Must-Have Kitchen Staples for Healthy Family Meals

Written By: Keeley Drotz, RD

Alumni: Seattle Pacific University

Last Updated on:

Do you dread the feeling you get when you have minutes to spare before dinner and your kids are whining, “I’m hungry?” It’s helpful to have some staples on-hand that will enable you to put together a healthy meal quickly.

Healthy Kitchen Staples for Busy Moms


  • Grains: whole wheat pasta (linguine, penne, rotini, wide noodles, or spaghetti – thin spaghetti cooks faster than regular spaghetti); instant brown rice; low-fat whole grain crackers; brown rice cakes (unsalted or lightly-salted); quick-cooking oatmeal; low-fat, unsweetened, ready-to-eat whole grain cereal
  • Baked tortilla chips
  • “No salt added” or reduced-sodium canned tomatoes (whole, crushed, diced, tomato paste/sauce); other canned vegetables such as baby corn or mushroom.
  • dried whole beans (kidney, black, pinto, etc.) or canned beans
  • Low-fat, reduced-sodium soups your family enjoys
  • Fruit canned in juice or extra-light syrup
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Low-sodium tuna and salmon canned in water
  • Bag of potatoes
  • Reduced-fat baking mix
  • Dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries)
  • Unsalted nuts
  • Fresh garlic
  • Dried herbs and spices, salt-free seasonings (Mrs. Dash)
  • Olive oil, vinegars (apple cider, balsamic, red wine)
  • Whole wheat flour


  • Meat: Lean chicken breast, extra-lean ground beef or turkey, fish fillets (salmon, shrimp with tails off (pre-cooked is most convenient; less expensive bagged in bulk)
  • Garden burgers or other veggie burgers
  • Fat-free 100% turkey or beef franks, extra-lean turkey bacon, lean smoked turkey sausage, or lean turkey kielbasa (all high in sodium; serve occasionally)
  • Vegetables with no salt added: spinach, broccoli, green beans, stir-fry mix, peas
  • Unsweetened frozen fruit
  • Whole wheat or other whole grain bread, rolls, buns


  • Low-fat dairy products: milk, sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, reduced-fat cheese
  • Eggs, egg substitute
  • Lean deli meat: if packaged, select “natural” varieties with minimal processing/preservatives, and less than 20% of the daily value for sodium
  • Natural peanut butter, jam
  • Hummus
  • Fresh fruit, unsweetened applesauce
  • Fresh vegetables: bagged salad greens, bagged chopped vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), baby carrots, celery sticks, snap peas, tomatoes and mini tomatoes, green pepper, onion
  • Whole wheat or other whole grain tortillas and pita pockets
  • Condiments: salsa, low-fat salad dressing, low-fat vegetable dip, low-fat or non-fat mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce or other stir-fry sauce (often high in sodium; use sparingly), lemon juice

5 Healthy Dinner Entrees made with Staples

  • Vegetable stir-fry with shrimp and brown rice
  • Tacos, burritos, or nachos
  • Tuna noodle casserole
  • Macaroni and cheese casserole: add broccoli and hot dogs (get creative, the possibilities are endless)
  • Wraps or stuffed pitas made with lean meat, reduced-fat cheese, and veggies – or BLT-style – and low-fat ranch dip or dressing

The Bottom Line

If you stock your kitchen with healthy items that you can throw together for a meal, your family is much more likely to eat healthfully, as well as spend less money on convenience foods and eating out.


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