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Kitchen Makeover: Top 10 Foods for Your Pantry

In our kitchen makeover series of blogs, we have talked about appliances to keep in your kitchen, and how to stock your fridge and freezer. Now we are going to tackle the pantry.

It is important to stock up your pantry with staple items that help you fix a quick nutritious meal at home without too much effort.

1. Whole grains such as quinoa, barley, bulgur, brown rice, oats, etc.: Whole grains are important sources of many nutrients, including several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium), and dietary fiber.

Whole grains help provide a feeling of fullness, and thus help with portion control. Grains can be cooked plain, with or without salt.  They can also be cooked with vegetables, beans, and seasonings added while cooking. Use whole grains to make a tasty warm side dish or a great cold salad. Cooked whole grains can also be used as a filling for stuffed pasta or peppers, or added to soups and stews for a hearty one dish meal.

Can’t find time to cook on the weeknights?  Cook a large batch of whole grains in your slow cooker and freeze in small portions so they are ready to use for a quick stir-fry meal on a busy week day.

2. Whole grain pasta: Pasta made from whole grains has most of the benefits of other whole grains.  Just remember to watch portion sizes.

3. Whole grain flours: Use whole grain flours to make your own pancake mix.  Whole wheat pastry flour can be substituted for baking breads and muffins.

4. Beans such as black, kidney, garbanzo, mung, navy, pinto, etc.: Beans come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes and they all pack a punch!  Beans have vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein; and they are a great source of healthy carbohydrates. Use beans with grains, add them to soups, sprinkle on salads, or make dips and spreads. If you use canned beans, remember to drain and rinse thoroughly. If you use dry beans, soak them for several hours, drain and rinse before use. Green or yellow split peas and lentils are great staples too.

5. Canned tomato sauce/paste: make sure you use low sodium or no salt added tomatoes.

6. Canned Purees: Canned pumpkin and unsweetened apple sauce add flavor to dishes and can also be used to reduce the amount of fat used in baked products.

7. Dried fruits: Dried dates, figs, raisins, cranberries, cherries can be added to salads or made into a sauce for meats or pancakes.

8. Nuts & Seeds: Raw or dry roasted almonds, walnuts, pistachios; sunflower, pumpkin, & flax seeds, etc. provide protein and heart healthy unsaturated fats. Sprinkle over oatmeal or salads; make a trail mix; or use ground nuts to fortify breads and pancake mixes.

9. Oils & Vinegars: Canola oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil can be used for sautéing and stir-frying. Use extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings. Keep a variety of vinegars such as apple cider, balsamic, and rice vinegar to make sauces and dressings.

10. Sun Dried Tomatoes, Dried Mushrooms: These provide plenty of flavor without adding calories. Use them in salads, soups, or add to pasta or other whole grains.

Note: Herbs & spices are not listed here because they are included in the next blog, which is about flavoring your food.

Parul Kharod is a clinical dietitian at WakeMed Cary Hospital.  With questions for the dietitians, e-mail For individual nutrition counseling, call WakeMed Cary Hospital Outpatient Nutrition Services at 919-350-2358.