Each year for Christmas, my mother gives me the same gift – a gift card to my favorite local grocery store. This may seem boring and practical, but I love it! I use it to purchase food staples that will keep my pantry stocked and ready to make some quick, healthy last minute meals! 


While you may know the tried and true staples that have been listed before (chicken stock, beans, tuna, etc.), here are some more to consider and spice up your routine and support your food goals. Start the new year with clean cabinets (trash all the expired food and donate anything you just don’t enjoy) and stock them with choices that are realistic to your preferences, cooking style and time constraints.


TAHINI. I can honestly say that I love kale salad – as long as it has tahini dressing! This creamy spread made from sesame seeds goes a long way on flavor and texture that will make a drab salad hearty and tasty. Sesame seeds are surprisingly high in calcium and protein. Although high in calories, this dressing is filling and allows a salad to be a satisfying meal. 


KALAMATA OLIVES. It took me a long time to come around to olives, but these are the ones that got me on board (oil-cured are a close second). A quick saute with garlic, onion and diced tomatoes and you have a puttanesca sauce that can go over quinoa, chicken, fish, pasta or brown rice. The flavor is strong, which allows you to throw in other veggies on hand and nobody will notice they’re eating spinach. The olives pair well with cannellini beans and tuna fish for an easy lunch. 


CACAO NIBS. While they don’t taste just like chocolate, they are an excellent way to lower your sugar intake. From my experience, give them a week or two and you will be able to taste the pure chocolate flavor that isn’t masked by sugar in your typical piece of chocolate. (The same is true for coffee – take two weeks drinking it black and you will truly taste the coffee bean). They are often featured on “top superfood” lists because they are naturally low in sugar yet high in fiber and protein, as well as packed with antioxidants. I add a tablespoon to plain yogurt as a nighttime snack that curbs my sugar cravings. They can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, chia pudding, granola, etc.


WASA CRISPS. If you’re struggling to cut back on bread, I highly recommend giving Wasa a try. In my opinion, they are heartier and more filling than a rice cake because of higher fiber (but generally the same calories as a rice cake!). I eat them daily with avocado, peanut butter, hummus, turkey breast, tuna – whatever you enjoy! Having two crisps with my spread of choice along with a bunch of fruit is my favorite weekday go-to breakfast.


CLASSY CARBS. These are the high end carbs that give your body the biggest bang for your buck. This is one of the few times that being a snob is a GOOD thing! Depending on your dietary needs or restrictions, stock your pantry with some of these and you’ll be able to put together a healthy meal in no time. (I’m a huge fan of grain bowls for dinner!). Quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, millet and buckwheat are great options and are easy to cook.  I like to store mine in glass jars that make the pantry look nice and then I’m more likely to use them. 


RICE VINEGAR AND SOY SAUCE (or Bragg’s amino acids). When I’m putting together a last minute meal with whatever food I have on hand, I usually think of a flavor or style of cooking and I go from there.  Saute vegetables in these condiments, add in brown rice and beans (or lean meat) and you have dinner done. These flavors are also helpful to make less appealing vegetables taste better.


FROZEN VEGGIE BURGERS. Two things: – a) veggie burgers will never taste like a real burger and shouldn’t be compared to them; they are their own category and the word ‘burger’ is misleading. I view them as a quick food that’s convenient to have on hand. b) I will likely never be able to make my own veggie burger that doesn’t completely fall apart.  If you can find a brand that you enjoy (check the ingredient list to be sure they aren’t filled with crap!) keep them on hand for a night when you can’t cook or need to “beef” up your dish. I crumble up veggie burgers on grain bowls to add protein or serve them to my kids as a sandwich with avocado and some carrot sticks and dinner is done.


FROZEN PEPPERS AND ONIONS. Forget about orange juice: bell peppers are where to go for vitamin C and great flavor. But they are not cheap! I’ve discovered a pepper and onion mix in the frozen section and they make a great base for a stir fry dinner at a low price.  Mix with chicken or tofu and your favorite flavorings for an easy one pot dinner that can also be served with a grain of your choice. 


POPCORN. Have popcorn kernels on hand for an easy and incredibly healthy snack. Ditch microwave popcorn packets that are full of chemicals and opt for homemade. I make my own in the microwave by putting the kernels in a brown paper lunch bag and folding over the top – nothing else. I add olive oil and salt when it’s done but of course you can add your own toppings. Popcorn satisfies that snacking, salt urge many people get at night. When it’s prepared the right way, this is a low calorie and high fiber food that tastes great and is fun to eat. 


SARDINES. Please don’t run away! I saved this for the end of my list because I knew it would scare people. But hear me out – these little guys are so good for you and easy to keep on hand. Since fresh sardines are difficult for many of us to find, canned sardines are a great option. They are high in protein, omega-3 fats, vitamin D, calcium and have no sugar or carbs. I prepare them similar to how I’d make tuna fish and serve it over salad or in a wrap. I mix them up with avocado, diced celery and carrots, roasted red peppers, balsamic vinegar. You can add in diced bell peppers, olives, capers, tomatoes – anything you want. The key is to have a strong condiment flavor to take center stage. This is a great time to use tahini dressing! However you choose to enjoy these they are a fast, simple and nutrient dense meal.


Please let me know if you have any questions about these foods or if you need assistance finding easy ways to incorporate these into your meals.

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