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

14 Kitchen Staples to Always Have on Hand for Healthy Meals

Reading Time: 5 minutes 28 seconds


Date: 2021-04-01T00:00:00-04:00

It can feel overwhelming and expensive to completely overhaul your diet or try to eat healthier, but you’re not alone in this process. 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 and becoming more mindful about their food.

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.

“When it comes to creating a healthy meal plan, eating more high-quality plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and risk factors for various other chronic diseases,” states Sky Hanka, Functional Nutritionist and Integrative Chef At Trifecta.

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

Whole grains and pasta contain beneficial fiber, and 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.

These can be your staple carbohydrate when building out simple grain bowls, stir-frys, or a simple tomato basil pasta with grilled chicken and broccoli.

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.

“Incorporating more legumes containing prebiotic carbohydrates can positively alter the gut microbiome, helping regulate intestinal movement, increase mineral absorption, and reduce obesity risk by regulating blood glucose and cholesterol levels,” notes Sky Hanka, Functional Nutritionist and Integrative Chef at Trifecta.

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.

Prepare a healthy tuna-salad snack by mixing shredded tuna with greek yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and onion powder, and fresh parsley!

“Salmon contains EPA and DHA omega-3 fats. DHA is the same type of fat that lines 80% of our brain, which makes it no surprise that omega-3s from fish are beneficial for your brain health and mental well-being,” states Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD from Trifecta.

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.

A great healthy snack with nut butter is a rice cake with 2 tablespoons of nut butter and some fruit. You can also blend a tablespoon of nut butter into your yogurt or smoothies!

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.

“Nuts and seeds are popular health food for good reason. They contain high amounts of heart-healthy fats and pack some fiber and protein - all of which are associated with better appetite control. In addition, almonds are a good source of vitamin E, iron, and magnesium,” notes Sky Hanka, Functional Nutritionist and Integrative Chef at Trifecta.

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.

Additionally, you can make sweet potatoes the main staple of a meal. Bake 2 whole sweet potatoes at the beginning of the week and then prepare a stuffing like shredded chicken and pesto or a southwest vegan stuffing to stuff ½ of the sweet potato for a savory and filling meal.

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.

“Dietary sugar can get a bad rap, but naturally present sugars found in whole foods often contain fiber and other beneficial vitamins and minerals which help our body process this sugar differently from added or artificial sugars,” notes Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD from Trifecta.

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.

Pick 5 staple herbs and spices to have on hand at all times, this could include things like taco seasoning, harissa, rosemary, garlic powder, and curry powder.

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 digestion.

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.

One hard-boiled egg has around 77 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. You can hard-boil a dozen eggs to snack on throughout the week or pre-make egg frittatas for a grab-and-go breakfast.

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.

Contrary to what you may have read about how long it takes to roast a whole chicken, you can cook chicken from raw relatively fast. Dicing up and sauteing a chicken breast or searing and finishing a thigh in the oven should take less than 20 minutes to get it to 165 degrees, the food-safe temperature for cooking chicken. While your chicken is cooking you can saute some fresh vegetables and choose a simple sauce to prepare a quick bowl.

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. ISSA's online Certified Nutritionist program is a great way to earn a new credential at your own pace.

Featured Course


By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.

Sign Up & Stay Connected

Receive $50 off your purchase today!

I consent to being contacted by ISSA.
Learn More