Published on April 06, 2020

Staple Pantry Items for a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy diet does not need to be expensive or difficult. To maintain a healthy diet it is helpful to keep a few things on hand. Having the right pantry/stock items will ensure that no matter what is going on, a late night with kids activities, not being able to make it to the store just yet, or surprise company coming over, you will have the things you need to put together an easy and healthy meal.

healthy plate is made up of half your plate with vegetables and fruit, whole grains 50% of the time, and lean protein.

Healthy Eating Plate


A great way to always have vegetables on hand is using canned! Canned vegetables get a bad reputation but eating a vegetable is better for you than not eating a vegetable. Special considerations when buying canned are:

  1. Try to buy unseasoned, unsauced. This allows you to control the flavoring and will lower total intake of extra sugar or salt.
  2. Can you find a low sodium or no salt added can? If you can not, do not fret! You can rinse your vegetables to decrease total salt content up to 40%.
  3. Do you enjoy it? Enjoying your food is very important, so if you prefer the taste of canned, eat canned. Otherwise, frozen is a great option!

Frozen vegetables have the same considerations as canned. Both frozen and canned are easy ways to always have a nutrient dense and fiber packed addition to any meal without the worry that it may go bad before you get to use it!


Canned fruit is very similar to canned vegetables. It is a great option but be mindful to purchase it in 100% fruit juice versus syrup. Syrup is an easy way to add extra sugar to your intake. Also try keeping frozen fruit without added sugar on hand. Dried fruit is another option, avoid added sugar and be mindful that the portion size is small.

Whole Grains

Have you ever been given the advice to avoid the inner aisles of the grocery store? This is one of my least favorite pieces of advice because it ignores all the great whole grains that are available to you. Whole grains are important to meet your daily fiber goals, 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. On average Americans are only consuming 16gm daily. Fiber is in fruits and vegetables but whole grains also help fill in that gap. Whole wheat bread, tortillas, and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, farro, quinoa,and barley are a few of the more common varieties that are available. By avoiding the middle aisles you miss out on this essential nutrient!

Lean Protein

Canned meat is another way to preserve foods that you can always have on hand, but meat is not the only way for you to consume protein. Beans are an excellent source of fiber and low fat protein. Remember that the canning process adds extra salt, try to buy unsalted, and always rinse them before use. You can also fill in another nutrient gap with canned seafood. Omega 3 fatty acids are a polyunsaturated fat that has been found to be beneficial with cardiovascular disease, cancer prevention, cognitive function, rheumatoid arthritis and depression to name a few. Sources that are easy to keep around at all times include salmon, sardines, and tuna. You can also find canned shrimp, oysters, trout, herring and mackerel, all of which are rich in this healthy fat. Try to avoid more processed and high saturated fat canned proteins like sausage and pork.

Other Staples

Don’t forget to keep shelf stable milk available. Plant based varieties, such as soy, almond or rice, are also easy to find and are fortified with vitamin D and calcium. In addition, a well stocked kitchen always includes flour, sugar, and yeast. Broth and canned tomatoes are also great to have on hand. Seasonings are also an essential to make sure that you can have any flavor that you desire!

Recipes Using Pantry Items

Here are a few recipes to get you started using the staples items we just discussed. Happy eating!

Canned Chili

Canned Fish Pasta Dish

Focaccia Rolls

Tuna Salad

Canned Seafood Ideas

This article was written by outpatient dietitian Heather Davies RDN, LDN. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with a dietitian, call 919-938-6597. 

Talk to Your Doctor

Ask your doctor for a referral to nutrition counseling at UNC Health Johnston. After your doctor contacts us, you’ll get a call to schedule an appointment.

Physicians: Fax your referral form [PDF] to 919-989-6584.

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