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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Ann Arbor, MI!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

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The Best Food Products for a Healthy Pantry

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Today is one of those days when I’ll be cooking something with ingredients from my pantry.

It’s rainy, cold, and just plain icky outside. There’s just no other word to describe it – it’s icky.

So I don’t plan on venturing beyond my house today, which means I’m definitely not going grocery shopping, and we’re definitely going to be eating at home today.

A while back, I came across this article on the Food Network’s Website. The article was entitled “The Healthy Pantry” – and I thought it was super helpful in outlining those staples that are “must haves” when creating a healthy meal. The full list is here – and my favorites / additions / modifications (and little explanations of why they’re good items to have) are below.

Hope this helps you to plan for days when you really don’t want to have to visit the grocery store in order to still have a healthy meal at home!

1) Oils, Vinegars & Condiments

  • Extra-virgin olive oil (Adds great flavor for cooking, perfect for salad dressing, and has tons of healthy fats and antioxidants)
  • Organic Butter, Unsalted
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Dijon mustard
  • Ketchup (A great low cal way to spice up burgers and sandwiches)
  • Barbecue sauce (Make sure you get one that is super low in sugar – around 45 calories for 2 Tbsp)
  • Reduced-fat / fat-free mayonnaise (Trader Joe’s has a great “vegan mayo” that’s made from healthy oils instead of eggs. It tastes great – really close to regular mayo – and is way better for you!)
  • Reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • Prepared pesto (This is an item on the Food Network list that I would actually suggest not having. Bottled prepared pesto is often very high in fat and preservatives. I’d suggest making your own or buying it fresh from a store like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods)
  • Salsa (Pace Picante or fresh pico de gallo is my favorite)
  • Hot sauce
  • If you’re into salad dressings – make sure to get fat free / low calorie versions of the original (or you can make a simple, fresh dressing at home using olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper – that’s what I do!)
  • Real maple syrup (Be sure to avoid the sugary syrups like Mrs. Butterworth’s “syrup” that you can find at your local grocery store – those don’t provide any of the antioxidant health benefits that real maple syrup has, and they are often super high in sugar & HFCS)
  • Fresh fruit preserves (Better than jelly because they contain real fruit!)
  • Pizza Sauce (Make sure you get one that is low in sugar – Trader Joe’s has a great organic pizza sauce that’s super flavorful and low in calories/sugar)

2) Seasonings

  • Salt (Sea salt is better than regular salt because it’s less refined and has more minerals – but it is also less salty so you have to account for that in recipes)
  • Black pepper (Freshly ground is my favorite)
  • Dried herbs and spices: ground cumin, cayenne pepper, chili powder, crushed red pepper, rosemary, thyme leaves, oregano, Italian seasoning blend, garlic powder, ground cinnamon, ground ginger
  • Vanilla extract

3) Canned Goods & Bottled Items

  • Canned tomatoes (crushed with italian seasonings are great for sauces), tomato paste
  • Reduced-sodium broths
  • Canned beans: cannellini, kidney, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black beans and pinto beans
  • Low calorie canned soups: Amy’s and Trader Joe’s has a great variety of organic, low sodium soups; and Trader Joe’s has a ton of shelf-stable soups that are delicious (my favorites are butternut squash and red pepper/tomato)
  • Fat free refried black beans (Look for the vegetarian versions – Trader Joe’s and Rosarita both have good versions)

4) Grains & Legumes

  • Assorted whole-wheat pasta
  • Regular and instant brown rice
  • Whole-wheat couscous
  • Quinoa – so easy to make and the only complete protein on the list! You can substitute it for anything you’d use rice for.
  • Regular and quick-cooking barley
  • Bulgur
  • Rolled oats – steel cut oats are also great.
  • Dried lentils
  • Bread: I like Ezekiel’s sprouted grain breads, english muffins, bagels, tortillas – all of which can be frozen and if you heat them in a toaste oven they taste just like fresh bread!

5) Baking Products

  • Whole-wheat flour and whole-wheat pastry flour. (Store in the refrigerator or freezer.)
  • All-purpose flour
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Unprocessed wheat bran
  • Quick-rising yeast
  • Cornstarch
  • Brown sugar
  • Granulated sugar – I like the organic cane sugar from Trader Joe’s
  • Honey
  • Agave
  • Splenda or Stevia (if you’re into artificial sweeteners, these are the best)

6) Nuts, Seeds and Dried Fruit

  • Walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds – great source of vitamins and you can also use cashews as a substitute for cream in many dishes!
  • Chia seeds and flax seeds (a great topping for oatmeal, addition to smoothies, etc)
  • Dried apricots, dates, cranberries, raisins (make sure to get the kind with no sugar/oils added)
  • Peanut butter (natural) – the only ingredient should be ground peanuts
  • Almond butter (natural) – I also like Trader Joe’s Almond & Flax Seed Butter
  • Sunflower seed butter (natural)

7) Refrigerator & Freezer Basics

  • Organic 1% or skim milk
  • Reduced-fat sour cream (I’d go with fat free here – you can’t taste the difference!)
  • Fruit juice – make sure you don’t get juice that’s mostly sugar
  • Large eggs – Organic, free range eggs are the best – and if you can find omega 3 yolks that’s even better! Try using only egg whites in your omelettes/fritattas/etc – you’ll get all of the protein with none of the fat
  • Cheese: sharp Cheddar, feta, Parmesan, mozzarella (fat free feta crumbles are super low calorie and taste great… but for the other cheeses I’d go with the full fat versions)
  • For cream cheese – I’d suggest using Laughing Cow Light Cheese Wedges – much lower in calories and still has the great creamy taste
  • Nonfat or light vanilla yogurt – 0% Greek yogurt is your best option here – nonfat version is still super creamy, has about 90 calories, and packs up to 15g of protein!
  • Frozen fruit – frozen berries are the best – super high in fiber, and freeze really well
  • Frozen vegetables – edamame (soybeans), broccoli, corn, bell pepper-and-onion mix, peas, spinach
  • Low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt and/or sorbet (should be around 100-120 calories per half cup)
  • Frozen cheese ravioli or tortellini – this is ok – but if you have time to get the fresh versions and freeze them I’d suggest doing that instead
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24 responses to “The Best Food Products for a Healthy Pantry”

  1. I like your pantry list. With a well stocked pantry and fridge/freezer like that, there’s so many things you can make without a quick run to the store. I must admit that I don’t usually have pesto on-hand. 😉

  2. What a thoughtful and comprehensive pantry list. Makes a great grocery list. Your spice list is quite nice.
    One thing on the maple syrup—I totally agree. Use the real deal or nothing. But…even real maple syrup is pure sugar. That’s what sap is, it’s just a natural form of it. What it ISN’T is processed high fructose corn syrup and artificially flavored which is what most name brand syrups are. And that’s a bad combination. Thank you for all your effort!

    • Thanks – I’m so glad it’s helpful! Totally agree about maple syrup – it is sugar, but is at least all-natural vs. the brand syrups like you said 🙂 Thanks for the clarification!

  3. That’s the most comprehensive list that I’ve come across. I agree with so many of your recommendations. I especially like your Trader Joe suggestions. I realize a lot of people don’t have access to TJ, but I live for it.

    • Thank you so much Cathy!! I totally agree with you about TJs – they have a lot of great, packaged, shelf-stable, all-natural products that are really reasonably priced. For people that don’t have access to TJs – Whole Foods or even a regular grocery store has similar products – but I (like you) have an affinity for Trader Joe’s 🙂

  4. Love your list! I am going to be doing my shopping today and will make sure to add some of these staples to my list! 🙂 Thanks so much for this!

  5. Being a bachelor, this list puts my pantry (or lack thereof) to shame. Maybe you could write an article about something bachelor’s could put together? Like a streamlined version of this? Keep up the awesome blogging Anj!

    • Aw thanks Amit! And that’s a great point – I can totally post a streamlined version of this 🙂 Stay tuned!!

  6. Splendid ingredients for a healthy pantry. In the refrigerator, don’t forget organic butter – it tastes better and it’s free of all the pesticides and artificial hormones.

    • Thanks! I actually already have organic butter listed in the “oils, vinegars, condiments” section 🙂 But totally agree that organic butter is much better for you than regular butter!

    • No problem at all – so glad it’s helpful! And yes of course! That’s what this list is for 🙂

  7. I also think the list is great – thanks a lot Anjali! and those beautiful photos make me want to rush down to the supermarket and stock up RIGHT NOW!!

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