Pantry Essentials for a Modern Healthy Kitchen

pantry-essentials

I can’t and won’t make everything from scratch. This may seem surprising. We make a lot of foods from scratch like mozzarella, paneer, bread, muffins, waffles, pancakes, crepes, granola, jams, jellies, applesauce, chutney, marinara, ketchup, salad dressing, chicken stock, and veggie stock.

Heck, we even grind our own white whole wheat flour.

But if I had to rely on my homesteading skills alone – well, I’d be institutionalized.

We don’t make these each and every time we have a craving. (Except for quick breads like pancakes and muffins. I don’t mind making these from scratch each time. I put extras in the freezer for an exceptional convenience food.)

Luckily for us there are oodles of great products that make healthy living convenient. We live during an amazing time where we get to pick where we put our time capital in the kitchen. Some of us value home baked bread and invest our time there. Fabulous. Others like to make their own granola. Perfect. Selecting a few things to make from scratch creates traditions and emotional connections to real food. But we don’t have to do it all.

A well stocked fridge and pantry isn’t just helpful for busy families – it’s essential. These are the products that will become normal to your kids. What you can make out of these treasures will become the go-to snacks your kids will gravitate towards as teens and young adults.

Toss the fruit snacks right out the window and start stocking apples and clementines.  Toss Ramen Noodles and stock whole wheat pitas and sharp cheddar cheese.

Here is a list of products that my family has come to adore and rely on when I’m distracted on a conference call or they are making a snack for a younger sibling.

These are versatile products that can become a snack or meal in mere minutes. Ta Da!

Fruit

  • Dried Tart Cherries – Eat alone. Toss in a salad. Decorate a bagel or celery stick filled with natural peanut butter. Eat with almonds and dark chocolate chips for an indulgent trail mix.
  • Dried Cranberries – Toss in a trail mix with nuts and dry cereal. My kids make a mix with cashews, cranberries, and multi-grain Cheerios.
  • Dates – I relocated the dates – unintentionally- within in reach of toddlers. My kids rummaged and started to eat them for a snack a few times a week. A new healthy favorite was born. Great sweet snack.
  • Apples – I look for smaller ones for small hands and mouths. These keep for a long time in the fridge. Pair with sharp cheddar cheese and a great whole grain cracker.
  • Fresh and Frozen Bananas Again, I look for smaller ones – my kids can’t always make it through the Goliath sized ones. Bread, nut butter, and bananas is filling, satisfying, and all of my kids can make this without help. Cheers. The frozen ones are perfect for smoothies and baking.
  • Other seasonal or Sale fruit – Keep it within reach of short people.
  • Applesauce – We like to make our own because it tastes. so. much. better. If you have a brand that is tasty, please share with readers below. Look for applesauce without added sugar. A sprinkle of cinnamon makes it special without any real work. Sweet.

Veggies

  • Sugar Snap Peas – Alone or with hummus. Everyone likes these at our house and they store well in the fridge.
  • Carrots – I usually buy these organic because they are still super cheap. I also stay away from baby carrots because they are more expensive and aren’t predictably sweet like the long ones. Some days my kids will literally grab a carrot out of the crisper and chomp away for their snack. Can’t be easier than that.
  • Celery – All of my kids like celery. They will often do the same thing with celery that they do with carrots. We chop up celery for tuna or chicken salad. We also make variations on Ants on a Log.
  • Sweet Potatoes – Microwave for a lightening fast, super satisfying meal. Dice and put on salads, put in black bean burritos, or top it with a spoonful of jarred roasted peppers and cheese. My Little A especially loves sweet potatoes.
  • Spinach – I really rely on having ready-to-eat spinach in my fridge. I have a small mental panic when I realize I’m out. Throw in a smoothie, on a bagel pizza, or in a wrap.
  • Mini Bell Peppers – These babies are now mainstream and really affordable. Everyone over here loves them. Eat as-is or adorn your salads, pizzas, and sandwiches with adorable slices.
  • Frozen Edamame – This product is always a good deal and thaws quickly in the microwave. Toss on some coarse sea salt and you’re set for a snack. If you’re looking for a meal, toss with some leftover rice and mixed veggies.
  • Frozen Broccoli, Stir-Fry Veggies, Etc. – It’s beyond helpful to have veggies ready without getting out a knife and cutting board. I keep a few bags handy for crazy nights. Nutritional value is still intact and I have a few less dishes. Ha! Steam or toss into left over soup to change things up.

Dairy/Cheese

  • Plain Greek Yogurt – Mix with fruit and a drizzle of honey or put a dollop on a baked sweet potato. Love this ingredient!
  • A Mild and Melty cheese like Mozzarella or Monterrey Jack – Use in quesadillas or pizzas.
  • Strong Flavored cheese like Feta and Extra Sharp Cheddar
  • Hard Cheese like Parmesan or Asiago – Grate over leftover pasta or steamed veggies.
  • Baby Bell or String Cheese – I stock these about once every two months. I like to reserve these for lunches or traveling when I can’t take a break from the steering wheel to slice something. You know, gotta watch the road.
  • Cream Cheese – Great ingredient for making wraps, sandwiches, or a classic schmeared whole grain bagel.

Grains

  • Precooked Brown Rice – I make a giant batch and freeze it in 1 1/2 cup portions. This thaws in less than 5 minutes and pairs easily with a fried egg + steamed veggies.
  • Whole Grain Pasta – Pasta cooks quickly, but If you’d like to have some instantly available, slightly undercook a pound of pasta on the weekend and store in the fridge. There are at least a dozen shapes and sizes available that use whole grains. This is a super economical pantry staple.
  • Quinoa – This is both a grain and a complete protein. Quinoa cooks perfectly in my rice cooker on the white rice setting. I love it on top of salads and tossed with ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon juice, and salt.
  • Whole Grain Tortillas – Both corn and wheat flour tortillas.
  • Whole Wheat Pitas – Stuff with tuna, spinach, parsley, feta, and a squeeze of lemon. We use these for broiler pizzas and pita chips, too.
  • Whole Grain Bagels – Make bagel pizzas under the broiler or try a bagel + fried egg + spinach open face sandwich. It’s been tough for me to find a company with an ingredient list that I love. If you have one that’s pretty clean – can you please share?
  • Oatmeal – I love oatmeal. Love, Love, Love oatmeal. I can cook it overnight or in the microwave and throw on whatever toppings leap out of the pantry first. It’s really filling and inexpensive. Bonus.
  • Low-Sugar Cereal – Moms ask me all the time what kind of breakfast cereal I feed my kiddos. I just tell them look for a few grams (minimum) of fiber and 6 grams or less of sugar per serving. I also check for artificial colors – those annoy me. I bend the rules for Frosted Shredded Wheat. It has 10 grams of sugar per serving. But it’s got a short ingredient list, it’s frequently on sale, and it’s loaded with fiber.
  • Crackers – Crackers are so much fun. Try to find products with a natural ingredient list (e.g. no funky MSG or artificial colors.) We love original Triscuits and 34 Degrees Crisps.

Protein

  • Eggs – I will usually hard-boil some on Sunday to use during the week. All of my kids like them for a snack. They pack well in a lunch, too. I love to put a diced hard boiled egg on salads.
  • Nuts & Seeds  Our favorites are cashews, pecans, walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds. Toss on a salad, cold cereal, or oatmeal. These are a must when making trail mix, too.
  • Peanut Butter – We buy peanut butter that has just peanuts on the ingredient list or peanuts and salt. It tastes SO good and it’s perfect for spreading on crackers, bread, or apples. Try it in this quick fruit dip. (Almond Butter dip is fabulous, too.)
  • Beans – I make big batches and freeze. But for convenience, I keep canned beans around, too. These are fabulous to toss in a salad or on a quesadilla. My kids love chick peas tossed with a little lemon juice, salt, and paprika. We call them Paprika Peas.
  • Canned Tuna & Salmon – I like to use these for savory fillings in pitas and sandwiches.
  • Lunch Meat – This is a rare occurrence in our fridge. I look for turkey, chicken, and ham that have been minimally processed, like Applegate Farms products. It’s a treat for us and we’ll dress up a sandwich, pita, or a DIY Lunchable.

Condiments

  • Ketchup – We recently switched to organic and it tastes fabulous. Read ingredient lists and find a brand that you feel good about.
  • Jam/Jelly/Preserves – We rarely buy this because my Hunky Husband makes it, like all the time. Read ingredient lists and find products without artificial colors or flavors.
  • Mustard – I didn’t like this as a kid – but I love it now as an adult. Thank goodness my kids like it, too. Good mustard is a great ingredient in vinaigrette or on top of a sandwich.

What would you add to the list?