When most people think of pantry staples, they think of foods they keep on hand to use on a daily or weekly basis. We are big believers that the staple foods in your kitchen and pantry should not only be foods that are enjoyable and nutritious, but they should also be minimally processed and help you to make meals that are, too. But before you go shopping for the staple items that your parents and grandparents always kept on hand, try some of these fresh new ideas for kitchen must-haves that will keep you on track with healthy eating.
From balsamic and fruity raspberry, to our new love coconut vinegar, flavored vinegars are brilliant kitchen staples. Add a splash of these ultra-low-calorie flavors to your salads, veggies, lean proteins like fish and poultry, and healthy, high-fiber grains. You can also kiss creamy jarred dressings like ranch and heavy sauces like alfredo goodbye—along with their fat and calories—as you enjoy these vinegars on their own or add a teaspoon of olive oil, lemon and spices for a tasty twist.
This satisfying complex carbohydrate is a dieter’s dream come true, as it’s high in vitamins and minerals, yet low in fat and calories. Just like rice, this healthy grain is easy to cook, yet has almost twice the protein and even more fiber than brown rice. Quinoa is also a good source of iron, zinc and bone-building magnesium, so it’s great to have on hand. Use it in place of rice in stir-fries or even eat it for breakfast just like you would oatmeal, adding cinnamon, fruit, slivered nuts and skim milk if you like. You can also sprinkle cooked quinoa in your salad for a tasty, hearty, healthy grain, as the chewy, satisfying texture of this grain is sure to please.
In your grandmother’s or your mom’s pantry, tuna was likely the canned fish of choice, but sardines are the new tuna. With this staple superfood in your kitchen, you have a healthy protein to turn to at any time. With sardines you don’t have to worry about mercury like you do with tuna, nor do you have to fear PCBs like you do with salmon. These small fish are very low in both toxins, yet are packed with omega-3 healthy fats. Just like canned tuna, you can keep sardines around for a long time without worrying them going bad, and the no-sodium-added variety packed in water is our go-to choice. Add lemon and fat-free feta and enjoy this combo on cucumbers or crispbread, or try adding them to eggs, tomato sauce or salad with a little bit of olive oil.
This is your grandma’s Metamucil—an appetite suppressant and nutrient powerhouse all rolled into one. Just 1 tablespoon of chia seeds has 5 grams of gel-forming fiber—nearly 11 grams in just an ounce—which swells in your stomach or in any liquid it’s added to, squelching your hunger and leaving you feeling satisfied. In just 1 tablespoon you also get 60 calories, 3 grams of protein and almost 10% of your daily recommended values of iron and calcium, as well as other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, chia seeds are a concentrated source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid most people don’t get enough of, especially if you avoid eating fish. In fact, chia is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, even more so than flax seeds, yet unlike flax seeds chia seeds don't deteriorate and can be stored for months in a cool, dry place without turning rancid. Chia seeds also do not have to be ground like flaxseeds to make their nutrients available to the body.
Try using chia seeds just as you would flaxseeds—sprinkling them in yogurt and cereal or baking them into bread and muffins (you can simply replace ¼ cup of flour with ground chia seeds). You can also add them to soups or gravies as a thickener, use them as a “breading” for fish or chicken or make one of our favorite healthy desserts—chia seed pudding.
With nearly 100 calories per tablespoon, regular peanut butter can easily pack on the pounds. Powdered peanut butter, however, contains only 45 calories and 5 grams of protein in just 2 tablespoons. While powdered peanut butter does lack the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that is found in peanuts, it’s still a delicious and healthy vegetarian protein option for those who love peanut butter, but want to watch their waistlines. Free from added sugars and oils commonly found in regular peanut butter, powdered peanut butter can be used in everything from smoothies and hot cocoa, to a tasty peanut-butter satay. We’re fans of the real deal and keep regular peanut butter around, too, but opt to use this staple item to sprinkle on different foods for peanut butter flavor without the extra calories.
For more creativity in the kitchen, check out these surprising foods that pack a nutritional punch!