Making the Most of Pantry Staples

The clock strikes noon and the grumbling begins. Your belly has been whining for over two hours because you skipped breakfast, and… DANG! …You didn’t pack a lunch. Now what? Generally, the next thought is, “who can deliver food the fastest?” or “where’s the nearest drive-thru?”

Have you heard, “A Sunday well spent brings a week of content”? When it comes to meal prepping, you either love it or think it is daunting. Perhaps start with a plan. A weekly meal plan can help eliminate spontaneous and unhealthful decisions, especially when the world goes back to work and school. Planning both meals and snacks for at least a week at a time can help relieve stress for everyone in the family, reduce trips to the grocery store, and keep money in your wallet.

What’s on hand?

First, identify what you have. Check the fridge, freezer, and pantry for foods that need to be used up. Leftover meats and vegetables can easily be transformed into soups or Crockpot meals, or used as toppings for tacos, salads and pasta. Use up that half bell pepper, quarter of that tomato, onion, and leftover grilled chicken, and turn it into Friday-night nachos.

What’s shelf-stable?

Keep shelf-stable products on hand so you don’t have to go to the grocery store every week. Many of these pantry-stable items, are packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats that can keep you satisfied longer. Our go-to favorites include dried or canned beans, peas and lentils, canned vegetables without added salt, dried or canned fruit in 100% juice, whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole-wheat pasta, pouches of tuna, nuts, seeds, and nut butters, olives, oils (olive, cannola, and avocado), and dried herbs and spices.

Tip #1: Rinse all canned beans and vegetables to remove excess sodium

Tip #2: Verify the expiration dates on your herbs and spices. After the expiration date, these may lose potency in flavor, leading you back to the saltshaker.

Frozen Foods Get a Bad Rap

Buying fresh and organic might not be realistic for your budget, or feasible during a pandemic – and if you don’t have a garden, it’s OK to head to the frozen aisle. Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of freshness and flash frozen to sustain the nutrients. Look for ones with no added sugar, salt, or sauces. You can also purchase frozen whole-grain bread, dough, fish, seafood, and lean meats.

Plan for Bulk

Ideally, plan to have a protein, starch and fruits or vegetables at each meal and snack, but during this time that may not be feasible in the way you did before. When planning, consider foods that can be made in bulk and freeze well. Casseroles, soups, chilis, and muffins, can be frozen for 2-3 months, and can be pre-portioned. While you might be thinking these are heavy comfort foods, these are perfect for getting all your macronutrients in one dish, and you can definitely swap in healthier ingredients.

Having a plan can help you make better decisions and limit what goes to waste, as well as get the whole family in check.

If you have extra time, you might want to go as far as prepping and making meals ahead of time, keeping them in the refrigerator or freezer, or having pre-portioned snacks, so when you do decide that you’re truly hungry, you eliminate the need for stressful decisions and poor choices.