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  • Writer's pictureF.R.E.S.H Nutrition team

10 Pantry Essentials

Stocking your pantry with healthy, easy to prepare foods, helps ensure that you not only want to cook when you get home, but that you don't have to spend your life in the kitchen!

1.) A Good Spice Collection: Cajun, Mexican, Middle Eastern? A little spice can take you on a trip around the world, and make sure you never get bored of eating healthy. Must-have spices and seasonings include: cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, onion and garlic powder, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper. Make your own mixes in order to avoid buying msg-laden seasonings such as Sazon. These are some of my favorite spice mix recipes: the dry seasonings without the liquid ingredients of the marinade for a nice spice mix that can be used anytime)

2.) Dry Lentils and Beans: Think you have to spend tons of time waiting for beans to soak before you can cook them? Not at all!  With a little rinse, lentils can go straight from pantry to pot. Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc. only need a short 2 minute boil followed by a 1 hour soak in the liquid you boiled them in. After that, you’re ready to begin boiling them for your recipe. One of the cheapest nutrient dense proteins out there, beans should be a steady staple in your house.

3.) Bulgur Wheat: Packed with protein, fiber, magnesium and vitamin B-6, bulgur is one of the healthiest and easiest to cook whole grains. Actually needing no cooking at all, bulgur can easily be prepared by simply placing in a bowl, pouring boiling water on top, and covering. The bulgur will absorb the water and be ready to use in about 20 min. This bulgur salad recipe is always a winner!

4.) Sardines: By now most of us have heard that omega-3 fats are essential for heart and brain health. Buying wild caught fish frequently though, can quickly bust any food budget. Sardines are an economical and quick way to boost your intake of healthy fats as well as calcium, vitamin D and protein! Already pre-cooked, just open the can and enjoy, or heat with vegetables. Look for wild caught sardines in water and a BPA-free can such as Henry & Lisa’s.

5.) Nuts: Satisfying as a snack or substituting as a meal in a pinch, nuts are a very versatile protein. Use as a topping for yogurt and oatmeal to add a little extra protein, or add to salads, soups and stews to take you on a cross-cultural experience!  Ever tried peanut soup? You definitely should!

6.) Oatmeal: Full of fiber and protein, many may underestimate the number of uses oatmeal has in a kitchen. Perfect as a breakfast option, oatmeal can also be utilized to make an outstanding meatloaf, pulverized for adding extra nutritional value and thickness to smoothies, as well as for making oatmeal water.

7.) Olives: Fat-rich, sometimes tangy, and almost always salty, olives are a great way to appease a salty craving without going overboard on calories as you might with other salty snacks such as potato chips. Olives also add an extra dimension of deliciousness to rice dishes, fish, veggie sides and salads.  Check out two of my favorite uses for olives below:

8.) Whole Grain Pasta: If finding it hard to go whole grain, whole wheat pasta may be your answer. When topped with red meat sauce and cheese, or baked into a lasagna, whole grain pasta can often be indistinguishable from its white counterpart. Unlike brown rice where many may be perplexed why they should make the switch for just 1 additional gram of fiber per serving, whole grain pasta typically offers a boost of 4 g of fiber per serving over white pasta. Ready in just 7-8 minutes, whole grain pasta makes for a quick dinner when paired with pre-cooked chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken from your local supermarket.

9.) Olive Oil:  Rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and heart healthy, olive oil can be used for homemade salad dressings, marinades, pan-frying, and dips. Though most favor the extra virgin variety, light versions of this oil can actually hold up to the heat of the oven better than other more commonly used oils (canola, corn, etc.), and can also be used for baking.

10.) Chocolate Chips:  When craving something rich and chocolaty, chocolate chips can often provide the necessary fix without going for something larger and more indulgent such as cookies, cakes, or doughnuts. Mega Chunks by Enjoy Life are a little larger than your average chocolate chips, and more satisfying! Offering 7% DV for iron in one serving, it’s a decent sweet to have on hand.

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