By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Having ready-to-use pantry staples on hand is a real lifesaver when it comes to making last-minute (or planned ahead) meals and snacks. Many health foods have tons of options available, making it overwhelming to make choices. On top of that, so many healthy options are costly and spoil rapidly. That’s why I put together a list of my favorite, long-lasting foods. These eight pantry staples won’t spoil quickly — use them to make healthy and delicious items easily for you, your friends and your family. I’ve also included some recipes featuring these ingredients.
Chia seeds are an all-time favorite of mine! I use them practically every day on various items from smoothies to oatmeal and more. Chia seeds themselves last for two years; the meal lasts for two to four weeks in the cabinet, and twice as long if they are stored in the fridge. Chia seeds are packed with calcium—about 180 mg per 2 tablespoons—and are also packed with a plant-based omega 3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid (ALA) that can help to prevent inflammation.
Coconut shreds are another delicious and versatile cabinet item. They last for about four to six months in the cabinet and even longer in the fridge. I love coconut shreds because they’re slightly sweet yet satisfying due to their healthy fat content (coconut contains medium chain triglycerides). Our hair, nails and skin loves this healthy fat and so does our waistline. Additionally, coconut shreds are a source of digestion-healthy fiber. One-fourth cup contains about 5 grams of fiber. You can use coconut shreds on oatmeal, in cookies, as part of a fruit and nut mix for hiking and more.
Try this: Raw Coconut Macaroons
Cinnamon is one of my favorite pantry staple spices because it lasts for about six months in the cabinet (although most of us keep our herbs and spices for a much longer period of time), and because it’s so versatile and can be used in so many ways—like in soups, on salads, in cooking, when baking cookies and more. Cinnamon is also a nutritional powerhouse and may help promote balanced blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, and prevent inflammation in the body thanks to polyphenols it contains. Lots of wonderful benefits!
Try this: Brazil Nut Protein Balls
Oats are an absolute must both in my cabinet and also in my suitcase when I travel. Oats are also so versatile and allow for so many wonderful uses—like in smoothies to add thickness, as a breakfast cereal, in baking and more. Oats are a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber (insoluble is the one that is good for heart health). Both types of fiber promote balanced blood sugar and digestive health. Oats are also a source of nutrients like heart and muscle-healthy magnesium (about 70 mg), some bone-healthy calcium and phosphorus, and energizing iron as well (about 1.1 mg per about 1/3 cup). Be sure to purchase rolled oats or steel cut oats for the added nutritional benefits.
Try this: Almond Butter Banana Oat Smoothie
Tahini (sesame seed paste) is a newer favorite of mine, but a long-time favorite of many. It’s so versatile and can be added to dressings, sauces and in place of other nut butters/seed butters in recipes. Tahini is source of the amino acid methionine that may help to promote liver detoxification, and it’s also a source of other minerals like calcium (65 mg per 1 Tbsp), and iron (1.3 mg per 1 Tbsp). Tahini can be kept in the cabinet for three to four months, but for even longer shelf-life (about six months), store your tahini in the fridge.
Try this: Falafel Burgers with Tahini
Many people are unaware of what an asset avocado oil can be in the kitchen. Avocado oil has a higher smoke point than many other oils—at 520 degrees Fahrenheit (271 degrees Celsius) as compared to virgin olive oil that’s about 420 degrees Fahrenheit (216 degrees Celsius). This means the oil takes more heat to go rancid, or spoil. While an oil like extra virgin olive oil has wonderful health benefits and is so tasty, it’s better to use an oil with a higher smoke point when cooking so that there’s less risk of causing damage to the oil itself, making it go rancid. (Rancid oil doesn’t taste good, and it’s also not as good for you.) Avocado oil is a source of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E that may act like an antioxidant in the body and may help to promote eye health. Avocado oil lasts for one year on the shelf—so you can purchase and use it for some time to come!
Learn more about other healthy oils to use here.
Honey is my favorite sweetener to have around because like the rest of the items on the list, it’s so versatile! You can use honey in so many ways—from baking to cooking to sweetening your breakfast cereal (although it’s always recommended to add as little extra sweetener as possible). Honey isn’t just sweet to taste, it’s sweet to your body too! Some of its wonderful health benefits include anti-inflammatory flavanoids as well as anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. When choosing honey it’s always good to choose locally-sourced honey as it may also contain local pollen properties that may help to reduce seasonal allergies. Once opened, most honeys will last a year or two.
Read more about honey here.
Mustard is often overlooked as a healthy option because it’s associated with a few less-than-healthy foods (ahem, hot dogs). However, mustard does contain some healthy nutrients like minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus—all are key for heart and bone health. Mustard also contains thyroid-healthy selenium, and as part of the mixture may also contain the powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer spice turmeric. Mustard is great to use in salad dressings or as a marinade.
Try this: Honey Mustard Kale Chips