Updated: Sep 27, 2018
We all have those days - those days when we really, really want to cook something or eat a certain food but we just don't have the ingredients. Or those days when we really don't want to spend much effort on cooking, but we don't have anything to easily throw together. Or, simply those days when we don't want to go to the grocery store, but we have a bare kitchen (hello, end-of-the-week)! I have those days, too. Luckily, I've been more cognizant of keeping staples in my kitchen so that when I have these days, I can get creative with what I've got - saving me money and time. Below, I'll share with you my kitchen staples - plus a few extras that I try to keep around often. Because eating nutritious foods shouldn't be stressful - it should be enjoyable!
Specifically, I always have canned garbanzo beans and canned black beans, because I love these so much and I go through them like crazy! Canned beans are inexpensive and shelf stable - they often will stay for a few years! So, they're a great fiber-and-protein filled option to always keep in your kitchen. I rely on canned beans when making lunches (they act as both protein and carb in my salads), when creating dinner and I've even spiced up breakfast with legumes (a breakfast burrito bowl with black beans takes breakfast to another level)! I also love roasted chickpeas and will make this as a crunchy, savory snack to keep around the house. When choosing canned goods, opt for No Salt Added or Low Sodium versions, or simply run under water in a strainer to rinse and drain excess sodium. Eden, 365 by Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's brands are almost always found in my pantry.
Canned fish (such as tuna and salmon), like canned beans, won't go bad for a long time, unlike fresh fish, deli meat and many other animal-based protein sources. Also, like beans, canned fish is inexpensive. I prefer Safecatch for tuna, since they test for mercury levels, but I also purchase Trader Joe's Half Salt Tuna (the purple can) when I'm at Trader Joe's - it just depends where I did my shopping when I decided to stock up. I've been known to buy multiple (like ten!) cans of tuna or salmon at once, because having these options around just makes meals on a busy day easier.
Eggs are the ultimate, inexpensive protein that tends to last about one month in the fridge - which is pretty fantastic if you didn't make it to the store. Those that know me well know that breakfast is my favorite meal - so I often have it for lunch or dinner, too! Eggs are a great addition to any meal and keeping hard boiled eggs around is a great #mealprep hack. I try to buy my eggs either at a local farmer's market or I buy Vital Farms pasture-raised eggs, but keeping eggs around in general (no matter where they come from) is a great way to have an easy-to-prepare protein source on hand at all times.
Farro, Quinoa and Whole Grain Pasta
These grains are shelf stable and so easy to cook - why wouldn't you keep them around? In case you aren't familiar with farro, it's a grain that looks similar to barley and tastes like a cross between brown rice and orzo pasta (in my opinion), with a hearty texture - and a good amount of fiber and protein! You can cook it like quinoa or purchase a pre-cooked version and boil it for about 10 minutes (which is what I prefer, because #busy). This Trader Joe's 10-Minute Farro (to the right) is found in multiples in my pantry at all times. Check out my favorite farro recipe on my blog: Quick and Simple Farro with Vegetables. Quinoa, on the other hand, is a gluten free seed with properties similar to a grain. It's also low FODMAP, so it's a great option for those who need to limit FODMAPs (such as those with IBS). I created this FODMAP-Friendly Quinoa with Veggies and I go back to this recipe again and again! And pasta, well, I'm not sure that needs an explanation! I love Banza (pasta made with chickpeas and pea protein) and Trader Joe's Red Lentil Pasta, or any whole wheat pasta for that added protein and fiber.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are also shelf-stable and they're a great plant-based source of protein and fat. Paired with canned beans, they're a great addition to my salad most days and I never need to worry about them going bad (at least, they never go bad before I finish the bag). I also have relied on nuts when trying to get creative in the kitchen - and ended up making my favorite, go-to recipe for busy nights: My Dairy-Free Cashew "Cream" Sauce with Zoodles and Chickpeas! I typically purchase large bags and I'll also use these to create individual bags of trail mix for a midday snack, rather than purchasing single-serving bags, because the larger bags are often cheaper and this way, I get to create my own mix. I try to buy lightly salted and mix these with unsalted to cut down on sodium. In my pantry, I typically have:
Unsalted, raw walnuts
Roasted, lightly salted cashews
Roasted, lightly salted peanuts
Raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds (so I can roast them, like I did for my Maple, Vanilla and Pumpkin Spice Pumpkin Seeds)
*these nuts are all relatively inexpensive in large bags at Trader Joe's
Superseedz brand flavored pumpkin seeds (a little pricier and not available at Trader Joe's, but definitely a great, convenience option with fun flavors)
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen fruits and veggies are a game changer during the week, since these guys have a short lifespan when purchased fresh. I often buy frozen fruits and vegetables during random trips to the store, just to make sure that I have options. However, I also try to freeze produce just before it goes bad, in order to prevent food waste (and wasted money). This works out well when I'm craving those sweet, in-season blueberries from the summer in November. When buying frozen produce, I try to avoid those with a sauce or syrup and instead, opt for those with only the produce as the listed ingredient. Some exceptions to the rule? The Frozen Spiralized Carrots (from Trader Joe's) - they have such simple ingredients and they're a major time-saver!
Frozen Protein Sources
It's difficult to get to the store multiple times during the week in order to get fresh fish, meat and poultry, so I often keep frozen options around. I typically have the following in my freezer at all times:
Frozen, raw shrimp
Frozen veggie burgers ( I cannot say enough good things about the taste of the Cowboy Quinoa Veggie Burger from Trader Joe's!)
Frozen fish burgers (usually the frozen mahi mahi or frozen salmon burgers from Trader Joe's)
I also sometimes have things like frozen turkey meatballs for an easy addition to bowls and pastas. While they can contain large amounts of sodium, I pair them with veggies and I typically do not consume large amounts of salt in my diet, so this is a good option for me on busy nights.
Also, while we're on the topic, I have an entire bottom drawer in my freezer filled with my own, homemade, single-serving meals (i.e. leftovers divided into single-serving portions and frozen for easy access - such as veggie lasagna, eggplant parmesan, etc., frozen baked chicken, etc).
My Favorite Seasonings
My favorite spices include cinnamon, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chipotle and smoked paprika - and I believe I can truly make anything taste amazing with these. These seasonings are always in my spice cabinet and will help to turn a basic dish into something truly tasty. Lately, I've also been stocking up on Pumpkin Pie Spice (in case you haven't noticed, it's been in so many recipes of mine lately), and Everything But The Bagel Seasoning from Trader Joe's.
I also always have extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar in my pantry. I use extra virgin olive oil at room temperature or for a light sauté and I use avocado oil when I'm cooking or grilling, since it has a much higher smoke point. I've found that Trader Joe's has both of these options for relatively inexpensive prices.
...And Some Extras I Try To Keep Stocked
While I typically buy these foods more often due to their shorter shelf life, I almost always have these items in my kitchen:
Tofu (I prefer organic to minimize GMO soy consumed)
Spinach (I honestly think I eat more spinach than Popeye!)
Bananas (when they start to turn brown, I peel them, break them into small chunks and freeze them in a bag for easy smoothie-making in the future)
Peanut butter (I love the Trader Joe's Stir Natural Creamy Peanut Butter)
Ezekiel sprouted whole wheat bread and burger buns (these two items are always in my freezer)
And there you have it! Keeping these items around minimizes the amount of time and money I need to spend at the grocery store regularly and helps me out when I'm in a bind during a busy workweek. What are your kitchen staples? I'd love to hear in the comments below!