Grocery Spotlight: Pantry Staples for Healthy Cooking During Shelter-In-Place

This week, dietitian Dana shares her ideas for strategically stocking your pantry to stretch time between grocery runs during the shelter-in-place.

The last few weeks of shelter-in-place have presented many unique challenges, one of the biggest ones being grocery shopping and food prep. With fewer trips to the grocery store and sometimes a limited selection, it’s helpful to keep some staples on-hand so healthy choices are always easy and convenient. Check out the ideas below for our healthy pantry staple go-to’s and some tips on how to use them!

Keep beans and lentils on-hand. Canned beans make a great pantry staple, but if supplies are limited at your local shop, try picking up dried beans. They are easy to prep at home: simply rinse and sort (look for any shriveled beans or small rocks) 1 cup (makes about 4 servings) of dried beans and place in a bowl. Cover with at least 3 cups of water (or 3 times the amount of beans) and let sit overnight or for at least 12 hours. When ready to cook, rinse and cover with at least 2 inches of water and bring to a gentle boil. Cook length will vary by type of bean but usually betweens 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. Use anywhere you would use canned beans: tossed into a salad for a quick protein or starch addition or whipped up into some hummus for a healthy snack. Dried lentils are also great and cook up faster, no soaking required.

Also ancient grains, oats, and bean pastas. These high-fiber starches are great to have on hand for easy sides and usually have an extended shelf life. You can store grains in the fridge to help them last longer too. Bean pasta makes a great fast meal with a simple jarred marinara sauce (look for one without added sugar or excess oil) or make a quick homemade sauce with canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, and dried herbs.

Keep nuts and nut butters stocked. Most nuts and nut butter have a long shelf life. Keep nut butters in the fridge once opened and store whole nuts in the fridge too to prevent them turning rancid.

Look for canned tomatoes and canned artichokes. Canned tomatoes are great to keep on hand to throw in soups or stews for added flavor and nutrients, or to create a quick marinara sauce for your bean-based pasta as mentioned above. Most canned veggies aren’t the greatest (usually high in sodium and leached of nutrients), but canned artichoke hearts (in water, not oil) are nice to have on-hand for an interesting salad addition.

Try canned tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies for protein.  Any canned fish makes for a heart-healthy quick protein. Combine tuna or salmon and a can of chickpeas with yogurt, dijon mustard, lemon juice, pickles, and celery for a quick and flavorful lunch.

And eggs. Eggs will last for a long time in the fridge and make a great easy protein for any meal of the day (not just breakfast!). Throwing a poached egg on top is a great way to liven up a bowl of leftovers too.

Look for frozen veggies and fruit. Frozen veggies and berries are picked and flash frozen at the peak of freshness so they retain all the same nutrients (sometimes even more) than their fresh counterparts. If options are limited at your store, consider freezing your own: blanch and shock veggies by briefly boiling in water, draining, and plunging into an ice bath. Dry thoroughly and store in individual bags. Broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach would work well here, but you could try with almost any vegetable. 

Stock up on hearty fresh veggies/fruit. If you are limiting trips to the grocery store, consider stocking up on some heartier produce that will last longer in between visits. Look for carrots, celery, onions, spaghetti squash, and green bananas. Even kale stays fresher longer than other more delicate lettuces. Also consider checking out your local farmer’s markets or smaller independent grocery stores on a more regular basis for fresh produce and shorter lines. 

Keep jarred pickles, capers, olives, pepperoncinis on-hand.  These items will last a long time in the fridge and are a great way to add flavor to homemade tuna or egg salads.

Try slow cooker or pressure cooker meals. If you are working from home (or even if you are not), consider throwing a meal into your slow cooker or Instant Pot in the morning before starting your day. The food will cook all day while you work and be ready to go by dinner time, leaving you with some extra time in your day to squeeze in an at-home workout or spend some quality time with your family.

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