Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Fresh fruits, veggies, proteins, and starches are all the rage these days, but I’m here to tell you that MANY shelf stable items are just as nutritious. As a RDN, foodie, and young professional, I am passionate about creating and eating foods that are nourishing, delicious, and reasonably priced. Many canned goods as well as shelf stable grains are full of good-for-you nutrients and are often cheaper than the fresh versions. Although I enjoy eating fresh foods, I will always have these 8 Dietitian Approved Pantry Staples in my pantry.
1. Canned Tomatoes
Antioxidant rich canned tomatoes are delicious and extremely versatile. They can be used in a variety of dishes including soups and stews, pasta dishes, casseroles, and sauces. They’re also a great addition to scrambled eggs or egg cups like these in the morning.
Canned goods are often higher in sodium, a mineral consumed in excess in the typical American diet, than their fresh counterparts. However, there are many low sodium options available at most grocery stores. When choosing canned tomatoes, select “low sodium” or “no added salt” varieties most of the time to reduce your sodium intake.
A few of my favorite recipes that include canned tomatoes:
2. Canned Beans
Both canned beans and dried beans are budget friendly and rich in nutrition, but I personally prefer keeping canned beans on hand for convenience. Canned beans contain plant-based protein, fiber, and energizing carbohydrates.
Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) in particular are rich in folate, poly- and monounsaturated fatty acids, iron, and phosphorus. Additionally, chickpeas are rich in fiber which promotes satiety and aids in the productions of anti-inflammatory short chain fatty acids as well as resistant starch which can help to improve blood sugar levels.
The daily recommendation for dietary fiber is 25 g for women and 38 g for men. Many Americans don’t meet these recommendations. To up your fiber intake as well as create a delicious plant-forward meal, use canned beans in place of animal proteins in soup or chili. Beans are also great addition to salads (regular and lettuce-less), casseroles, dips, and even baked goods. They’re delicious in a variety of ways with little to no preparation needed.
Like other canned items, canned beans are often high in sodium. To reduce your sodium intake, choose “low sodium” or “no added salt” options or rinse your canned beans before serving.
Healthy, delicious recipes with canned beans:
Oats come in many varieties – oat groats, steel cut/Irish oats, Scottish oats, old fashioned oats, or instant oats. You will always find a large container of old fashioned oats in my pantry. Old fashioned oats are the most shelf stable of all the oat varieties and, in my opinion, the most versatile.
This whole grain is naturally gluten free and rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers. The insoluble fibers in oats attach to and remove cholesterol from the digestive tract.
Heart healthy oats are good for way more than just your standard bowl of oatmeal. Replace plain breadcrumbs with oats in meatballs or meatloaf to increase your whole grain intake, add oats to baked goods or smoothies for a boost of fiber, or use old fashioned oats to make your own granola! Nine times out of ten, if the oats are on my kitchen counter I’m making a fruit crumble.
My go-to oat dishes:
Pasta is the blank canvas of foods in my opinion. The ways to prepare and serve pasta are innumerable, and there are around 350 pasta varieties out in the world (per the world wide web). Farfalle, fettuccine, shells, spaghetti, penne, orecchiette… The list could go on and on.
And on top of the traditional semolina varieties, there are veggie, high protein, and whole wheat versions as well as gluten free options, including white or brown rice, chickpea, and lentil pastas. My husband is a fan of traditional spaghetti and farfalle, but recently I’ve enjoyed trying out different chickpea and lentil varieties. With more plant-based protein and fiber than traditional pasta, chickpea or lentil pasta is a great base for vegan or vegetarian dishes and it’s gluten free.
When I’m in a pinch, pasta is my go-to carb source. Regardless of the shape and size, pasta has a short cooking time and pairs well with most vegetables and proteins. Have some leftover shrimp and wilted spinach in the fridge? Make shrimp and spinach pasta! Have a bunch of roasted veggies sitting in the fridge? Grab some lentil or chickpea pasta, grated parmesan, and make a vegetarian pasta dish! Have leftover chili? Toss in some elbow noodles and cheddar cheese for a bowl of chili mac!
The beauty of pasta is that it can be as simplistic or elaborate as you want it to be and still taste fantastic and nourish your body.
Like oats, rice is naturally gluten free and comes in a variety of forms. And like pasta, rice comes in many varieties and is extremely versatile. I’m no rice expert, but of all the varieties out I’ve tried basmati, brown, black, wild, and jasmine are my top 5 favorites. But of my top 5, brown, black, and wild rices are particularly nutritious.
Although slightly processed, brown rice, also known as whole grain rice, retains the nutrient dense germ and bran while white rice has both removed. Thus, brown rice retains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that white rice doesn’t. Black or forbidden rice contains anthocyanins, phytochemicals and flavonoids that contribute to its dark purple-black hue. Anthocyanins are found in many red, purple, or blue foods like dark cherries, purple sweet potatoes, red cabbage, blueberries, and black rice and have anti-carcinogenic properties, may help prevent cardiovascular disease risk, and may improve cognition. Wild rice is rich in fiber as well as protein. Just 1/4 cup of dry Lundberg Organic Wild Rice contains 3 g fiber and 7 g of protein while 1/4 cup dry Lundberg Long Grain Brown Rice contains only 2 g fiber and 3 g protein.
Rice is a versatile and nutritious carbohydrate source that can be served alongside or added to just about anything – soups, casseroles, stir fry – you name it. To reap all of the nutrition benefits that rice has to offer, choose different varieties!
6. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is like liquid gold when it comes to creamy soups and curries and adds a delightful tropical flavor to rice dishes. To be clear, I’m referring to full fat, canned coconut milk, not the boxed kind. Though high in calories and saturated fat, canned coconut milk contains fiber (5 g of per 1 cup), several minerals, namely magnesium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc, and provides satiety in recipes due to the high fat content.
I like to keep coconut milk on hand for dairy free soups like my Curried Sweet Potato Squash Soup, Thai curry dishes, coconut rice, homemade popsicles, and chia seed pudding.
Delicious recipes with coconut milk:
7. Salmon Packets
I prefer fresh salmon, but salmon packets or canned salmon are great protein options when you’re in a pinch to get dinner on the table. Whether fresh, frozen, or packaged, salmon is a great source of easily absorbable protein, omega 3 fatty acids, namely DHA and EPA, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron.
Omega 3 fatty acids have been all the rage for a while now, and for good reason. Not only do they have anti-inflammatory affects, but they also play roles in eye health, fetal brain development, and cognition. They are also thought to have anti-depressants properties.
Additionally, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the general population consume 8 ounces, or 2-3 servings, of seafood per week, averaging out to 250 mg of EPA and DHA per day. I don’t know about you, but I struggle to prepare fresh seafood more than one time per week. Having canned salmon on hand to make into salmon patties or toss into salads or wraps makes getting the recommended 8 ounces per week a whole lot easier.
8. Nuts and Seeds
I am NUTS about nuts… and seeds. I’ve truly never met a nut or seed I didn’t like. And thankfully, they like me too! Although nuts and seeds have varying amounts of micro- and macronutrients, as a whole nuts and seeds contain heart-healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, plant-based protein, minerals, and vitamins, namely vitamin E. Nut consumption is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, diabetes, and all-cause mortality.
The NUTrition benefits of nuts and seeds are varied and vast. Of all the nuts out there, peanuts, which are technically legumes, contain the most protein and resveratrol, an antioxidant. Walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds are particularly high in ALA omega 3 fatty acids which have a variety of health benefits. Almonds, though void of omega 3s, contain nutrients that may promote skin health and monounsaturated fats that may help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).
Eating unsalted or lightly salted nuts and/or seeds by the handful is totally acceptable, but they’re also a great, nutritious addition to oatmeal, homemade trail mix or granola (which you can totally make with the old fashioned oats you have in your pantry), baked goods, salads, and pasta or rice dishes.
Delicious ways to enjoy nuts and seeds:
The Bottom Line
Fresh foods are great, but so many shelf stable items CAN be nourishing too, including but not limited to the 8 Dietitian Approved Pantry Staples mentioned above. So don’t be afraid to buy canned tomatoes or salmon packets. Both fresh and shelf stable fruits, veggies, proteins, and starches have a place in a balanced diet.
Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. When you make any Hope For Balance recipes, tag me at @hope.for.balance and use the hashtag #hopeforbalance for a chance to be featured in my Facebook or IG stories. It brings me so much joy to see your creations!