meal planning

Healthy Pantry Staples

Having your house stocked with healthy pantry staples for impromptu meals has always been an important part of eating well at home. But, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, with most of us limiting shopping and cooking from home, keeping healthy pantry staples and healthy freezer staples on hand is more important than ever (1).


But, shifting your diet to include more shelf-stable food doesn’t have to mean loading up on processed foods.  Or living off of white pasta every night (if you can actually find it, that is…the only shelf space barer at my market is in the toilet paper aisle)!  The truth is, with the right healthy pantry staples on hand, you can eat well while doing your part to flatten the curve.


How to Stock a Healthy Pantry


All it takes is a little planning to create healthy pantry based meals that are as good for you as they are flavorful.  Here’s a peek at my list of healthy pantry essentials with meal ideas, broken down by category. And, to make it even easier, check out the Healthy Pantry Essentials Shopping List!


Protein Foods

Beans and lentils are a personal favorite pantry item, as they pack a protein and fiber punch and pair well with so many other foods. Canned tuna or salmon is another source of protein with a very long shelf life. You can easily mix and match to make a complete meal, but here are a few of my personal favorite combinations: 


  • Red beans + brown rice + a sprinkle of cajun seasoning.
  • Black beans + quinoa + frozen corn (or other healthy freezer staple) + sun dried tomatoes
  • Garbanzo beans + canned tuna in EVOO + jarred red peppers
  • Green lentils + coconut milk + curry powder


Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and nut butters are another healthy pantry essential. They offer a balance of protein, fiber, and fat to help you stay full. A small handful of dry roasted almonds, cashews, pistachios make a healthy snack. Plus, daily nut consumption been linked with numerous health benefits, including lower fasting glucose levels and higher HDL. (2) Mix a spoonful of flax or chia seeds into your oatmeal or yogurt for added fiber and heart-healthy omega-3 fats.


Whole Grains

Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, and faro are healthy pantry essentials with a long shelf life. Choose 100% whole wheat pasta and brown rice for added fiber and nutrients.  


Canned Goods

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has health benefits almost too numerous to list! And, besides keeping you healthy, it can brighten your mood. Due to their short shelf life, it can be difficult to keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. Luckily, frozen and canned versions are typically just as healthy. Just be sure to opt for the no or low sodium version of canned vegetables, and choose canned fruits that don’t have any added sugar.  A few favorites:


  • Stewed tomatoes make a wonderful base for chicken, fish, or pasta dishes.
  • Canned pumpkin provides a vitamin-packed punch to pancakes and muffins. 
  • Add canned mushrooms to homemade pizza or your morning omelet.


Oils and Vinegars

These healthy pantry staples are useful as dressings, marinades, and flavorful cooking. Choose Extra Virgin Olive oil or avocado oil for dressings and marinades.  Grapeseed and canola oil make heart-healthy picks for stir-frying and baking. Vinegar like balsamic and apple cider vinegar can add zing to any dip or marinade! 


Spices, Sauces, and Seasonings

This category of healthy pantry essentials is what keeps your meals exciting. Plus, adding a little spice to your meal can have big health benefits. For example, cinnamon has been shown to reduce symptoms of metabolic disease, including insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, obesity, and high blood pressure. (3) The sheer number of items in the spice aisle can be overwhelming, but the Healthy Pantry Essentials Shopping List below lists a few favorites that pair well with many dishes. 




Protein Foods 

Dried or canned beans (e.g.garbanzo, cannellini, black, pinto)


All-natural nut butters 

Dry roasted nuts (e.g.almonds, pistachios, cashews)

Flaxseed, chia seeds

Canned tuna and/or salmon


Canned Goods:

chopped/diced tomatoes

Canned pumpkin

Canned/jarred red peppers

Sun-dried tomatoes (jarred or dried)

Favorite canned vegetables (e.g. mushrooms, carrots, peas, corn)



Whole wheat pasta (or, check out the new lentil and bean-based versions!)

Brown rice

Quinoa or other favorite grain (e.g. faro, millet, amaranth) 


Spices, Seasoning, and Sauces:

Bullion cubes (Chicken/beef/or vegetable)

Jarred pasta sauce

Teriyaki sauce








Oils and Vinegars

Extra Virgin Olive or Avocado oil (dips and dressings)

Canola or Grapeseed Oil (stir frys and baking)

Balsalmic vinegar

Apple Cider vinegar


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
  2. de Souza RGM, Schincaglia RM, Pimentel GD, Mota JF. Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1311. Published 2017 Dec 2. doi:10.3390/nu91213113. Mollazadeh H, Hosseinzadeh H. Cinnamon effects on metabolic syndrome: a review based on its mechanisms. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2016;19(12):1258–1270. doi:10.22038/ijbms.2016.7906