In her sixth exclusive blog for getback, Nutritionist Bonnie Chivers explains how having a well-stocked pantry and fridge can make healthy, quick meals a whole lot easier.
On those nights when you’re rushing home, exhausted from a busy day, the thought of having to shop for ingredients can be a deal breaker… often leading to us propping ourselves on the couch and ordering take out.
While a lot of healthy foods are perishable, there are a number of longer-lasting items that you should consider always having on hand to make nutrient dense meals and snacks a breeze.
You might also find a few things on this list that you stocked up on during lockdowns that are now gathering dust – time to whip them into some healthy, yummy meals!
Click the links for some delicious, nutrient dense recipes.
1. Dried and canned beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are incredibly healthy and have a long shelf-life. They are high in fibre, magnesium, B vitamins and iron, making them a great addition to your diet.
Try adding black beans, chickpeas, lentils, or kidney beans to pasta, soups, salads, on top of eggs or frittata, or even just on toast with some herbs. You can even make super quick, homemade hummus with a can of chickpeas.
2. Nuts, seeds, and their butters
Nuts and seeds provide healthy fats, filling protein, fibre and numerous vitamins and minerals.
Nuts and seeds can be kept in the pantry for months, but some will store better and retain more nutrients if kept in the fridge. Alternatively, nut and seed butters are longer lasting, healthy staples. Just be sure to look for natural options without added salt and sugar.
You can use nuts, seeds and their butters in porridge, mixed through yoghurt with some fresh or dried fruit, in salads, pasta, wraps or inside homemade pastries. You can also add nut/seed butters to sauces, or use them as a spread on fruits or veggies for a quick, satisfying snack.
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. This means you can buy them in bulk and have quick and easy meals – like these – at your fingertips.
Whole grains are excellent sources of fibre and micronutrients, including B vitamins, manganese and magnesium. Eating whole grains, in conjunction with an overall healthy diet and lifestyle, can protect against numerous health conditions.
4. Frozen fruit and vegetables
Buying frozen fruit and veg allows you to always have nutrient-dense produce on hand.
Frozen fruits and veggies are comparable to fresh produce in micronutrient content, making them a healthy and convenient freezer staple, and eliminating any excuse to skip our veg.
5. Honey and maple syrups
Honey and maple syrups are natural sweeteners that offer unique health benefits. Raw honey has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and contains powerful antioxidants. Maple syrup is also rich in antioxidants and contains small amounts of nutrients like magnesium, potassium and manganese.
Use them sparingly to add flavour to both sweet and savoury recipes. But remember that too much sugar from any source can harm your overall health, even if it’s naturally derived.
As a bonus, honey can be used on wounds, acne or dry skin.
6. Healthy fats for cooking
Certain fats like extra virgin olive oil and ghee can be stored at room temperature for a year or more.
Cooking with these healthy fats adds antioxidants and flavour to recipes and enhances the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from food.
7. Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles)
They are delicious and versatile, and offer a number of health benefits, such as improved digestive health and reduced inflammation and blood sugar levels.
These foods are long lasting, so you can stock up and not worry about them going to waste.
8. Spices and dried herbs
To create flavourful recipes, it’s essential to have a well-stocked spice rack. Spices and herbs increase the flavour of dishes and can come in very handy when you’re struggling for meal inspiration.
What’s more, incorporating dried herbs and spices into your diet can have significant, positive impacts on your health.
Turmeric, cayenne pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, ginger, oregano, and cumin all offer impressive health benefits and add versatile flavours to numerous meals – from breakfast to dessert and everything in between.
9. Long-lasting fresh fruits and veggies
There are a number of long-lasting fruits and vegetables that you can store for a few weeks.
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, swede, beets, cabbage, carrots, radish, onion, garlic apples, pomegranate and citrus fruits are some examples that can keep for a few weeks or more when stored properly.
No matter what you purchase, remember that nicks and bruises shorten shelf life, so handle fruits and veggies with care. Wait to wash produce until you’re ready to use it, as moisture can lead to mould. And, keep the refrigerator door closed to maintain its low temp.
Do a quick Google search for the best way to store certain produce – you might be surprised by what you read.
10. Frozen fish, poultry, and meat
Frozen protein will stay edible much longer than fresh produce, if they’re kept at the right temperature.
Fresh chicken and meat will be safe for up to 1 year when kept frozen, while some fish can be stored in the freezer for up to five months.
Having a good supply of frozen animal protein can help you prepare healthy, protein-rich meals when fresh sources are limited.
11. Healthy condiments
Adding a dash of hot sauce or drizzle of tahini to a recipe can bring a dish from boring to sensational in a matter of seconds.
Check the label to ensure you are avoiding highly processed sugar-laden products.
Tahini, salsa, coconut aminos, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar (which is less overpowering than its cousin, balsamic), mustard, nutritional yeast, tamari, raw honey, apple cider vinegar and sriracha are just some examples of multi-purpose condiments that are healthy, and tasty!
Eggs are a versatile food that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. They’re packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. They can last up to five weeks in the fridge, if stored correctly.
If possible, purchase pasture-raised egg. While they do not differ in nutrient value, these hens are typically treated much better than cage or barn hens. They have space to roam outdoors and the ability to partake in normal foraging behaviour, and it’s a small gesture to say thank you for providing us healthy, delicious eggs.
13. Canned tomatoes, passata and tomato paste
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. Canned tomatoes also provide lycopene, a phytochemical or natural plant compound that provides health benefits. The antioxidant lycopene has been shown in over 700 studies to have a positive impact on breast cancer, heart cancer, inflammation and prostate cancer.
Stock is an essential base for homemade soup, as well as a flavour enhancer for cooking meat and poultry or vegetables. Stock cubes or powder are a clever, long lasting addition for a well equipped pantry.
Whip up some delicious ramen, roast potatoes or mash potato, or simply add instant noodles and some frozen veg to a bowl of warm stock for the quickest dinner.
15. Long-life milk/mylk
Whether it be animal sourced, or plant based, having a few cartons of long-life milk/mylk in your pantry can come in very handy. A lot of the recipes throughout this blog post incorporate them, and they can add a variety of nutrients and associated health benefits.
If opting for plant-based options, keep in mind that they are not created equally. Look for a mylk that provides similar amounts of calcium and protein when compared to dairy, such as soy or pea, and ensure they are not laden with added sugar. Soy milk is also the best choice for the environment, using significantly less water than almond options, and producing considerably less greenhouse gas emissions compared to dairy.
And for those of you still worried that soy milk will give you man boobs, please read this.
The bottom line/s
Having your fridge, pantry, and freezer stocked with healthy foods can ensure that you always have ingredients on hand to prepare a home-cooked meal or snack.
You don’t have to buy it all at once, but by purchasing a few of the foods listed above each shopping trip, your kitchen will be fully stocked with healthy staples before you know it.
BAppSc, MHumNutr, PhD Candidate
Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation – MCHRI
School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University
No content on this blog should be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. Please note the date of this blog post, as evidence pertaining to these findings may change overtime.