9 Pantry Staples And How To Use Them

By Kristen Castillo

August 15, 2013 6 min read

If you're stumped about what to make for dinner, you might need to rethink what you're stocking in your pantry. Keeping a few basic items in your kitchen at all times could make the difference between "What's for dinner?" and "Check out what's for dinner!"

Read on as cooking and nutrition experts share their picks about the staples you should always keep in your pantry.

*Tuna

"I always say that tuna is the unsung hero of the pantry," explains registered dietitian Tina Ruggiero and author of the book, "The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook, Mega-nutritious Meals that are Inspired, Delicious and Fad-free."

Ruggiero, who says tuna is heart-healthy, low-calorie and high in protein, enjoys a tuna sandwich "made with avocado and Greek yogurt."

Marc Matsumoto of NoRecipes.com recommends canned Skipjack tuna, which he says is "both ocean friendly and relatively lower in mercury. But more importantly, it tastes amazing. If you've never had it before, it's like the difference between eating water-logged cardboard and having a juicy steak."

*Tomatoes

This popular produce item has so much to offer.

"Tomatoes are loaded with vitamin C, fiber, potassium, iron and a powerful antioxidant called lycopene," says Christina Desvaux of natural and organic grocery site, Vine.com. "Plus, they're high in fiber and low cal."

Tomatoes can be the star of many meals because they're so versatile.

"Eat them raw, toss them on salad, stuff them, grill them, turn them into sauce or salsa and use them as a base for soups, stews, curries, chili and more," says Desvaux.

*Quinoa

A trendy whole grain food that's both high in protein and fiber, quinoa is here to stay.

"It's so versatile because you can use it in place of rice -- hot side dish, cold grain-based salad, but you can also use it as an oatmeal replacement for a hearty breakfast cereal when you cook it with some almond milk, cinnamon and vanilla extract," says registered dietitian Erin Macdonald of U Rock Girl. "Bonus: It cooks up super quick and can stay in the fridge, once cooked, for a week."

*Nut Butter

Do you love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? You're on the right track! Peanut butter and other nut butters, such as almond butter, are great sources of protein.

"For a quick breakfast, try almond butter on a whole grain English muffin, with a piece of fruit or add almond butter to your smoothie as a delicious source of protein," says Holli Thompson of Nutritional Style, a global health and nutrition blog.

"Almond butter makes a satisfying snack, because of its fat content; try spreading a thin layer on a slice of apple or a stalk of celery."

*Organic Chicken Broth

Many meals start with a good base. Stock up on organic chicken broth to help you create some tasty dishes.

"Chicken broth has hundreds of uses from braising meats and veggies to making a quick homemade soup," says Cindy Santa Ana, a board-certified health coach and healthy cooking instructor who chooses organic broth because it's hormone- and antibiotic-free.

Santa Ana also recommends buying the broth that's packed in glass or tetra-paks, which are both BPA-free.

*Pasta

Your cabinets should definitely have some pasta. These days, many types of pasta are available in whole grain, high fiber and protein-rich.

Whether you choose spaghetti, elbows or penne, this carbohydrate can be a side dish or an entree.

"The variety of dishes that you can make are only limited by your creativity and ingredients on hand," says Matsumoto. "Having pasta on hand can be a lifesaver."

He suggests preparing pasta "with a little olive oil and cheese."

*Beans

Packed with fiber and protein, beans are another must-have in your kitchen.

"Beans can be added to a salad, mashed to make a dip or a spread for a sandwich," says Macdonald, who admits black beans are her secret ingredient in her mini chocolate cupcake recipe. "No one knows the secret," she says. "All they taste is chocolate!"

Canned beans are easy to prep, too. Simply rinse and drain them before use.

*Oats

Full of protein and fiber, oats are not just for breakfast. Santa Ana uses oats to make a variety of foods including homemade granola and as a gluten-free substitution for breadcrumbs.

*Coconut Oil

You may have canola or olive oil in your pantry, but how about coconut oil?

It's good for high heat cooking and doesn't turn rancid.

"It's a delicious accompaniment to eggs, a stir fry or any meat or fish dish," says Thompson. "Coconut oil can also be added to a smoothie for a creamy texture and healthy fat or blended into desserts for a delicious pairing with chocolate."

Another coconut oil benefit? Rub it onto your hands for smooth skin.

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