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14 Kitchen Staples to Always Have on Hand for Healthy Meals

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, 14 Kitchen Staples to Always Have on Hand for Healthy Meals

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Healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult or even expensive. Show your clients how easy it can be to eat well just by stocking their kitchens with nutritious staples. 

It’s easy to be tempted by snacks or high-calorie, high-fat meals, but when you keep the kitchen full of mostly nutritious staples, the options are limited. You are forced to choose from among healthy foods. Here’s what a healthy plate looks like and how to stock your kitchen to achieve it every day. 

What Should a Healthy Meal Include? 

Your kitchen staples should reflect what you need to put on the plate at each meal for a healthy, well-rounded diet. But first, you need to know what a healthy meal looks like. While some people have specific dietary needs related to medical conditions, allergies, or athletic training, general guidelines suit most everyone. 

A Healthy Plate is Balanced

Think of every meal as a plate with all the nutrients in balance. Once you have the basic pattern for a healthy plate, you can fill it in with your pantry staples: 

  • Vegetables and fruits. Half of each plate should be produce, mostly vegetables. For some meals, you may want this to be all vegetables, and reserve a piece of fruit for a snack. Choose a variety of produce and use fresh or frozen. Avoid pre-seasoned vegetables and limit the use of add-ons like butter, oil, and salt. 
  • Whole grains. Fill about a quarter of the plate with whole grains. You can also include starchy vegetables in this category, like sweet potatoes. Choose things like barley, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and whole grain bread. 
  • Protein. About one quarter of the plate should be protein. Depending on training and weight loss goals, you may want to increase the protein portion and reduce carbohydrates from vegetables and grains. But don’t go overboard; balance is key. Choose lean proteins like chicken, fish, beans, and low-fat dairy. 

The basic healthy plate is pretty simple. Add to it in sparing amounts healthy fats like nuts and seeds and olive oil. For seasoning, limit salt, butter, and sugar and use flavorful spices and herbs liberally. Hot sauces and pepper also add a lot of flavor without sacrificing the healthy balance. 

Staples to Always Have on Hand for Healthy Meals Form the Basis for Meal Planning

Meal planning is so important for making healthy eating easy. Without a plan, you’re more likely to reach for something simple, pre-packaged, and not necessarily nutritious. By stocking the kitchen with staples, and using those to plan weekly meals, you have no excuse not to eat well. 

Using only some of the staples below a simple meal plan for a day might look like this: 

  • Breakfast – Savory oatmeal with broccoli and hardboiled eggs
  • Lunch – Canned tuna mixed with veggies and a baked sweet potato
  • Snack – A half cup of Greek yogurt with thawed, frozen peaches
  • Dinner – Chili made with canned beans and tomatoes, a cooked grain like farro, and a frozen vegetable blend on the side

Snack time is a great opportunity to include more protein when you’re building muscle. Here are some tips for easy protein snacks for on the go

Pantry Staples to Always Have on Hand for Healthy Meals

The pantry is easy to keep stocked because these foods have a long shelf-life. Keep the pantry full of these foods and limit snack foods to build healthy meals every day. 

1. Whole Grains and Pastas

These store for years. Invest in some good plastic containers to store grains after you open a bag and they’ll last even longer. Keep brown rice, farro, quinoa, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and barley in the pantry at all times. 

2. Canned Beans

Canned beans are an easy pantry staple to use. Just heat and serve or add to a dish you’re cooking. Beans are high in protein, fiber, and other nutrients. Rinse them before use to reduce sodium. 

3. Canned Fish

This is another easy protein source for quick meals and snacks. Choose tuna and salmon packed in water and avoid those with oil, which adds fat and calories. 

4. Nut Butters

For your healthy fat fix, keep a selection of natural nut butters in the pantry. These are perfect for snacks such as peanut butter on a piece of fruit or whole grain bread. 

5. Nuts and Seeds

Whole nuts and seeds are great as well. Keep a few different types stored in plastic containers, and they’ll last a long time. Use pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, and others in oatmeal and for snacks. 

6. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes can last a while in the pantry, and they are an easy-go to side for any meal. You can cook one in the microwave in just about five minutes. 

7. Canned Tomatoes

Many foodies actually prefer canned to fresh tomatoes. They are picked and canned at the height of freshness, so they have more flavor. Use canned whole or diced tomatoes in all kinds of recipes without the hassle of cooking and peeling fresh tomatoes. If you’re concerned about BPA in cans, look for tomatoes in glass jars. 

8. Honey

A little sugar in the diet is fine, and honey is a nutritious choice. Adding some honey to foods like smoothies will keep you satisfied and help you resist the urge to reach for cookies and desserts. 

9. Spices and Herbs

Healthy eating can seem bland, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t need a lot of sugar and salt to make food taste good. Keep a good stock of spices and dried herbs to spice up every meal. 

10. Apple Cider Vinegar

This is a tasty and nutritious vinegar that you can use to add flavor to homemade salad dressings, soups, marinades, and more. Look for an unfiltered vinegar to get all the beneficial probiotics that aid digestions. 

Choose whole foods as much as possible. Some processing is fine, like with canned tomatoes, but there are also pitfalls with processed foods. Learn more about processed foods here

Healthy Refrigerator and Freezer Staples

Your pantry is easy to stock and forget about, so is the freezer. The refrigerator requires a little more thought because these foods will spoil. Here are some basics you can keep for a decent amount of time and use in most of your healthy meals. 

11. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein and vitamins. They are inexpensive and keep for a long time in the refrigerator. 

12. Nonfat Greek Yogurt

Yogurt also has a decent shelf life in the fridge. Plain Greek yogurt has a lot of protein and is a go-to condiment for many dishes. Eat it as a snack, with breakfast, or as a substitute for dips, sour cream, and yogurt. 

13. Chicken

Chicken is one of the most affordable and easy lean proteins to use. You can keep raw chicken in the fridge for just about two days, but if you cook or freeze what you can’t use, it will be there for later. 

14. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

You should keep fresh fruit and veggies on hand as needed, but you can keep frozen produce indefinitely, so you never run out. Frozen veggies and fruit—unseasoned—are as healthy as fresh. They’re easy to use too. Add vegetables to any meal and snack on fruits with yogurt for a snack.

Another great thing about frozen produce is that you can get more variety. Choose frozen berries, for instance, when fresh berries are out of season. Get vegetable mixes for five to ten different veggies in one meal. 

These are just the basics, the staples you need in the kitchen to build a balanced, healthy diet. Teach your clients more about healthy food choices and they will be ready to develop their own well-stocked pantries and refrigerators. 

Learn everything you need to know about nutrition so you can coach your clients. The ISSA’s online Certified Nutritionist program is a great way to earn a new credential at your own pace.


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