When are you most likely to order takeout food? If you’re like many people, it’s when you’re low on groceries at home. Keep your cabinets and your freezer stocked with these eight staples, and you’ll never be without a fast but healthy meal.
If you’re out of fresh meat, you’ll get a convenient protein-rich alternative with frozen shrimp. They’re a good source of B vitamins and iron, which can help boost your metabolism and keep you feeling your best. Because of their smaller size, frozen shrimp also can be easier to cook and prepare than frozen beef, pork or chicken.
In fact, you can save yourself a step by buying precooked shrimp. That way you just need to reheat them and season as desired. Thaw the shrimp in a bowl of hot water for three to five minutes and remove the tails. Next, season with olive oil and dried herbs and spices, such as chipotle chili pepper, garlic powder or basil. Reheat for just a few minutes on the stovetop, in the oven or on the grill. Shrimp can be served by itself or added to rice, pasta, tortillas, tacos or salad.
Vegetables are one of the first foods to spoil in every grocery haul. Don’t let that be a reason to skip your veggies! Fruits and vegetables should make up half of what we eat, although few Americans are meeting this recommended daily intake. Once your stash of fresh veggies runs out, frozen makes an excellent substitute. They are packaged at the peak of freshness, which means that they retain their nutritional content. Some frozen veggies taste more like fresh than others—that includes broccoli, which also is especially nutritious. Not a fan of broccoli? Always keep on hand frozen cauliflower, peas, green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts or a frozen vegetable “medley” that you like.
Easy one-pot dinner: Add your favorite frozen vegetables to a pasta pot a few minutes before the pasta is finished cooking. (Don’t worry, the vegetables won’t make the pasta too cold.) Then drain the pasta and vegetables together and serve. Easy!
Tuna packets are another convenient source of protein, with the addition of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. They’re ready in an instant, but unlike cans, they don’t require draining (the nutritional content is similar to that of canned tuna, however). Packaged tuna has a long shelf life, making it a pantry prerequisite when your other options are limited.
Branch out from plain tuna with flavored tuna packets, such as lemon pepper, hot buffalo style, sweet and spicy (my favorite!) and sun-dried tomato and basil. They add taste and variety to your meal without adding too much additional sodium or calories. I use flavored tuna packets to spice up my usual sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes.
Canned soup gets a bad rap for containing too much salt, fat, sugar, preservatives…or all of the above. I still recommend it because it can be a full, balanced meal. The trick is to buy only soups that aren’t loaded with unhealthy ingredients. The best soups are broth- or vegetable-based (such as butternut squash, tomato, minestrone or chicken noodle) rather than cream-based. Look for soups labeled “low sodium,” which means that they contain 140 mg or less of sodium per serving. “Reduced sodium” indicates only that the soup has less sodium than the original version, so it may not be low in salt after all. While you’re comparing labels, choose the soup with less saturated fat (2 grams or less) and more fiber (2 grams or more) per serving.
You also can bulk up a can of soup by adding frozen vegetables, canned beans, leftover rice, packaged tuna or really any healthy food you have around.
Here’s another kitchen hack: Canned soup makes a ready-made sauce. Some of my favorite soups to use as sauce are butternut squash, chunky tomato, Italian-style wedding and lentil vegetable. Just add the soup to cooked rice, pasta, quinoa, poultry or fish for a delicious sauce that’s ready in seconds. Low-sodium varieties will help to moderate your daily sodium intake.
Beans are one of the most underrated foods at the store. They are cheap yet remarkably nutritious, loaded with plant-based protein and fiber. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are an excellent source of iron, folate, phosphorus and manganese. They are exceptionally convenient and versatile. Eat them plain, with a dash of salt and pepper or mixed into your meal. Enjoy them warm or cold. Mash them to create a creamy hummuslike appetizer or to complement a main dish.
While you’re stocking up on chickpeas, grab some canned lentils, black beans and kidney beans, too. They share a similar nutritional profile and can be seamlessly added to soups, salads, rice bowls, tacos and omelets.
There is no faster meal-starter than a packet of microwavable rice. It’s ready in just 90 seconds, and the brown and wild rice varieties are major sources of fiber. Rice is a healthy base for a variety of Asian and Mexican dishes, or it can add flavor and nutrition to traditional soups and salads. Should you worry about arsenic levels in rice? Not if you eat a variety of whole grains and practice good portion control.
You do pay for the convenience of microwavable rice, however. I wait for sales to stock up on the microwavable packages.
Dried pasta will last for a year or more in your pantry, making it a healthy choice when you’re out of fresher foods. It’s ready in minutes and can be a delicious way to add nutrients to your meal. Most people think of pasta as a carbohydrate-rich indulgence rather than a nutritious meal choice. However, it all comes down to choosing the right kind and watching your portion size.
Buy 100% whole-wheat pasta—meaning that whole wheat is the only ingredient. It typically has a shelf life of one to two years. Whole-wheat pasta is an excellent source of fiber, which keeps your digestive tract healthy and running smoothly. It also contains a moderate amount of protein.
Typical pasta portions are way too large. Limit yourself to a healthy one-cup serving of cooked pasta, and add vegetables and beans to help fill you up.
Few foods are more perishable than fresh fruit. Luckily, frozen berries are a great alternative. One cup of frozen strawberries is low in calories but delivers 18% of your recommended daily fiber intake and 150% of your daily vitamin C. Like vegetables, fruit is frozen at its peak ripeness, preserving nutritional value.
Nosh on berries straight from the bag for a sweet and satisfying dessert (just give them a few minutes to thaw slightly). Want to sweeten up your breakfast with healthy antioxidants? Sauté frozen fruit in a saucepan for a berry sauce to drizzle over pancakes, yogurt and oatmeal. Strawberries also are great in smoothies and stirred into yogurt.
Save money when buying frozen fruit by waiting for sales, which usually happen when the fruit is in season. Diversify your choices with frozen mango, cherries, peaches and blueberries, all of which make a low-calorie dessert.