A huge part of eating healthy involves making your own food at home, but, for many people, knowing what to keep in their kitchen is the biggest struggle. After all, how can you make a nutritious meal if you don’t have the right ingredients? But, stocking your pantry with the best foods doesn’t have to involve a pricey trip to Whole Foods to splurge on that herbs you can’t pronounce. Some of the healthiest foods in your kitchen can be just the basics. This can not only make grocery shopping easier, but it can keep your costs down, too.
Not everyone’s kitchen will look the same. But there are plenty of options when it comes to keeping your home filled with nourishing and nutritious foods. We spoke with a few dietitians to give you the low-down on their favorite staples. Here’s what you should buy to have the healthiest foods in your kitchen.
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“Eggs are one of the most inexpensive, readily available, nutrient-dense, and versatile ingredients [that] you can keep in your kitchen,” says Registered Dietitian Carrie Walder, MS, RD. “[They] are considered one of the best sources of protein, and are chock full of other essential nutrients, such as vitamin A, D, B12, and choline.” Walder uses them for veggie scrambles or frittatas, tops them on avocado toasts or grain bowls, and mixes them into savory oatmeals. “Keeping a batch of hard-boiled eggs in your fridge throughout the week makes for an easy grab-and-go, high protein snack,” she says.
Eating nuts as part of a healthy diet may be good for your heart. Nuts are high in heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein, and are even a good source of fiber. “They’re a great snack food—inexpensive, easy to store, and easy to pack when you’re on the go,” says Registered Dietitian Carol Aguirre MS, LDN. You can toss them in salads or blend them with milk and yogurt to make a smoothie. Or you can even add them to your morning cereal to help with fullness.
If you’re not a fan of raw nuts, you might want to enjoy them in butter form. “Research shows that despite being high in calories, nut butters can be a great addition to an individual’s diet, even if they’re trying to lose weight,” says Walder. “Due to their unique combination of fat, fiber, and protein, adding one to two tablespoons of nut butter to meals can lead to greater satiation, keeping you fuller for longer between meals.”
When purchasing nut butters, it’s important to check the ingredients list. “The only ingredient should be the nuts themselves (and perhaps a bit of salt),” says Walder. Avoid choosing nut butters with added sugars, oils, etc. You can add nut butters to your oatmeal for breakfast, spread on whole wheat bread, use in Asian-inspired noodle sauces, form energy balls, or pair with Greek yogurt and berries for a quick and healthy snack.
Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes, such as chickpeas, black beans, lentils, and more, are not only inexpensive but a great source of protein and fiber. You can stock up on canned beans, or buy dried beans and legumes in bulk and cook them fresh. There are also plenty of ways you can utilize these plant-based foods. “Make beans into hearty soups, add to green salads for extra protein, or even roast them,” says Aguirre. “Have them as snacks, make bean dips, add them to chili, or make a bean and rice bowl.”
Not only are oats budget-friendly, but they are loaded with nutrients. “One half cup of oats gives you about half of the soluble fiber you need for the day,” says Megan Casper, MS, RDN, CDN. “Oats are high in a special kind of fiber called beta-glucan, which has actually been shown to help boost the immune system and stabilize blood sugar. Besides all of these amazing benefits, oats also give a hearty dose of manganese to help keep bones strong; copper for healthy skin, hair, nails and blood; and biotin to keep your metabolism, hair, and nails strong.”
In addition to traditional oatmeal, you can also use oats to make overnight oats and homemade granola. You can also sprinkle them on muffins or pancakes.
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen fruits and veggies are often thought of as inferior to fresh produce. However, this is untrue. “Frozen produce is often frozen at peak ripeness, meaning when they are their most nutritious,” says Walder. “They retain these nutrients well.” This means that fresh fruits and vegetables, when not in season, may actually be less nutritious. This is because they are harvested before peak ripeness. Plus, they may travel thousands of miles before reaching your plate, thus decreasing in nutrient value.
In addition to buying fresh produce, keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruits and vegetables. “It is so easy to whip up a smoothie with frozen spinach and berries or to make a quick veggie stir-fry when you’re in a pinch,” says Walder.
There’s a reason your mom wanted you to eat your greens so badly. “One cup of spinach has about 1000 percent of your daily needed vitamin K,” says Casper. “It also has an impressive resume of other vitamins and minerals.” Spinach is a great source of calcium. One cup of spinach has a quarter of what you need each day. It also is high in phytochemicals and phenols, which are potent against inflammation. To use spinach, you can go classic with a salad, sauteé with garlic, or sneak some into smoothies, eggs, sandwiches, etc.
This trendy fruit definitely should be one of the healthiest foods in your kitchen. “Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats,” says Clinical Dietitian Becky Kerkenbush, MS, RD-AP, CSG, CD. “Plus, they are an excellent source of magnesium, fiber, and potassium.” In addition to avocado toast, there are plenty of other ways that you can utilize avocado in your meals. “Use as a replacement for mayonnaise on sandwiches and in salad spreads, blend into fruit smoothies, or use in dressings and sauces.”
Canned fish, such as sardines and tuna, are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, they are an inexpensive way to consume heart-healthy fish. “Omega-3 fatty acids support brain health, cardiovascular health, and are known to be anti-inflammatory,” says Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LD, CD. “Either fish can be eaten on its own as a meal or a snack, or can be added to other foods.” You can add canned fish to green salads, pasta salads, or serve with whole grain crackers as a snack.
In addition to being a necessary ingredient in many traditional recipes, onions can also be one of the healthiest foods in your kitchen. “Besides adding flavor to any number of savory dishes, onions, eaten raw or cooked, offer a wealth of nutritional benefits,” says Koskinen. “Onions provide antioxidants and phytochemicals that provide anti-cancer and antimicrobial properties. Allicin, a compound found in onions and garlic, has also been shown to decrease inflammation.”
Garlic, like the onion, is also from the allium family. This means that it’s not only a good source of flavor in your cooking, but it’s also one of the healthiest foods in your kitchen. “Garlic may have anti-cancer, lipid-lowering, anti-hypertension, and antimicrobial effects,” says Kerkenbush. To maximize garlic’s health benefits, let it sit for five minutes after chopping or crushing it. “This activates the allicin,” she says. “Try black garlic for a sweeter taste and double the antioxidants.”
With these foods in your kitchen, healthy eating will become a breeze.