- Canned wild-caught salmon
- Dark chocolate bars
- Marinara and other all-natural pasta sauce blends
- Panko breadcrumbs
- Reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- Whole-grain crackers
What’s in your pantry that’s not on our list? Tell us in the comments section below.