top of page

15 inexpensive pantry staples to keep on hand for quick and healthy dinners

When I was in college, my pantry was limited to one shelf in the tiny kitchen I shared with 4 friends. My graduation dream was to afford a bigger kitchen with a real pantry.

Graduation came, Graduation left. I still lived in a tiny apartment with a tiny kitchen and a TINY pantry (a kitchen cupboard instead of just a shelf).

I got my first real job, and eventually my first house. I still had a tiny kitchen and a tiny pantry. I discovered that hallway linen closets work well for storing canned tomatoes, beans, and (of course) jars of peanut butter. My dream of a real pantry didn't happen until I was many years out of college.

Why the obsession with having a pantry?

3 reasons I prioritize having a well-stocked pantry:

#1 It saves money

  • Peanut butter is usually $1.50 a jar

  • I buy 10 jars when it's on sale for $1. This saves $5 in the long run

#2 It makes eating at home more convenient than eating out

  • When the kids have activities late in the day, it's tempting to stop for Little Cesars

  • When I've got a well-stocked pantry, I know I can make something 'just-as-fast' but healthier at home (hello tuna sandwiches and canned peaches)

  • I always feel better when I eat at home, even if we're just having quesadillas

#3 It saves time

  • Having a well-stocked pantry saves trips to the store

  • Buying a lot of something I frequently use saves time each time I go to the store

Who doesn't want to save time, money and eat healthier?

So what do I keep in my pantry?

Dietitian's favorite fifteen pantry staples (and recipes for using them)

#1 Canned beans

NUTRITION in 1/2 cup

  • 8g fiber (kids need 19g/day)

  • 7g protein (kids need 13g/day)

  • high in iron and minerals!

  • choose NO ADDED SALT cans for 0mg sodium, regular canned beans have 400mg per serving, which is 1/4 of your total daily salt intake


  • on the side of cheese quesadillas, cold - straight from the can

  • on top of a bagged green salad (kidney beans are our favorite)

  • mix a can of corn with a can of black beans and eat in a tortilla

  • burrito bowls

  • hummus on a tortilla or with triscuits

  • 5 minute greek salad w/pita bread

#2 Oatmeal

NUTRITION in 1/2 cup dry oats

  • 4g fiber (kids need 19g/day)

  • 5g protein (kids need 13g/day)

  • iron, zinc, B-vitamins for energy!

  • Images are from walmart, I just buy whatever brand is least expensive!


#3 Peanut Butter

NUTRITION in 2 Tablespoons

  • 2g fiber (kids need 19g/day, adults need 25-30g/day)

  • 7g protein (kids need 13g/day, adults need about 50-60g/day)

  • 8g healthy fat (monounsaturated fat is good for your heart)

  • vitamin E, minerals like iron

  • This image is from Smiths. I just buy from whatever store has the best price.


#4 Canned Tuna

Photo from Notice how tuna costs less per ounce when purchased in bulk.

NUTRITION in 1/2 of a 5oz

  • 6g protein (kids need 13g/day)

  • omega-3 fats for a baby's growth!

  • buy LIGHT TUNA, not albacore. Light is lower in mercury (which is bad for a growing infant's brain).


  • tuna salad on crackers (99% of my tuna gets eaten this way)

  • tuna sandwich, with cheese cooked on a frying pan (our Sunday afternoon lunch)

  • more ideas:

#5 Whole Wheat Pasta

NUTRITION in 1 cup cooked

  • 5g fiber (kids need 19g/day)

  • 7g protein (kids need 13g/day)

  • Don't like whole wheat? Regular pasta still has 2 grams of fiber.


#6 Triscuit "hint of sea salt" crackers

NUTRITION in 6 crackers

  • 3g fiber (kids need 19g/day, adults need 25-30g/day)

  • 3g protein (kids need 13g/day, adults need about 50-60g/day)

  • good source of iron and B-vitamins

  • healthy tip: "hint of sea salt" flavor has only 50 mg sodium. Store brand and "Original" have 150mg sodium. For reference, kids need less than 1,000mg day.

#7 Canned Tomatoes

NUTRITION in 1/4 cup

  • 1 g fiber and 1 g protein

  • Hundreds of phytochemicals and vitamins to protect against diseases!

  • Lycopene is the major nutrient in tomatoes, it prevents against cancer.

  • buy NO ADDED SALT canned tomatoes

RECIPES (about 45 minutes)

#8 Canned Chicken

NUTRITION in 1/3 of a 10oz can (about 2.5 oz)

  • 6g protein (kids need 13g/day, adults need about 50-60g/day)

  • B-vitamins

  • I use more tuna than chicken. Tuna is more nutritious. It has more iron and omega-3 than chicken with the same amount of protein. Tuna is also half the cost of canned chicken.


#9 Canned Peaches, Pears and Pineapple


Canned fruit has similar nutrient content of fresh fruit. Canned peaches might have more vitamin C than fresh! Canned fruit is a great way to serve fruit at every meal without having to keep fresh fruit on hand all the time!

Buy canned fruit in 100% fruit juice to avoid extra sugar intake

Added sugar per 1/2 cup serving:

fruit in 100% juice = 0g

fruit in heavy syrup = 12g

fruit in light syrup = 7g

The limit for kids is 25g per DAY


Serve canned fruit on the side of peanut butter sandwiches, quesadillas or any quick meal for added vitamin intake and about 1 gram of fiber per 1/2 cup. Every meal should include fruit.

#10 Canned Corn, Green Beans, Beets and Artichokes


  • Research shows canned vegetables retain a lot of vitamins and minerals. Canned veggies are the easiest way to add a veggies to a meal: no washing, chopping or cooking required!

  • Buy canned veggies with NO ADDED SALT to avoid extra salt intake


  • anytime a meal is missing a vegetable, I'll simply open a can of corn or green beans, warm it up in the microwave and serve it

  • Some kids really love canned green beans, especially with spagetti

  • serve canned corn with a quesadilla for additional fiber and vitamins

  • serve canned olives with lunch or add to a pasta salad

  • add canned corn to a salad mix, add canned artichokes to a salad or pasta

#11 Canned Pumpkin

NUTRITION in 1/2 cup

  • 3 grams fiber

  • 100% of the day's vitamin A (important for eye health)


#12 Whole Wheat Flour + baking powder, soda, salt and sugar

NUTRITION in 1/4 cup

  • 4g protein (kids need 13g/day, adults need about 50-60g/day)

  • 3g fiber (kids need 19g/day, adults need 25-30g/day)

  • 1 mg of iron (for brain development)

  • B-vitamins for energy and growth



#13 Coconut Milk

NUTRITION in 1/3 cup

Mostly just 5 grams of fat (no fiber, no protein, no sugar or carbs, minimal vitamin/mineral content)

Why do I keep it on hand? It makes curry taste SO GOOD! And curry is a fast and easy way to eat vegetables and beans. In addition to making food taste good, fat is important for absorbing the fat soluble vitamins and keeping you full longer. The fat in coconut milk is saturated. Research is still pending on whether the type of saturated fat in coconut milk is good for you. Because it's unprocessed food from a plant, I think it's probably healthier for you than using butter or hydrogenated fats.

#14 Canola Oil (or olive oil)

NUTRITION in 1 Tablespoon

  • 14 grams of fat

  • 40% of a child's vitamin E needs for the day

  • omega-3 fatty acids which are good for brain development

  • Why do I keep it on hand? Fat makes food taste good and helps with absorption.

  • Canola oil is full of healthy fats, very similar to olive oil

  • Canola oil is usually 1/5 the cost of olive oil


#15 Dry Lentils + Dry Rice

I put these last because they aren't "fast." Brown rice and lentils take about 45 minutes to cook. However, I keep them both in my pantry and use them regularly.

Lentils and Rice are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are some of the healthiest and least expensive foods on the planet.


Do you keep any of these things in your pantry? When you keep ingredients to make quick and healthy meals in your house, you'll eat quick and healthy meals.

Don't have a pantry? Don't let that stop you. Find a place to store extra food, whether that's in a cupboard or in the hall linen closet. It's good for your wallet, your sanity and your health!

I hope you learned something new! Leave a comment or send an email to let me know what you keep in your pantry:

Want to learn how to cook foods from your pantry? Ask your Family Advocate about the next cooking class!

20 views0 comments


bottom of page