Throwing together a quick, nutritious meal requires a well-stocked kitchen. However, many healthy foods are highly perishable and must be used within a few days, causing many home cooks to burn through their food stores quickly. Still, you can keep a number of healthy, long-lasting staples in your pantry, freezer, and fridge and use them to make nutrient-dense meals and snacks – even when you’re out of your favorite foods.
Keep These In Your Pantry
Beans and lentils:
These are amongst the healthiest foods you can eat. Moreover, dried and canned beans and lentils have very long shelf lives, making them a top non-perishable food choice to keep in your kitchen.
In fact, canned beans can be stored in the pantry at room temperature for 2 to 5 years, while dried beans can last 10 or more years. Dried beans have such a long shelf life because they lack the moisture needed to promote microbial growth. In addition to being shelf stable, canned and dried beans and lentils are highly nutritious, offering an abundance of nutrients, including fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, and iron.
Nuts and seeds:
These are nutritional powerhouses, providing healthy fats, filling protein, fiber, and an array of vitamins and minerals. Depending on the type, nuts and seeds can be kept at room temperature for 1 to 4 months, making them a smart ingredient to store in your pantry.
Natural nut and seed butters are long lasting, healthy alternatives to their commercial counterparts, which typically contain added oils and sugar. Nuts and seeds can be used in many dishes, including oatmeal, yogurt, trail mix, and salads. Nut and seed butters make excellent additions to smoothies and can be added to sauces or spread onto fruits or veggies for a quick, satisfying snack.
When in a pinch, grain-based dishes like salads, grain bowls, soups, and pilafs make a great choice due to their versatility and convenience. Depending on the type, grains like spelt, brown rice, amaranth, bulgur, oats, and quinoa can be kept safely at room temperature for months to years, making them a smart choice to buy in bulk. Plus, these grains are excellent sources of fiber and micronutrients, including B vitamins, manganese, and magnesium, and eating them may help protect against conditions like heart disease and certain cancers.
Frozen fruit and vegetables:
Many fresh fruits and veggies, such as berries and greens, are highly perishable. Yet, buying these foods in frozen form allows you to always have nutrient-dense produce on hand. Nutrition-wise, frozen fruits and veggies are comparable to fresh produce in micronutrient content, making them a healthy and convenient freezer staple. Try adding frozen greens to sautés, soups, and smoothies. Frozen berries can be used similarly to fresh berries and add natural sweetness to oatmeal, smoothies, baked goods, and yogurt parfaits.
Healthy fats for cooking:
Certain fats, including coconut oil, ghee, and olive oil, can be safely kept at room temperature for a year or more, depending on the type. For this reason, you can buy these pantry staples in larger quantities so that you always have a healthy fat source on hand. Cooking with these healthy fats helps add flavor to recipes and enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from food.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles are delicious and versatile, and they offer a number of health benefits. Research has shown that they can improve digestive health and may help reduce inflammation and blood sugar levels.
Plus, these foods are long lasting, so you can stock up without worrying about food waste. For reference, sauerkraut and pickles can be stored at room temperature for up to 18 months. You can enjoy these tangy foods straight out of the jar, or use them as flavorful toppings for salads and other dishes.
Spices and dried herbs:
To create flavorful recipes, it’s essential to have a well-stocked spice rack. Spices and herbs elevate the flavor of dishes and can come in handy when you’re in a recipe rut. What’s more, incorporating dried herbs and spices into your diet can promote your health in various ways. Turmeric, cayenne pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, and cumin all offer impressive health benefits and may help reduce inflammation and lower your risk of certain diseases.
Garlic and onion:
Garlic and onions are the backbone of many recipes and favored by both professional and home cooks for their versatility and long shelf life. Both have also been shown to benefit your health in many ways, and enjoying them regularly may help reduce your risk of various illnesses, including certain cancers, mental decline, heart disease, and diabetes.
Long-lasting fresh produce:
Although many fresh fruits and veggies spoil quickly even when refrigerated, there are a number of long-lasting varieties to choose from. Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, apples, beets, cabbage, spaghetti squash, rutabagas, pomegranate, carrots, and citrus fruits are just some examples of fruits and veggies that can keep for a few weeks or more when stored in the fridge or on the counter.
Frozen fish, poultry, and meat:
While fresh fish, meat, and poultry are highly perishable, frozen versions of these products will stay edible much longer if they’re kept at the right temperature. For example, fresh chicken and meat will be safe for up to 1 year when kept frozen, while fish like cod and haddock can be stored in the freezer for up to 5 months. Having a good supply of frozen poultry, meat, and fish can help you prepare healthy, protein-rich meals when fresh animal protein sources are limited.
The Bottom Line
Having your fridge, pantry, and freezer stocked with healthy foods can ensure that you always have ingredients on hand to prepare a healthy, home-cooked meal. By purchasing a few of the foods listed above during your next few grocery outings, your kitchen will be fully stocked with healthy staples before you know it.