Must-Have Pantry Staples For A Versatile, Healthy Lifestyle

As a gluten-free vegan, let’s just say eating out can pose quite the challenge. So, in order to spare restaurant employees from all of my chaotic food questions, I’ve learned to love (and actually prefer) cooking meals at home. Preparing your own meals is a superb way to fine-tune your cooking skills, save money, and eat properly sized, more nutritious portions, while consuming less calories, sodium, fat, and sugar.

If you’ve noticed that those who eat out often tend to be carrying around some extra weight, it’s because they cannot control exactly how much of what is going into those purchased meals. I hate to break it to you, but I will—restaurants are more focused on easy flavor (fat, salt, sugar) than creating meals that are good -- and good for you -- because they’re motivated by money. Since I’m not big on eating out for numerous reasons, I always have these few ingredients stocked that I use to whip up a wide variety of delicious dishes that just happen to be healthy, too.

  1. Canned Goods: It’s time to remove the stigma surrounding canned foods. The nutrient-rich foods inside those cans are picked when ripe, and simply preserved by canning. Two canned staples that can always be found in my kitchen are diced tomatoes and black beans. I love making marinara, salsa, and ketchup with diced tomatoes. With black beans, I make filling, protein-packed tacos and Mexican quinoa casseroles.
  2. Healthy Fats: To make flavorful roasted or sautéed veggies and dressings, you’re going to need some fat. So, why not make that fat as healthy as possible? To do that, choose olive oil because it’s monounsaturated. Another good kind of fat option (unsaturated) is nuts. When your tummy is rumbling, and you’re looking for a little snack, opt for a handful of them.
  3. Spices: I am completely enamored with trying new spices, which is why I have a huge, disorganized bag full of bulk bin spices. Although I’ll admit that I add salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and crushed red pepper flakes to pretty much everything I eat. Spices are essential in cooking because they help transform basic foods into whichever cuisine you like. If flavor, without all of the extra calories, is what you’re after, experiment with some new spices! Plus, I recently found out that herbs and spices actually are great sources of antioxidants. Cool, huh?
  4. Vinegar: Vinegars may smell sort of intimidating, but they truly do pack a punch of flavor, without all of the fattiness. I add balsamic vinegar to foods (veggies, dressings, and sauces) whenever I think I can get away with it. In addition to balsamic, I always keep apple cider, red wine, and rice vinegar in the cabinet. To balance out the acidity, I’ll usually add a drizzle of agave nectar or maple syrup whenever vinegar is involved.
  5. Whole Grains: Whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, bring everything together! These carbs will fill you up, and give you a dose of fiber. The best part is that whole grains really are blank canvases; depending on what you flavor and pair them with, you can easily have a dish inspired by any place around the world.