10 Must-Have Pantry Staples

Life can get crazy and more often than we’d like to admit, demanding schedules, kitchen intimidation and different dietary needs have us running for the take-out menu. One way to give yourself a leg up on meal planning is to have a well-stocked pantry with plenty of ingredients that you can use for fast, family-friendly and yes, good-for-you meals. Here’s a list of 10 essential pantry staples that you can rely on all year round.

1. Brown rice – Unlike white rice, brown rice still has the side hull and bran, which are rich in thiamine, calcium, magnesium, fiber and potassium. Nutritionist-recommended, brown rice also has high levels of selenium, manganese and antioxidants. While getting the perfect consistency can be tricky, Saveur Magazine offers a foolproof method along with eight delicious brown rice recipes here.

2. Canned or dried beans – A great source of protein, iron and zinc – beans make a hearty, budget friendly and fiber-filled addition to salads, soups, and stews, and can be used for quick and tasty quesadillas and burritos. From chunky chili and smooth hummus to satisfying rice and beans, Food Network serves up 10 healthy (and easy) canned bean recipes here.

3. Canned wild-caught tuna – Just like the tuna you grew up with, but better for the planet. Tuna is packed with protein and high in heart-healthy Omega-3s. Plus, you can use it in salads, sandwiches and pasta. Here’s a gorgeous Tuna Niçoise recipe from Martha Stewart that’s perfect for lunch or dinner.

4. Extra virgin olive oil – A must for dressings, marinades, sauces and low-temperature cooking, extra virgin olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, which research suggests may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Still, you don’t need to add shots of olive oil to your daily regimen – it’s calorie-dense, so enjoy in moderation.

5. Frozen peas – While these may take you back to the school lunches of your childhood, don’t discount the humble frozen pea. They’re a good source of vitamins C and A, fiber and folate. Plus, flash-frozen peas, picked at the peak of freshness, retain their flavor and nutrients and can be made into pesto, added to pasta, mixed into salads, made into soup and more.

6. Lentils – A staple of South Asian, Mediterranean and West Asian cuisine, lentils come in a rainbow of colors including yellow, red-orange, green, brown and black, all of which are rich in protein, fiber, iron and vitamin B. They only take 10 to 40 minutes to cook and can be used in soups, stews, curries, salads and main dishes. Want to give lentils a try? Check out these 11 recipes from RealSimple.com.

7. Nut butters – Almond butter ranks best of the nut butters, with the highest level of heart healthy monounsaturated fat per serving, and an impressive amount of fiber. According to Everyday Health, you may want to stock up on walnut butter if you’re vegetarian, since it’s a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. For those with tree nut or peanut allergies, soy butter and sunflower seed butter are great alternatives. Click here for a complete list of the best and worst nut butters.

8. Quinoa – The “It” grain for the past few years, quinoa is beloved by vegetarians as a good protein source, not to mention one of the few grains or seeds that provides the eight essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce on their own. Keep it on hand to use in salads, soups, breakfast bakes, to stuff into vegetables or even just to eat on its own.

9. Vinegar – Super versatile and available in many tastes and colors, from mild all-purpose white wine vinegar to fruit-infused vinegar to tangy balsamic vinegar. Sure, vinegar is often used in salad dressing, but it can also be used to pickle vegetables and flavor soups, sauces and gravies. In addition to boasting a super low calorie count, some believe that certain varieties such as apple cider vinegar have additional health benefits.

10. Whole Wheat Pasta – What kid (or grownup for that matter) doesn’t love a comforting, tasty bowl of pasta? Whole-wheat pasta has come a long way in recent years. It has more fiber and protein than its enriched counterpart, and is easy to dress up with fresh vegetables and herbs. Stock up on a variety of shapes and sizes and check out some new recipes from Eating Well featuring whole wheat pasta here.

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