I have a post for you guys today that I hope will be helpful: a healthy pantry staples list and easy, throw-together recipes with pantry items (and frozen food) that you can always keep on hand! This post was originally published in 2017, but I have updated it and thought it was probably extremely good timing to re-share it right now.
As you all know, I am a huge fan of dinners that can be on the table in 15 minutes. The less time spent hovering over the stove at the end of a busy day, the better! I hear all the time from AnneTheRD nutrition clients that they don’t have time to cook a healthy dinner every night. Or, that they don’t buy fresh veggies because they’ll go bad before they cook them.
Well, my friends, I have a solution! Keep these 15 healthy pantry staples on hand all the time and combine them with a couple fresh/frozen ingredients (like frozen veggies and fresh eggs) to make 15 minute dinners any night of the week.
Healthy Pantry Staples List
Okay, so while not every item on this list is technically a “pantry” staple, nothing on this list will go bad before you get the chance to cook it. So you don’t have to worry about planning way ahead for dinner. 😉
With each pantry staple on the list, I’ll also link to some of my favorite blog recipes that use these ingredients. If you want to just see meal ideas that use only the pantry staples, scroll down to the very end of the post!
And now, here are 15 healthy pantry staples you can stock up on for super quick meals.
1. Instant Brown Rice
90-second microwaveable pouches of brown or wild rice are probably my favorite healthy-in-a-hurry meal hack. They’re the easiest way to add whole grains to your meal in no time at all!
I keep a few pouches on hand at all times to use as a side dish for some of my favorite entrees like my Salmon with Lemon Mustard Dill Sauce.
Spices add tons of flavor to a dish instantly, and keeping your spice cabinet stocked means you’ll have flavorful meals at your fingertips every night. So of course I had to add them to my pantry staples list!
Here are my favorite versatile spices for quick recipes with pantry staples:
- ground cumin – I love the brightness cumin adds to dishes like my Slow Cooker Moroccan Chicken Stew.
- chili powder – The savory, warming flavor of chili powder makes for delicious chili like my Sweet Potato and Lentil Chili.
- garlic powder – I use garlic powder to add garlicky flavor without having to peel and chop garlic. It’s great on my easy Garlic Herb Roasted Potatoes!
- smoked paprika – The smoky sweetness of smoked paprika makes even vegetarian dishes taste meaty and rich. (Like in my Vegan & Gluten Free Shepherd’s Pie and Walnut & Mushroom Enchiladas.)
- curry powder – Flavorful curries come together in no time with the addition of curry powder. It adds bold flavor to my Quick and Easy Coconut Curry for a meal that’s ready in just a few minutes.
3. Canned Beans
Beans are packed with protein and fiber, making them great additions for balanced vegetarian meals. I keep canned chickpeas, black beans, white beans, lentils, and kidney beans on hand to mix and match for versatile meals.
Kidney beans and black beans make my Butternut Squash and Turkey Chili super quick, filling, and delicious!
4. Frozen Vegetables
Okay, so not a pantry staple, but not something that will go bad quickly so I wanted to include frozen veggies on the list!
Frozen vegetables have all the same health benefits as fresh vegetables (as long as you buy plain frozen veggies without salt and sauces added). But they’re often cheaper, already chopped up, and they certainly last a lot longer before going bad.
That makes them perfect for veggie-packed meals without a ton of effort!
5. Canned Seafood (Tuna, Salmon, etc.)
You probably know by now that I am a huge fan of canned seafood. It’s chock full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats, but is already prepared and ready to go. So of course I had to include it on this pantry staples list!
I love making my Healthy Tuna Salad to top a green salad for instant protein. My Salmon and Brown Rice Cakes with Fresh Salsa use both canned salmon and instant brown rice for a super quick dinner. And I promise you’ll be a canned sardine convert once you try my Scandinavian Sardine Sandwiches!
Even though eggs don’t sit on your pantry shelf, they have a long shelf life and are a high-quality protein source. Plus, they can be prepared in many ways!
Their versatility (and deliciousness) make them perfect for on-the-spot dinners. My Scrambled Egg Muffins work just as well for an easy dinner as they do for a make-ahead breakfast!
7. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a staple in any kitchen. It’s great for sautéing, roasting, or making salad dressings, and it’s full of healthy unsaturated fats.
I like to keep a basic lighter-colored olive oil around for cooking, and one bolder one on hand to add lots of flavor to salads and simple pasta dishes.
If you want to mix up your oil choices but aren’t sure what to use, this post may be helpful: What Oils to Use When.
8. Canned Tomatoes
I use canned tomatoes all the time to add body to some of my favorite stews and chilis.
I used canned tomato sauce in my Veggie-tastic Minestrone Soup, and diced tomatoes in pretty much every chili I make. That includes my Turkey, Veggie, and Barley Chili – so satisfying!
9. Whole Wheat (or Alternative Grain) Pasta
Pasta is a classic quick-cooking go-to dinner, and there are so many fun variations both in terms of shape and ingredients nowadays that you will never get bored!
I love whole wheat rigatoni in my Healthy Tuna Noodle Casserole and Rigatoni with Slow Cooker Stewed Lamb and Veggies.
10. Jarred Salsa
I love using jarred salsa to add a spicy Mexican twist to meals without having to buy all the flavorful ingredients separately.
I use salsa in meals like my Mexican Lasagna and Quinoa Taco Salad for an awesome flavor shortcut!
11. Low Sodium Soy Sauce
Rather than just sprinkling regular salt, I like to use soy sauce because it adds lots of flavor at the same time. It adds a savory Asian flair to dishes like my Sheet Pan Asian Salmon with Veggies and Peanut Noodles with Tilapia.
12. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them a great base for meals. Even though they can take a while to cook in the oven, you can use a fork to poke a few holes in the skin and make microwave “baked” sweet potatoes in just 5 or 6 minutes!
They’re key to my Sweet Potato and Lentil Chili (I love this recipe because it makes a ton – and the leftovers are so good!) and super-easy Spiced Mashed Sweet Potatoes.
p.s. To save a ton of time (like, 50+ minutes!), check out my How to Cook a Sweet Potato in the Microwave post!
13. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk adds richness and creaminess to dishes while keeping them dairy free (and keeping you from ending up with spoiled dairy).
It works great in dishes with an Asian flair, like my fast Thai Coconut Chicken Soup. Or, try it as a vegan cream alternative in my Creamy Garlic and Herb Pasta (which also uses frozen peas for a veggie boost!).
14. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar adds great tangy flavor to dishes.
I love making a simple homemade balsamic vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar. Or, try adding it to tomato sauces for extra richness.
15. Low Sodium Chicken or Veggie Broth
Adding broth to soups and stews instead of water adds a ton of flavor without taking any more time. Look for low sodium broths to keep the salt level in check, and keep a few containers on hand.
I hope this healthy pantry staples list has been helpful!
Now, what meals can you make using mostly items from this list (that don’t require lots of fresh extras)?
Here are some of my favorite recipes with pantry staples:
- Quick Fried Rice: Saute frozen shelled edamame, brown rice, and mixed veggies in olive oil with a splash of soy sauce. Stir in beaten eggs; cook until the egg is scrambled and cooked through.
- Curried Chickpeas and Spinach: Heat drained chickpeas, coconut milk, diced tomatoes, frozen chopped spinach, curry powder, and garlic powder in a pot and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve over instant brown rice.
- Mediterranean Tuna, White Bean and Spinach Pasta: Cook pasta according to package. Drain, then add the pasta back into the hot pan with frozen chopped spinach, drained white beans, canned tuna, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
- Loaded “Baked” Sweet Potatoes: Follow my How to Microwave a Sweet Potato method, then, when tender, split them open and fill with drained black beans, salsa, and thawed frozen veggies.
- Mexican Baked Eggs: Stir together drained black beans, salsa, and frozen mixed veggies in a baking dish. Make wells in the mixture and crack eggs into the wells. Bake at 375 until everything is heated and the egg whites are cooked through (I like this with a runny yolk, but you can totally bake it until the egg yolks are cooked through, too!)
Soups & chili recipes to make with items from this pantry staples list:
- Quick Minestrone Soup: Cook pasta in a large pot of chicken or veggie stock. When there’s just a few minutes left in the cook time, add in kidney beans, frozen mixed veggies, garlic powder, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Keep cooking until the pasta is done and everything is heated through.
- Black Bean Chili: Heat drained black beans, canned diced tomatoes, salsa, frozen corn, chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika in a pot and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve over instant brown rice.
- Curried Sweet Potato Soup: Poke holes in whole sweet potatoes with a fork, then microwave for 6 minutes or so, until tender. Scoop out the flesh and add it to a blender with coconut milk, chicken or veggie broth, curry powder, garlic powder, cumin, and a splash of soy sauce. Blend until smooth, then heat in a pan until heated through.
What pantry staples do you always have in your kitchen?
Any other go-to recipes with pantry items to share?