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SALT LAKE CITY — Being a dietitian, people often assume I eat a “perfect” diet — or one substantially healthier than their own. The truth? Most dietitians are busy people just like you, with food likes and dislikes.
Yes, we eat our fruits and veggies, but we also like dessert and eat frozen pizza sometimes. We may know how to plan a "perfect" diet, but this doesn’t mean it always happens (and how boring would life be without a bit of chocolate?). With that said, one trick we have learned is to always keep some healthy staple foods in our kitchen. This helps make healthy eating easier and more convenient even on the busiest of days.
I asked my fellow dietitians to share what foods they always keep in their kitchens. The responses varied but there seemed to be some items that came up again and again, so I narrowed it down to the following 15 foods (in no particular order). Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with these foods to make easy, delicious and nutritious meals and snacks any day of the week:
1. All-natural peanut butter
"I always have all-natural peanut butter on hand," said registered dietitian Lauren Manaker. "It is an inexpensive source of proteins, healthy fats, vitamins and antioxidants that my entire family will eat. I use peanut butter not only for a classic PB and J, but also as an ingredient in salad dressings, stir fry sauce, and in desserts!"
Registered dietitian Michele Fumagalli also keeps peanut butter on hand to use as an ingredient in oatmeal, overnight oats, to top bread or fruit with, add to a smoothie, or use in this creative and delicious recipe for peanut butter cookie dough hummus.
2. Olive oil and vinegar
"I always have olive oil in my kitchen," said registered dietitian Bri Bell of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen. "I use it for low-heat cooking, marinating and drizzling on salads, cooked grains and veggies. It’s versatile, relatively affordable and adds flavor and nutrition!"
In addition to olive oil, registered dietitian Kara Hochreiter always has vinegar on hand for easy homemade salad dressings. "They only take a few minutes to make and can be a healthy, cost-effective alternative to store-bought varieties. This Creamy Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette is my go-to recipe because it goes with just about everything!"
3. Leafy greens
"I always have several different types of greens on hand, such as spinach, collard greens, dandelion greens, swiss chard, kohlrabi leaves," said registered dietitian Kellie Blake of NutriSense Nutrition. "I add them to smoothies, make wraps with them, add to cooked items and eat raw in salads! It’s a great way to get in some magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber to help feed the gut microbiome!"
4. Sweet potatoes
"I love how versatile they are," said registered dietitian Edwina Clark. "I add chopped sweet potatoes to soups, salad, curries, or serve them up with eggs for breakfast. They add heartiness and fiber to every dish and are a great source of vitamin A for vision and vitamin C for immune support and skin integrity."
5. Apples and bananas
"Bananas are always in our kitchen," said registered dietitian Jaymar Saniatan. "They're great for an on-the-go snack and as an addition to breakfast meals."
Along with bananas, apples are great to keep on hand. These two fruits are excellent options for a quick and nutritious snack, especially when paired with peanut butter. They can also be used in baking, sliced on top of toast or pancakes, chopped into oatmeal, added to smoothies, or mixed into fruit salads.
6. Canned beans
Philadelphia-based sports dietitian Kelly Jones always keeps a variety of canned beans in the pantry. "When life gets busy, or I don’t have the energy to cook, they’re easy to pop open for a plant-based protein and iron source at lunch or dinner. Plus, they can be used in baking, too!"
7. Canned fish
"Canned salmon and canned tuna are always in my pantry for quick, healthy (and omega-3 packed) lunches or dinners," said Cape Cod-based registered dietitian Jenny Shea Rawn. "We always make use of them, especially toward the end of the week when we don't have any fresh protein (seafood, tofu, chicken) left in the fridge."
These salmon patties are a great dinner option (on slider buns or overtop a big green salad), and tuna is great over any type of salad for lunch — like this Nicoise Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Pasta is a low-glycemic, kid-friendly food that pairs well with so many different ingredients. "I always have pasta on hand, specifically whole grain and/or legume-based," said New York-based culinary nutrition expert and dietitian Jessica Levinson. "Along with other pantry staples (tomato sauce, canned beans, canned fish), pasta is a quick and easy base of a healthy meal."
Pull out your pasta for this Quick and Easy Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Pasta or this Taco Pasta Skillet.
Registered dietitian Sarah Schlichter always keeps oats in her pantry. "They make a great breakfast vehicle for a blank canvas of toppings. They're full of satiating fiber and complex carbohydrates."
10. Frozen vegetables
If you're pressed for time, frozen vegetables can save the day. "They are so easy to dump on a pan and roast for a quick side to add color and nutrition," said registered dietitian Sylvia White.
Add frozen vegetables to stir-fries, casseroles, soups, grain bowls or steam for an easy and healthy side dish. Using frozen veggies and more, White can easily whip up a meal in 30 minutes or less.
11. Frozen fruit
Frozen fruit is another quick and easy addition to recipes. It's relatively inexpensive and a good way to add variety and nutrition to meals and snacks year-round.
"Throw it into smoothies, oatmeal, and on top of yogurt," said registered dietitian Josten Fish. "My 1 and 1/2 year old especially loves a green smoothie, like this Apple Cider Green Smoothie that has frozen fruit in it."
Registered dietitian Cassidy Reeser keeps at least one container of hummus on hand at all times. "It’s so versatile. I use it as a dip with carrots or spread onto deli sandwiches for an easy flavor boost."
13. Plain Greek yogurt
Registered dietitian Rebecca Clyde always keeps plain Greek yogurt in her fridge. "It's great for breakfast (with added fruit & vanilla is my favorite way to eat it) but also for many other things, like substituting in baking recipes, sauces, and marinades."
"I always have eggs on hand because they're versatile and can be used for any meal of the day. They’re an easy-to-prepare source of quality protein that helps keep you full and satisfied," said registered dietitian Kara Lydon. "Use eggs on top of salads, sliced on toast, or in scrambles and frittatas (like this Swiss Chard Potato Chive Frittata)."
Registered dietitian Laurel Ann agrees. "Eggs are cheap, a great source of protein, and are so easy to make. Shakshuka is an exciting way to utilize those eggs! We make it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner," she said.
15. Ground flaxseed
Ground flaxseed is an easy, heart-healthy way to boost the nutrition in your meals or snacks. Flax seeds are good sources of omega-3 fats, protein, and both soluble and insoluble fiber.
I like to add them into smoothies, like this Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Smoothie. I also use them in pancakes, oatmeal, muffins or other baked goods, as a binder in meatballs or energy bites. You can even use flaxseed as a vegan egg substitute (1 tbsp flax + 3 tbsp water = 1 “egg”). I also mix a couple of tablespoons into my natural peanut butter to soak up some of the oil and for extra flavor and nutrition.
What are some foods you always keep in your kitchen? Let us know in the comments below.