If you’re feeling frustrated that you cannot find some of your typical “fresh food staples” at the grocery store lately, it may be time to take a different approach to whipping up healthy, family-friendly meals. By keeping a clean pantry stocked with simple, long-lasting, and versatile foods, you can create healthy pantry recipes that are total crowd-pleasers – while also keeping your meals nutritious, for a lower cost.
So, what’s a “healthy pantry recipe” anyway? It all starts with pantry foods (including nutritious canned foods, grains, pastas, oils, breakfast staples, and healthy pantry snacks). Then, you do an inventory of what you have on hand when planning out your meals, using the foods as base ingredients in upcoming recipes.
In this way, you not only accumulate less food waste from items that surpass their expiration dates, but you also save time and money by not having to plan out meals or go to the grocery store as often. Though your family may at first grumble at the idea of not getting exactly what they’re craving that week, in the long run, they may come to love cheap pantry meals that use healthy yet often forgotten ingredients like beans, oats, rice, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
Keep reading to see some of our favorite pantry staple foods that can be used to make some of the best healthy pantry recipes (and stay tuned for us to reveal our top 5 delicious, cheap pantry meals at the end of the article)!
What Does a “Healthy Pantry” Look Like?
First, in order to create a healthy pantry that you can easily pull nutritious foods from at a whim to whip up meals, it's first good to do inventory and determine what you might not want to be in there. This ensures that you won’t be tempted to go for the snacks and highly-processed foods when whipping up meal and snack recipes.
Items you might want to TOSS or REPLACE in your pantry…
- Regular white table sugar + ingredients that contain it
- Regular white flour & associated foods like white pasta, white bread, etc. (or use sparingly)
- Unhealthy oils (vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil, corn oil)
- Sugary packaged foods
- Foods with trans fats
- Foods with artificial sweeteners, flavorings or other ingredients
- Low-fat foods (which typically replace the fat with sugar or artificial ingredients)
After you clear out the “bad”, you can make room for the nourishing. Let’s look at some of the top healthy pantry foods we suggest you stock up on now…
Best Healthy Pantry Staples 101
You probably don’t even realize that you have the “base” for some healthy pantry recipes already in your pantry currently. You just may not know what to do with them, but we’ll help with that. First, let’s make sure you’re stocked up with what you need.
Grains, Pasta, Bread
The most important thing to remember in this category is that there are so many alternatives to white flour and associated white flour products like pasta that we typically ignore. Yet they can add flavor, depth, and dimension to recipes, while also providing invaluable fiber and other nutrients that are stripped away in white flour.
Here are some of our favorite healthy grain selections:
- Whole wheat or multi-grain bread and pasta
- Chickpea or lentil pasta
- Raw grains like quinoa, barley, amaranth, etc.
- Rolled oats (great for breakfast recipes)
- Brown and wild rice
Next, beans and legumes make some of the best plant-based protein options while also providing tons of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fiber. They also make some of the best healthy canned food selections, (although dried beans and legumes are typically cheaper and require just slightly more work in soaking pre-cooking).
Especially if you’re running low on meats, or would like to eat more plant-based foods versus ones high in saturated fat, plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes can provide the protein you need, along with great taste and huge health benefits.
Here are some of our favorite beans/legumes:
- Black beans (add to tacos, nachos, salads and even egg scrambles)
- Kidney or white beans (great for chilis and soups)
- Chickpeas (great on anything or roasted to eat by themselves)
- Lentils (lentil soup or vegan/vegetarian mains)
- Navy beans (soups and salads)
- Pinto beans (Mexican dishes, dips and spreads)
- Black eyed peas (standalone side dish)
- Chickpea or other non-grain pastas (low-carb option)
Canned Fruits and Veggies
Next, when it comes to this category, we do recommend fresh or frozen produce over canned, because the ladder often contains high amounts of sodium; However, canned foods are still a great option when access to fresh produce is limited!
Here are some of our favorite canned veggies/fruits:
- Pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
- Diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste
- Canned chilis or pickled jalapenos (if you like heat)
- Any low-sodium vegetables
- Olives (all types)
- Pineapple or other fruit in its own juice (no added sugar)
Next, you will need healthy oils and sugar replacements in order to cook/bake with, and still get delicious recipes with all “good for you” ingredients. The idea is to still get healthy fats, nutrients, and great flavor without all the processed, nutrient-void sugars and oils.
Here are some of our favorite healthy oils/sweeteners:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut & MCT Oils (especially great for baking and smoothies)
- Raw local honey
- Pure maple syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Stevia (plant-based sugar alternative)
- Monk fruit sugar (low-carb option)
Healthy Pantry Snacks
Finally, this is a category where the line is slightly blurred, because healthy pantry snacks can also be used for healthy pantry recipes to make full meals; But, they can also be used as snacks in between meals! This is a great category for kids to learn how to snack healthier and more efficiently and look at food as fuel (no more chips, candy bars, etc.).
Here are some of our favorite healthy pantry snacks:
- Popcorn (get the kernels and pop yourself using an air popper or in a pot with coconut oil)
- Nuts (almond, pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.)
- Nut butters (peanut, cashew, almond, pistachio, etc.)
- Seeds (sunflower, chia, flax, sesame)
- Seed butters (sunflower butter)
- Dried fruit (no sugar added and use sparingly)
- Brown rice cakes (no sugar added)
- Meal replacement shake protein powders (great for smoothies, baking, and more)
- Peanut butter powders and collagen powder (great for smoothies and baking)
Healthy Pantry Recipes
Now that you know some of the best healthy pantry staples to have on hand for simple, cheap pantry meals, we’ll give you some amazingly-yummy and surprisingly easy recipes to start you off….
This vegetarian-friendly recipe is simple to throw together and totally customizable based on what you have on hand. Start with a hearty grain – in this case, quinoa has awesome protein, fiber and nutrients such as magnesium, B vitamins and iron – and is also very filling. Raid your spice cabinet for complementing flavors (like garlic powder, thyme, or basil), and add in whatever fresh or frozen veggies you have on hand. Flavorful, simple, delicious, and meat-free!
2) Lentil Soup
© Photo by Love & Lemons
Next, lentil soup is a hearty, filling meal that again can be customized to meet your individual tastes and preferences. In this recipe, it uses some particular healthy pantry staples including French green lentils, fire roasted diced tomatoes, full-fat coconut milk and coconut oil. There’s also curry powder, which is a great spice to keep on hand to make regular meals more exciting.
This next recipe makes an awesome healthy pantry meal, snack or dessert! This 310 Pumpkin Chai Shake recipe has all the nutrients needed to quality as a clean and healthy meal, due to the 310 Vanilla Chai Shake powder in it. Just the powder alone has 15g plant-based protein, 5g of fiber, 20 vitamin/minerals, organic superfoods and probiotics. This shake powder makes an excellent pantry staple food, along with canned pumpkin, flax seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg – which you’ll also find in this decadent smoothie.
Next, when it comes to healthy pantry snacks or breakfasts, it’s a great idea to have a clean and nutritious granola recipe on hand. This recipe includes a boost of protein and plant-based nutrients from 310 Chocolate Shake, along with pantry staples: coconut oil, walnuts, unsweetened coconut flakes, chia, flax and hemp seeds, vanilla extract, sea salt and cinnamon. Literally every single item in this recipe is a nutritious pantry food!
© Photo by Minimalist Baker
Finally, you can turn your pantry staples into a fresh salad by combining healthy pantry foods with fresh produce, such as kale. In this recipe you roast up chickpeas – which are a great source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and plant-based protein – in an aromatic Indian spice blend. Then, add it to fresh kale with a homemade dressing. Pantry foods in this recipe include chickpeas; olive, avocado or grapeseed oil; tandoori masala spice blend; and pure maple syrup.
What healthy pantry recipes are you excited to make this week? Looking for even more ideas?! Check out additional nutritionist-approved, tasty, cheap pantry meals in this 5 Plant-Based Dinners article.