What should you have in your pantry to prepare healthy meals?

Posted by Anne Bechtel, RD, LD, Ridgeview Medical Center on Jan 14, 2020 1:30:00 PM

fruitsveggies-1Cutting out processed foods and cooking your own meals is by far the easiest thing you can do for your health. So with that understanding in mind, what do you need to have in your pantry to make that possible?

As a dietitian, it is my hope for all of my patients that they make the majority of the food that they eat. I understand this is a daunting task for many people but, as with any new habit, making small changes over time leads to the most success.

Using a pantry list can help build up the items you have on hand when trying new recipes. You don't need to be a professionally trained chef to cook simple, perfectly healthy meals. Success builds success, so start small by making one meal a day consistently for a week or two. Not only will your confidence level increase, you will feel healthier and more energetic.

Breakfast can be the easiest and it is okay to eat the same breakfast most days. A pot of steel cut oats or an egg bake made ahead are quick breakfasts that you can have at home or take to work.

So what is real food?

Real food is:

  • Made from scratch
  • 100-percent whole grain
  • Natural sweeteners, including honey and pure maple syrup (in moderation)
  • Packaged foods with five or fewer whole ingredients
  • Locally raised meat products
  • Beverages like water, milk, four-ounce all-natural juices, black coffee and tea

What are processed foods?

Processed foods that you should avoid include:

  • Packaged foods that contain ingredients you would not cook with at home
  • Refined grains, such as white flour
  • Refined sweeteners, such as sugar
  • Artificial sweeteners, dyes and flavors
  • Factory-farmed meat
  • Deep-fried food
  • Fast food

What should you have in your pantry?

This is a healthy pantry list that is intended to provide staple items for your refrigerator, freezer and dry storage:


  • Olive oil, canola oil
  • White vinegar, balsamic and cider vinegar
  • Salsa, hot sauce
  • Ketchup and Dijon mustard
  • Soy sauce, fish sauce
  • Honey/maple syrup/agave nectar
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder
  • Dried herbs-like basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, cumin, curry powder, chili powder
  • Cinnamon/nutmeg
  • PAM cooking spray

Canned goods/shelf stable:

  • Tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste
  • Canned or dry chick peas/garbanzo beans, black beans, white/cannelloni beans
  • Old-fashioned oats or steel cut oats
  • Chicken or vegetable broth
  • Chunk light tuna, canned or pouch salmon, canned or pouch white chicken
  • Natural peanut butter
  • Olives

Grains and legumes:

  • Lentils
  • Whole wheat spaghetti, rotini, egg noodles
  • Brown rice, regular and quick cooking
  • Wild rice
  • Brown rice pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat flour
  • Ground flax or chia


  • Almonds and walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds/pepitos
  • Flax or chia seeds


  • Skim or 1 percent milk or soy milk
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Plain yogurt
  • One-percent cottage cheese
  • Hummus
  • Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Mozzarella string cheese
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain tortillas
  • Frozen berries
  • Frozen vegetables, edamame
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Turkey sausage
  • Salmon, tilapia filets

Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Onions, yellow and red
  • Garlic
  • Lemons
  • Avocado
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers or zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Spinach or kale
  • Sweet potatoes/yams
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges

With all the healthy ingredients in mind, what should you avoid?

You should avoid adding the following to your healthy pantry or refrigerator:

  • White flour, breads, muffins, waffles
  • White pasta, crackers
  • White rice
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Prepackaged meals, convenience foods
  • Artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, preservatives

If you have concerns about changing your diet or how to meet your nutritional needs, speak with your primary care provider.

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Medical and health information presented here is intended to be general in nature, and should not be viewed as a substitute for professional advice. Please consult with a health care professional for all matters relating to personal medical and health care issues. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 

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