Man grabbing jar in pantry

Make Pantry Items a Staple of Your Healthy Grocery List

March 02, 2022

Nobody likes taking frequent trips to the grocery store, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Is it possible to limit the number of trips you take while attempting to eat healthily though? Fortunately, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center dietician Elisabeth Moore, RD says it is. "I grew up in a Sicilian household and some of the typical ingredients we used came from the pantry," she says. "Lentils, olives, beans, chickpeas, and dried herbs were the basis of many of our meals."

Check out her suggestions for creating heart-healthy meals using pantry items here:

Plan Ahead To Save Time

First, I always suggest that people prepare a list. This is especially important today, when you want to try to be in the store for as short a time as possible. Be very specific with the exact items and amounts that you need. Organize the list to follow the path that you'll take as you walk around the store, grouping items together (i.e., produce, canned goods, rice or pasta, etc.).

I recommend breaking food preparation into several steps.

As soon as you get home from the supermarket, wash your hands and wipe down counters, then chop any vegetables that you'll need for your recipe. (If it's more convenient, many vegetables are also available pre-cut.) Fresh vegetables can be chopped and frozen for future use.

Also, plan for at least two meals with some overlapping ingredients so that when it comes time to do the prep work, you only have to do things once.

Pantry Items To Keep Handy

There are a number of items that provide the foundation for heart-healthy dishes. A good rule of thumb to follow? Combine one type of bean with one type of vegetable and one type of grain for a nutritious main dish.

The following choices have a long shelf life:

  • Any type of canned or dried beans
  • Brown rice (either regular or par-boiled, fast cooking rice - try to avoid pre-seasoned rice which may be high in sodium.
  • Quinoa (either regular or fast-cooking variety)
  • Tomato puree, diced tomatoes, or stewed tomatoes, look for low-sodium varieties
  • Unsalted nuts of any kind, including almonds, pecans, and walnuts
  • Low sodium/no-salt added canned vegetables (corn, green beans, mushrooms, beets)
  • Low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • Olive oil
  • Dried herbs/spices, such as rosemary, basil, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, pepper
  • Canned tuna, salmon or chicken, preferably packed in water

How Can I Control My Salt Intake?

Always read the labels! Remember to look at the amount of salt contained per serving and pay attention to how many servings you are eating. For people following a low-sodium diet, try to keep sodium intake to a total of 1,500 - 2,000 mg per day. When possible, buy low-salt or no sodium canned goods. If those are not available, thoroughly rinse beans or vegetables before cooking to remove excess salt. Try to balance salt intake throughout the day. It's easy to forget that a single serving of a processed food might contain as much as 500 mg of sodium!

What About My Sugar Intake?

Again, always read labels with attention to added sugars, and be aware of portion sizes. For example, check the ingredients in cold cereals and look for choices that are higher in fiber and lower in sugar. Also be aware that many condiments and prepared pasta sauces are high in both salt and sugar.

Get the Whole Family Involved with Meal Prep

Because children can have the opportunity to add their choice of toppings, homemade pizza is always a good option. Whatever you have available in terms of leftover vegetables, fresh or frozen, as well as leftover chicken, can become creative options for kids to put atop their pizzas. Quesadillas are another good option for family meal preparation, using any leftovers for fillings.

If you have questions about improving your diet, speak to your primary care doctor or seek out a dietician.