For low-stress meal prep and healthy eating ease, plan ahead and be prepared. A well-stocked pantry is a must for busy people. “Well-stocked” means having basic heart-healthy ingredients on hand at all times. “Pantry” means your cabinets, fridge and freezer.
Cabinets and Pantry
Having a properly stocked pantry can save time and worry during those busy days and weeknights when you don't have a chance to pick up groceries for planned meals. Keep these items on hand for unplanned but nutritious meals.
- Stock your pantry or cabinets with “dinner builder” items like low-salt canned beans, tuna, salmon, tomatoes and marinara sauce.
- Include whole-grain pastas in a variety of shapes, brown rice and other easy-to-make whole grains like bulgur, couscous and quinoa.
- Buy healthy cooking oils in limited amounts because they can go rancid over time. Buy a nonstick pan or use nonstick vegetable spray when cooking.
- Have a variety of whole grains stocked to form the base of your meal: whole-grain pastas in various shapes, brown rice and other grains like quinoa, couscous and bulgur wheat. Old-fashioned rolled oats are great for a quick oatmeal breakfast. Choose breads and cereals that list whole grains as the first item in the ingredient list. If you don’t use a lot of bread on a daily basis, store extra in the freezer.
- For baking, whole-wheat flour or spelt flour can often be substituted in for white flour. Cornmeal is also a great option for anything from muffins to pancakes.
- Nuts and seeds are also great to have on hand for snacking as they are good sources of protein and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Buy in small quantities to prevent them from becoming rancid. A serving size is a small handful or 1.5 ounces of whole nuts or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. Balsamic vinegar and low-sodium soy sauce are great to have available for salad dressings and sauces. Low-sodium bouillon cubes make a quick, flavorful stock for soups but be sure to read the ingredients label to find products made without hydrogenated oils.
- Balsamic vinegar and low-sodium soy sauce are great to have available for salad dressings and sauces. Low-sodium bouillon cubes make a quick, flavorful stock for soups but be sure to read the ingredients label to find products made without hydrogenated oils.
- Dried herbs and spices can add instant flavor to your meals—think rosemary, oregano, thyme and curry powder. Fresh rosemary is a great addition to roasting poultry and vegetables.
Fridge and Freezer.
- Select low-fat dairy products. Flavored milks, such as vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry, often have added sugars. Compare ingredients panels to select the healthiest options.
- Choose low-fat cheeses. Some hard cheeses, such as Parmesan are also intensely flavorful, so you only need a small amount.
- Don’t buy a lot of butter, cream and ice cream. Save those for special occasions and, even then, limit how much you eat. They can add a lot of saturated fat to your diet.
- Choose soft margarines that contain “0 grams trans fat” instead of buying butter. (These margarines are made with non-hydrogenated vegetable oils and usually come in tubs.)
- Compare labels on salad dressing to choose the healthiest option for salads, dips, or marinades.
- Buy and prepare more fish. Instead of reaching for breaded or battered fish fillets, buy fresh or frozen instead such as salmon, trout and herring.
- Choose lemon juice and spices to eat with fish, instead of tartar sauce or cream sauces.
- When buying or eating poultry, try the skinless version or remove the skin yourself. Trim off visible fat before cooking.
- Always have a selection of frozen vegetables and fruits packed without sauces, sugar, or added salt on hand.
Article copyright © 2015 American Heart Association. This recipe is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.
Last reviewed 5/2015