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Powerhouse Pantry Staples for Making Meals Easy

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jun 8, 2020

9 indispensable items for a well-stocked pantry


Whether coming home from a long day at work or a jam-packed day at home, preparing a nutritious meal can be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be. That’s why a well-stocked pantry is your ultimate dinner solution.  Having pantry-ready essentials on hand makes meal preparation a snap. While fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are always healthful choices, there are plenty of other healthy options to choose from.

Shelf-stable foods, whether canned, jarred, or packaged, can be a safe and nutritious solution for quick and healthful meals. These methods of preservation have been used for decades helping maintain the nutritious benefits these foods offer. When choosing, opt for those with little to no added sugar or salt if possible.

Many of the foods featured in this article, are also helpful for following a Mediterranean diet way of eating. The Mediterranean style diet is one of the most effective ways to reach good heart health that focuses on using plenty of beans, fish, tomatoes, and oats, all found on this list. For more information on what foods are used in the Mediterranean diet and recipes to get you started, here’s my latest book called The Heart Disease Prevention Cookbook, 125 Easy Mediterranean Diet recipes for a Healthier You. Order at this link:

To help you stock your pantry filled with nutritious foods, here’s a list of essential pantry items helping you put together quick, healthy meals when time is running short:

  1. Canned Beans

Beans are at the top of my list for a must-have pantry staple. Convenient, economical, and no cooking time involved, canned beans are always a good bet for making making a quick meal. Black, cannellini, kidney, pinto,  or chickpeas, all canned beans are an easy protein and fiber booster easily added to pasta dishes, rice, salads, soups, or tossed in Mexican entrees or added to scrambled eggs.

  1. Vinegars

Vinegars are a must-have essential for enhancing meals. Their acidity helps bring out the flavors of food…garlic tastes more pungent, herbs more fresh, and spices more pronounced. Vinegars also are fat-free and with only a trace of sodium. Mix up your own salad dressing by combining extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, with a touch of salt, and you have a tantalizing mixture of healthy monounsaturated fat – from the oil – to add to your spinach salad. Be sure to keep on hand are balsamic, cider, red wine, rice, and white wine vinegar.

  1. Canned Fish

Canned fish should be in everyone’s pantry. If you’re intimidated by cooking fresh fish, canned fish is your answer. Whether salmon, tuna, or sardines, canned fish is not only inexpensive but is rich in protein and heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Both salmon and tuna can be added to salads or as sandwich filler, or made into fish cakes by combining with an egg, rice, lemon juice, and bread crumbs.

  1. Rolled Oats

No pantry would be complete without a canister of rolled oats. A great source of soluble fiber, valuable for lowering cholesterol, oats are a delicious and nutritious food easily incorporated into many dishes. Consider adding uncooked oats to thicken a smoothie; add them to turkey burger patties; or combine them with milk and yogurt before going to bed and leave in the fridge overnight. Top with fruit and honey the next morning for a mouthwatering and quick “overnight” oats breakfast.

  1. Canned Pumpkin

Here’s one of the healthiest and most versatile foods for your pantry. Just one-half cup of canned pumpkin provides a whopping 400% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin A, a key antioxidant supporting immune function. This pantry staple is also rich in fiber good for digestive health and bowel regularity, vitamin K for bone health, and gives a dose of vitamin C helping absorb iron better.  Add canned pumpkin to soups, smoothies, pancakes, quick breads, and even hummus.

  1. Canned Tomatoes

Diced, whole, tomato sauce or paste, canned tomatoes are another must-have food found in your pantry. Rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, tomatoes have a multitude of uses when making meals. Add tomato sauce and paste to spaghetti sauce, use diced tomatoes in chili and soups, or top meatloaf with a flavorful mix of tomato paste or sauce with vinegar, mustard and a touch of honey.

  1. Whole Grain Brown Rice

A key source of iron, fiber, and the B vitamins of niacin and folate, brown rice makes putting together dinner so much easier. Choose pouched or bagged brown rice – without any flavor packets – to avoid excess sodium. Cook rice the night before, refrigerate and use throughout the week by serving as a side dish, or add to a stir-fry or salads.

  1. Canned Fruits and Vegetables

Let’s face it, canned fruits and vegetables foods simply make healthy eating easy. Not only do these pantry staples compare with fresh or frozen nutritionally, but they cut down on food preparation getting a home-cooked meal on the table fast. Even better, canned fruits and vegetables can help families stretch their grocery budget while reducing food waste.

9. Whole Grain Pastas

Pasta made with whole grain can be one of your best bets for a highly nutritious, easy meal. Whole grain pasta means its made from flour containing the entire grain kernel – the germ, endosperm, and bran. Rich in B vitamins and minerals such as copper, selenium, magnesium and manganese, nutrients found in whole grain pasta help support immune functioning, regulate blood pressure, build strong bones, and provide necessary energy. And let’s not forget fiber – a serving of whole grain pasta can supply up to 6 grams or more helping meet your daily requirement of 25-30 grams of fiber. Look for pasta packages stating “whole grain” and choose from spaghetti, angel hair, linguine, rotini, elbow, penne, and lasagne.  Cook your pasta, top with a tomato-based sauce, add a side salad, and your dinner meal is ready to go.


Want the latest on food science?

Click here to download a sample chapter of Cheryl’s book, The Nourished Brain, and get a free printable meal-planning guide so you can start eating your way to a healthier brain today.



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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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