How to Stock Healthy Pantry Staples: The Ingredients You Need to Make Almost Anything

Heart-healthy cooking starts with ingredients. In other words, a well-stocked pantry of ingredient staples. Healthy pantry staples include everything from the non-perishables and spices in your cupboards to the fresh and frozen foods in your refrigerator. These ingredients guide your cooking adventures and ultimately determine what you’ll be putting on the dinner table.

With the right foundational items, and the basic essential cooking tools, you can easily whip up a quick healthy weeknight meal or try a new healthy recipe from your favorite cookbook on the weekend. A well-stocked pantry streamlines meal planning and takes the guess work out of your weekly grocery list. These heart-healthy pantry staples should always be stocked in your kitchen and can be used to make any cuisine (American, Italian, Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean) no matter what’s on the menu.

well stocked pantry infographic
well stocked pantry infographic

Grains

Make half your grains whole. Swap out half of the refined grains (white flour, white rice, etc.) in a recipe for the its whole grain counterpart (whole wheat flour, brown rice, etc.). Look for packaged grains that have a whole grain listed as the first ingredient.

healthy grains to stock in pantry

Flours & Starches

Whole Wheat Flour: when baking, swap out half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat
All Purpose Flour: no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, you still need white flour sometimes
Corn Starch: for thickening soups, stews or sauces
Corn Meal: for making cornbread and polenta

Bulk Grains

Rolled Oats: for breakfasts or baking
White Rice: for when you’re in a hurry, it cooks twice as fast as brown rice
Brown Rice: for side dishes or stir fries (takes 30 minutes to cook)
Quinoa: for pilafs or salads
Barley: hulled or pearled for grain bowls or soups

Packaged Grains

Bread: whole wheat sliced for sandwiches or toast, buns for burgers, and fresh bakery bread to accompany soups, salads or pastas
Breadcrumbs: for breading meat and fish or for a crunchy topping on a pasta bake; I like panko
Corn Tortillas: for tacos of any kind
Flour Tortillas: whole wheat or sprouted for wraps and quesadillas
Pasta: whole wheat in a variety of shapes and sizes (spaghetti, fusilli, penne, orzo, couscous)

Nuts, Seeds & Dried Fruit

Look for unsalted nuts and seeds, and unsweetened dried fruit.

healthy nuts, seeds and dried fruit to stock in pantry

Nuts

Almonds: whole roasted or raw for snacking, baking or salads
Cashews: roasted for snacking or raw for soaking and baking
Pine Nuts: for salads or pesto
Pistachios: unshelled for snacking or shelled for baking
Pecans: whole pecans can be chopped up for baking or salads
Walnuts: whole walnuts can be chopped up for baking or salads
Peanuts: shelled for baking or Asian dishes

Seeds

Pumpkin Seeds: raw or roasted for snacking or salads
Sunflower Seeds: shelled raw or roasted for snacking or salads
Chia Seeds: for baking or mixing into smoothies or cereals
Flaxseed: for baking or mixing into smoothies or cereals
Sesame Seeds: for Asian dishes

Dried Fruit

Raisins: for baking, homemade trail mixes or mixing into oatmeal
Cranberries: for baking, homemade trail mixes or mixing into oatmeal
Dates: Medjool dates for baking or making homemade granola bars and bites
Mango: for snacking
Coconut Flakes: for baking

Oils, Vinegars & Condiments

For condiments, look for low-sodium varieties and those with <5g added sugar.

healthy oils, vinegars and condiments to stock in pantry

Oils

Olive Oil: for everyday cooking
Canola Oil: for neutral oil baking needs or frying
Sesame Oil: for Asian dishes
Non-stick Cooking Spray: for everyday cooking

Vinegars

Balsamic Vinegar: for salad dressings or marinades
Red Wine Vinegar: for salad dressings
White Wine Vinegar: for salad dressings or slaws
Sherry Vinegar: for sauces
Rice Vinegar: for sauces or Asian dishes
Apple Cider Vinegar: for salad dressings or sauces

Condiments

Dijon Mustard: for sandwiches, salad dressings or salads
Salsa: for snacking or Mexican dishes
Barbecue Sauce: for barbecue dishes or grilling
Pesto: for pasta or as a sandwich spread
Mayonnaise: for sandwiches, slaws or aioli
Ketchup: for sauces, grilling or dipping
Hot Sauce: for sauces or Mexican dishes

Canned Goods

Look for no added salt or low-sodium varieties of beans, stocks and tomato products. Look for unsweetened, 100% fruit products – those packed in 100% juice and with no added sugar.

healthy canned goods to stock in pantry

Beans

Black Beans: for Mexican dishes or bean burgers
Garbanzo Beans: for Mediterranean dishes or hummus
Cannellini Beans: for soups, salads or baked beans
Kidney Beans: for chili or stews
Pinto Beans: for Mexican dishes, baked beans, soups, stews or chili

Stocks

Chicken Broth: for soups or sauces
Vegetable Broth: for soups or sauces
Beef Broth: for soups or sauces

Tomato Products

Diced Tomatoes: for soups, stews, chili, pasta, sauces, Mexican or Italian dishes
Tomato Sauce: for soups, stews, chili, sauces or Italian dishes
Tomato Paste: for soups, stews, chili, sauces or Italian dishes
Sun-dried Tomatoes: packed with or without oil for pasta, salads, Mediterranean dishes or Italian dishes
healthy canned goods to stock in pantry

Vegetables

Corn: for side dishes or Mexican dishes
Roasted Red Peppers: for sauces, pasta or Mediterranean dishes
Green Chiles: for chili or Mexican dishes
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce: for sauces, marinades, soups or Mexican dishes
Pickles: for sandwiches or burgers

Fruit

Pineapple: for snacking, smoothies or Asian dishes
Peaches: for snacking, smoothies or baking
Applesauce: for snacking or baking
Lemon Juice: for sauces, salad dressings or baking
Lime Juice: for sauces or salad dressing
Jam: for sandwiches, toast or baking

Protein

Tofu: for stir fries or grain bowls
Tuna: for sandwiches, wraps, crackers or salads
Anchovy Paste: for Caesar dressing or sauces

Seasonings

Cut the salt of any recipe in a half and substitute with herbs and spices that can infuse food with flavor without adding sodium.

healthy seasonings to stock in pantry
Salt & Pepper: for everyday cooking
Spices: variety for baking, salad dressings, seasoning for meat or fish, sauces, soups, stews or chili including: Allspice (whole & ground), Basil, Bay leaf, Cayenne, Chili powder, Cinnamon (sticks & ground), Cloves (whole & ground), Cumin (ground), Garlic powder, Ginger, Marjoram, Mustard (ground), Nutmeg (ground), Onion powder, Oregano, Paprika, Poppy seeds, Red pepper flakes, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Turmeric, Vanilla extract

Flavorings

Look for low-sodium or salt-free seasoning blends and sauces. Look for cane sugar and brown sugar varieties blended with stevia to reduce the amount of added sugar in any recipe. Look for stevia-sweetened or >70% cacao dark chocolate.

healthy sauces and sweeteners to stock in pantry

Spice Blends

Taco Seasoning: for Mexican dishes
Italian Seasoning: for Italian dishes
Pumpkin Pie Spice: for baking
Za’atar: for Mediterranean dishes
Curry Powder: for Asian dishes
Garam Masala: for Asian dishes

Sauces

Fish Sauce: for Asian dishes
Worcestershire: for sauces or salad dressings
Soy Sauce: for Asian dishes

Sweeteners

Honey: for baking
Maple Syrup: for baking or breakfasts
Molasses: for baking or baked beans
Brown Sugar: for baking
Cane Sugar: for baking, salad dressings or sauces
Powdered Sugar: for baking or frostings
Cocoa Powder: for baking
Chocolate: for baking or snacking

Miscellaneous

Look for unsweetened and reduced-fat non-dairy milks. Look for natural nut butters with no added sugar and no hydrogenated oils.

healthy baking goods to stock in pantry

Baking Needs

Baking Powder: for baking
Baking Soda: for baking
Yeast: for breads

Non-dairy Milks

Almond Milk: for smoothies, cereals, baking, coffee or tea
Soy Milk: for smoothies, cereals, baking, coffee or tea
Coconut Milk: light or reduced fat for smoothies, baking or Asian dishes

Nut Butters

Peanut Butter: for sandwiches, baking or Asian dishes
Almond Butter: for sandwiches, smoothies or baking
Tahini: for Mediterranean dishes or hummus

Frozen Foods

Frozen foods last longer than fresh and are equally nutritious. Look for a varieties of fruits and vegetables and lean cuts of meat.

healthy frozen foods to stock in freezer

Fruit

Mango: for smoothies
Pineapple: for smoothies or Asian dishes
Blueberries: for smoothies, baking or snacking
Raspberries: for smoothies, baking or homemade jam
Strawberries: for smoothies or homemade jam
Bananas: for smoothies or baking
Peaches: for smoothies or baking

Vegetables

Corn: for side dishes, soups or Mexican dishes
Spinach: for smoothies, soups or stews
Bell Peppers: for stir fries, soups, stews or chili
Broccoli: for side dishes or soups
Potatoes: for breakfasts or side dishes

Meat & Fish

Chicken Breast or Tenderloins: boneless, skinless and single-packed or in a resealable bag for portion control and easy defrosting; shred, chop or grill for salads, sandwiches, wraps, pastas, stir fries, fajitas or quesadillas
Ground Beef: 90-95% lean in bulk and divided into half-pound quantities in zip tight bags and flattened for easy defrosting; for burgers, meatballs, pasta sauce, chili or tacos
Steaks: lean cuts like flank, strip, sirloin, tenderloin or round; grill or slice for stir fries, fajitas, salads or wraps
Italian Sausage: uncooked and cooked chicken varieties to grill whole or crumble into breakfast hashes, soups, stews or pastas
Ground Poultry: chicken or turkey for burgers, lettuce wraps or as an easy substitute for ground beef
Bacon: turkey bacon for breakfasts, baked beans, on sandwiches or in salads; can also substitute with ham
Deli Meat: lean varieties like turkey, ham and roast beef for sandwiches, wraps or snacking
Shrimp: for stir fries, pastas or stews
Salmon: for main dishes, fish tacos or salads
Tilapia: for main dishes or fish tacos

Fresh Produce

Supplement your non-perishable pantry items with versatile fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs.

healthy fresh produce to stock in fridge

Vegetables

Celery: for soups, stews or snacking
Carrots: for soups, stews, side dishes or snacking
Tomatoes: for sandwiches, wraps, sauces, soups, stews, chili, pastas, Italian dishes or Mediterranean dishes
Potatoes: sweet and white varieties for fries, breakfast hashes, mashes, soups or stews
Peppers: red and green bell peppers, poblano peppers, and jalapeno peppers for soups, stews, chili, sauces, stir fries, Italian dishes, Mexican dishes and Mediterranean dishes
Greens: spinach, kale or romaine for salads, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, sauces, soups, stews, smoothies, Italian dishes or Mediterranean dishes
Cabbage: for slaws or salads
Cucumbers: for salads, quick pickles, tzatziki or snacking
Radishes: for salads, quick pickles or snacking

Fruit

Apples: for snacking or baking
Oranges: for snacking, smoothies or juiced for sauces or salad dressings
Bananas: for snacking, baking or smoothies
Avocados: for Mexican dishes, toast or smoothies
Lemons: juiced for sauces, salad dressings or baking
Limes: juiced for sauces or salad dressings

Aromatics & Herbs

Onion: yellow, red and green varieties for everyday cooking; shallots are also good to keep on hand
Garlic: for everyday cooking
Ginger: for Asian dishes
Cilantro: for Mediterranean dishes or Mexican dishes
Parsley: for Mediterranean dishes or Italian dishes

Dairy

Look for fat-free or reduced-fat varieties of cheese, milk and yogurt. Look for plant-based butter made with non-hydrogenated vegetable oils that have less saturated fat than traditional butter. Swap half the eggs in any recipe with egg whites.

healthy dairy to stock in fridge

Eggs

Eggs: for breakfasts, baking or hard boiled for snacking or salads
Egg Whites: for breakfasts or baking

Cheese

Feta: fat free or reduced fat for salads or Mediterranean dishes
Mozzarella: part skim for Italian dishes
Parmesan: for Italian dishes, pastas or soups
Cheddar: for sandwiches, burgers, breakfasts, pastas or snacking
Cream Cheese: reduced fat for sandwiches, pastas or baking
Ricotta: reduced fat for flat breads, pastas or baking

Other Dairy Products

Milk: fat free for baking, cereal, soups, sauces or coffee
Yogurt: plain fat free or reduced fat for Mediterranean dishes or as a substitute for sour cream in any recipe
Butter: plant-based for everyday cooking, baking toast or grilled sandwiches

Beverages

When you want something besides water, look for non-alcoholic sugar-free options. Have a variety of wine, beer and spirits on hand for special occasions.

healthy beveraages to stock in pantry

Hot Drinks

Coffee: for breakfast
Tea: herbal for after dinner

Cold Drinks

Sparking Water: for a refreshing boost
Coconut Water: for smoothies or after a workout

Alcoholic Drinks

Wine: for cooking and dinner parties
Beer: for cooking, summer grilling or sports gathering
Spirits: for special occasions; see How to Build a Better-for-You Bar
healthy snacks to stock in pantry

Snacks

For when you’re craving something sweet or salty or need an on-the-go convenient snack, there are plenty of options to reach for. Look for sweet snacks that have <5g added sugar. For salty snacks like chips and crackers, look for a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. Look for fat-free or reduced-fat (<2.5g total fat) dairy snacks.

Sweet Snacks

Granola: for breakfasts and snacking
Energy Bars: grain and dried-fruit based for on-the-go
Dark Chocolate: >70% cacao varieties

Salty Snacks

Chips: tortilla chips, whole grain chips, veggie chips
Crackers: whole grain for soups or snacking with cheese
Pretzels: for dipping into hummus
Trail Mix: nut and dried fruit mixes
Seaweed Snacks: individually packed for on-the-go

Protein Snacks

Jerky: turkey and beef varieties
Single-Serve Cheese: individually wrapped, reduced-fat varieties like string cheese
Hummus: for dipping veggies and pretzels
Cottage Cheese: for mixing with canned fruit
Flavored Yogurt: vanilla or fruit-flavored varieties

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