Keeping a well-stocked pantry is the best way to ensure you’ll get healthy meals at home on days you don’t feel like cooking from scratch. Instead of stocking your pantry and freezer with boxed macaroni & cheese, instant ramen noodles, and frozen TV dinners, stock up on some easy-to-prepare – yet healthy – staples in your home or dorm! Here are 5 healthy must-haves to keep in your pantry.
Are canned foods inferior? Not necessarily, and certainly not in the case of the tomato. Research shows that lycopene, a potent prostate-health-friendly antioxidant, is better absorbed by the body when tomatoes are processed. That’s because lycopene is bound to the tomato’s cell structure, so food processing facilitates the release of lycopene. We like crushed tomatoes because they have a texture that’s a nice compromise between diced tomatoes and tomato sauce, so they’re perfect to be used as pasta sauce for dinner pasta or salsa for the movie nights.
Trans-fat-free Microwave Popcorn
This fun and healthy munchie snack is one of our favorite staples for any party occasion! A standard three-cup serving of air-popped popcorn contains just 93 calories and less than 1.5 grams of fat.
This low-calories snack is considered whole grain, so it has some valuable antioxidants not found in fruits and vegetables. Microwave popcorn, however, is often sprayed with too much oil – including trans-fat-laden hydrogenated oil. Choose one that is low in fat and trans-fat free, like Orville Redenbacher’s Organic Smart Pop Butter popcorn.
Unfortunately, FDA labeling standards allow manufacturers to claim 0 grams when food actually contains 0.5 grams or less of trans fat per serving. So check the label and make sure that it does not contain any hydrogenated oil on the ingredient list.
Whole Wheat Frozen Waffles
You may already have a box or two of breakfast cereal in your pantry, so this time we opt to recommend a hot breakfast alternative that is easy to prepare. There are many frozen waffles out there, but there aren’t many that are made with nutrient-packed whole wheat flour. Nature’s Path whole-wheat Optimum Power Waffles do, and they also contain extra beneficial ingredients such as heart-smart soy protein and flaxseed. Not only are these waffles trans-fat free, they’re also dairy- and egg-free – so they’re a healthy breakfast/snack option for the vegan diet.
You may wonder why we’re including yet another whole-grain product on the list. The answer is simple. Not many of us eat wild rice, bulgar, quinoa and whole wheat pasta every day. It’s simply easier to eat whole-grain snacks in order to help reach the recommended 3 daily servings of whole grains. We are happy that food manufacturers have introduced a variety of whole-grain crackers in the past 2 years. We particularly like the Original Triscuit for its incredibly short and simple ingredient list (only 4 ingredients compared to some that have 8 – 10 lines of small-printed ingredients). Make it a healthy snack by dressing these crackers with some protein such as peanut butter, hummus, or low-fat cheese!
Frozen vegetables are no less nutritious than fresh vegetables. Within hours of being picked, they are blanched or steamed and then frozen. Indeed, in 1998, the FDA confirmed that frozen produce provides the same essential nutrients and health benefits as fresh.
Over the years, frozen vegetables have evolved far beyond the boring diced carrots, green peas, and corn niblets. Spend some time in the frozen produce aisle and check out the various options of boxed and bagged frozen vegetables. Some of them – like Green Giant boxed Szechuan Vegetables – even come packaged with sauce, so it’s easy to make tasty, healthy meals in minutes.
Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.