When people ask me how to start living more naturally and eating healthier, I tell them that simply swapping their fat and sugar choices can make a huge difference in their family’s health. And it couldn’t be more true, but it’s also important to have good choices on hand at all times. This makes you less likely to reach for fast or processed foods.
In this post, I’ll show you which pantry staples (with recipes) to stock up on so that you can easily create nourishing meals for your family.
Why It’s So Important to Buy Healthy Foods
A well-stocked kitchen makes it easy to throw together dinner at the end of a long day or grab a snack on your way out the door using healthy, whole foods.
“We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.” — Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center
One study of over 120,000 healthy women and men spanning 20 years reached similar conclusions: High-quality foods (and decreasing consumption of lower-quality foods) play a huge role in preventing obesity.
Healthy Foods to Buy & Keep in Pantry
Here are my top healthy foods to buy and keep in your pantry at all times so dinner time will be a breeze.
Research suggests these delicious, small flower buds pack tons of natural antioxidants that may effectively fight cancer and heart disease when added to meals, particularly meats.
“Caper may have beneficial health effects, especially for people whose meals are rich in fats and red meat.” (source)
Additional studies suggest capers also have medicinal properties that help fight liver disease, improve triglyceride levels in patients with Type 2 Diabetes, relieve inflammation and pain in people with arthritis, and may even improve memory.
How to use capers
Capers have an intense briny flavor, so a little bit goes a long way. Add them to pan sauces, salad dressings, sandwiches, or even eggs.
Because lemons are a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants, research suggests they may help fight heart disease and cancer, lower stroke risk, strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation, aid in iron absorption, prevent asthma, and lower blood pressure.
There’s even some evidence that, thanks to all that vitamin C, lemon can even help improve skin’s texture and reduce wrinkles.
How to use lemons
Lemon is nice and tart—a little goes a long way in sauces, salad dressings, marinades, hot and cold drinks, and even desserts.
One cup of sun-dried tomatoes provides 23 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and 16 percent of vitamin A, which means this healthy food can improve vision and heart health, aid in digestion, and reduce inflammation. (source)
Sun-dried tomatoes also have 25 percent of the recommended intake of magnesium, a mineral the body is dependent on for blood sugar control, blood pressure regulation, bone health, and more. Read more about magnesium here.
How to use sun-dried tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes are absolutely delicious and full of flavor. They have a deep, caramelized flavor with a hint of sweetness and a hint of tartness. Try these flavor bombs in salads, sandwiches, sauces, dressings, or simply snack on a few.
A type of stone fruit, olives are high in healthy fat, vitamin E, and antioxidants. They also contain tons of minerals, like iron, calcium, and copper.
How to use olives
Eat olives alone as a snack or sprinkle them on sandwiches, salads, or poultry. You can also chop them up and stir them into sauces, salad dressings, dips, or pastas.
Starches that are resistant to digestion—like beans and lentils—provide good “food” for our gut bacteria, which can aid in digestion, reduce appetite, and improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels. Note: Certain methods of cooking (cooking, cooling, and reheating, for example) can increase the resistant starch in these foods.
In general, legumes are also a great source of soluble fiber, which helps digestion and improves cholesterol. They’re also high in folate (great for a pregnancy diet!), B-group vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and magnesium. (source)
How to use beans/lentils
Add lentils or beans (black beans, chickpeas, navy beans, kidney beans, split peas) to soups and stews, salads, or tacos. You can also ground them up and make patties, dips, or spreads.
Healthy canned fish
Both canned and fresh fish contain ample amounts of protein and other important nutrients like selenium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D, but it’s important to make safe choices when it comes to seafood, especially if you’re pregnant. According to one study, canned wild salmon actually had more Omega-3s, less mercury, and fewer pesticides and carcinogens than farmed salmon.
Canned sardines are nutritional powerhouses with tons of omega 3’s, selenium, vitamin D and a great source of inexpensive protein.
How to use canned fish
Warning: You will have to put your big girl pants on to eat sardines. They are an acquired taste. (I used to hate them but after forcing myself to eat for a few years, my body now craves them!) Use low-mercury salmon and sardines in salads or stir-fries, form them into patties, make salmon or sardine salad, or eat them on crackers with a squeeze of lemon.
Try: Sardine Fish Cakes
Spices add a necessary kick to many recipes, but some of them provide surprising health benefits, too. Stock your pantry with these spices that pack powerful health benefits:
A good salt: Sea salts and high-mineral salts add minerals to your diet.
Cumin: This earthy spice is rich in iron, promotes digestion, may improve cholesterol, and may even reduce the risk of food-borne illness.
Curry: There is evidence that curry aids in digestion, promotes liver function, improves metabolism, reduces inflammation, improves heart health, fights cancer, and may even improve complexion. (source)
Some other basic spices that are extremely flavorful and versatile include: rosemary, sage, thyme, ginger, and cinnamon.
How to use spices
Beyond the obvious—using spices to flavor your favorite dishes, from chicken, to seafood, to veggies—try chopping fresh spices or herbs, stirring them into olive oil, and then freezing in ice cube trays. It’s a great way to preserve fresh herbs and add flavor to any dish. Here’s step-by-step instructions.
Extra virgin olive oil
First thing’s first: There’s tons of fake olive oil out there, so make sure you do your research first. But quality extra virgin olive oil has lots of health benefits. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, is filled with polyphenols that can help reduce our risks for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes, and can lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and and reduce inflammation. (source)
How to use extra virgin olive oil
This is an easy one—the possibilities are endless! Cook with extra virgin olive oil, drizzle it on fresh tomatoes, use it as a base for salad dressings, or even try oil pulling.
Choose seed-like grains that cook up fast. Some of my favorites are quinoa, amaranth, and millet. Why? Well, for starters, quinoa has almost as many antioxidants as cranberries! Plus, it’s gluten free, high in protein, and has tons of magnesium and folate.
Amaranth and millet have similar health benefits. Amaranth is full of the essential amino acid lysine, plus has plenty of protein, fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. Millet is also rich in magnesium and phosphorus, but also contains ample amounts of copper.
How to use grains
Cook and serve these gluten-free grains as you would other grains, or add them to baked goods (cookies, pies, and breads!).
If you have too many tomatoes, one of the best ways to use that surplus is to make tomato paste. Tomato paste is an incredibly great source of lycopene, a phytochemical that helps fight chronic diseases and increase the body’s natural sun protection. (source) Tomato paste is also rich in vitamin C, B-group vitamins, magnesium, potassium, iron, and copper.
How to use tomato paste
Use tomato paste as the base for soups, stews, and sauces. An easy way to make sure you always have some on hand is to freeze fresh tomato paste in ice cube trays.
Try: DIY Tomato Paste
Garlic has many proven health benefits—it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties make it a great natural remedy for ear infections, plus it helps protect the body from heart disease and cancer, lowers blood pressure, regulates blood sugar in diabetics, and reduces incidences of the common cold.
How to use garlic
Garlic can used to flavor almost anything! Add it to salad dressing, sauces, or salsas, stir it into tea, or roast it and spread it on toast.
Try: Pistachio Pesto
Nuts and seeds are full of healthy fats, plus contain plenty of protein, fiber, and antioxidants like vitamin E. They also contain plant stanols, which may help lower cholesterol. (source)
How to use nuts/seeds
Sprinkle nuts and seeds on top of anything—toast with nut butter, yogurt, oatmeal, salads, you name it!
OK, But What If My Family Doesn’t Like Healthy Food?
It’s a dilemma, for sure, but one that’s surmountable. Trust me, I know! Check out this post for tips to get reluctant family members to embrace real food.
How About You?
What are your go-to healthy foods to buy? I’d love to hear about what items are in your pantry at all times.
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