What makes a well-functioning kitchen? The primary purpose of the home kitchen is to keep us fed and nourished. But when that kitchen is not well-equipped to fulfill that role, frustration can ensue. The first thing you may think of when it comes to getting healthy and tasty meals on the table is the refrigerator. But while keeping the refrigerator stocked is important, don't overlook the pantry! Keeping a well-stocked pantry can make the difference between constant meal boredom and putting tasty and healthy meals on the table that really bring the family together.
Keep reading for 14 key ingredients to add to your pantry.
1. Canned wild salmon. Full of omega fatty acids, heart-healthy wild salmon can add great versatility to your meal planning. Thanks to the canning industry, consumers can conveniently take advantage of wild salmon without opening the fridge or freezer. Although many people first think of tuna as the primary canned seafood staple, canned salmon is a healthier alternative due to its omega fatty acid content and low levels of mercury. Canned salmon is great in salads, as a burger, served with pasta, in tacos, and pretty much anywhere else where tuna is a staple. And at less than five bucks a can for a family of four, it's worth stocking up on.
2. Quinoa. Ten years ago, quinoa was not such the buzz word it is now in North America, but gratefully that has changed. This pseudo-grain is a great substitute for rice or starch. Naturally gluten-free, quinoa can even be cooked with milk, topped with fruit, and eaten in the morning as a nutritious breakfast. Now that's what I call "double-duty."
3. Coconut milk. There is nothing like adding some coconut milk to a dish to give it an instant makeover. Paired with the right ingredients, adding coconut milk to fish or poultry can be like taking your palate on a trip to Thailand or to the Caribbean. Smoothies and breakfast cereals will find new life with just a splash of this creamy, nondairy substance. The best part is, it comes in a can and is easily stored in your pantry.
4. Beans. Dried or canned beans are a great go-to for balancing out any meal. Black beans are my favorite — you get fiber, protein, and taste for about a dollar a can. Most importantly for all those busy mommies out there, canned beans are a time saver. Since they are already cooked, you can forgo all the time it would have taken to get them prepared. A few minutes is really all it takes to get protein and nutrition that you can count on. Chickpeas are another versatile and affordable pantry must. Even the biggest carnivore will find comfort in the meaty texture that these beans offer to chickpea balls and patties. They are also great on salads, and who does not love hummus?
5. Canned pineapples. Packaged fruit is nothing new to anyone's pantry, but the reason I like keeping canned pineapples around is that it's great for both snacks and main dishes. Think about it: the same pineapple that can be cut up for your toddler as a snack is also a great addition to rice, salsa, chicken, or a holiday ham.
6. Chicken broth. Chicken broth now comes 99 percent fat-free and is a great way to add flavor to any dish. Use it to add flavor to rice and veggies, to baste your favorite roast, or as a substitute for water in some of your favorite savory recipes.
7. Bottled salsa. Think beyond your standard chips and salsa — you can wake up pork, chicken, fish, and even eggs with a great bottled salsa.
8. Dried fruit. Raisins, prunes, and dried cranberries make a great addition to baked goods, cereals, yogurt, and savory sides, or a great snack on their own.
9. Oats. I'm not talking about that instant stuff either. Whole oats are a breakfast staple that can be individualized to suit any taste. Also great is adding oats to smoothies, baked goods, and pancakes, and even using it as a substitute for bread crumbs. It's one of the easiest ways to add a boost of fiber to a meal.
10. Brown rice. We've all heard about the benefits of brown rice, so why not stock some in your pantry? It's an easy swap that can bring more nutrition to your kitchen table.
11. Maple syrup. There is nothing like pouring some warm maple syrup on pancakes in the morning. What's even better is adding maple syrup to baked goods, cereals, and even savory dishes. The minerals in maple syrup not only make it healthier than other syrups, but the flavor profile also tends to be more complex and tasty than syrups that contain corn syrup and other sweeteners.
12. Canned tomatoes. Everyone can benefit from a little tomato in their lives. Canned tomatoes add a great robust flavor to soups, stews, and sauces. Since tomatoes are not always in season, this is a great pantry stable indeed. Oh, and a little lycopene never hurt anyone.
13. Unsweetened apple sauce. Apple sauce is great when eaten as a quick snack, but you can also try adding it to oatmeal along with some cinnamon in the morning. The same concept is true when adding it to pancake batter to change things up a little. Apple sauce also serves as a great substitute in baked goods for oil, butter, and eggs. The benefits are two-fold: you lower the fat in your recipes, and also add fiber from the apples.
14. Nuts. Nuts are a great way to quickly add protein to just about any meal. Almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and cashews are a great place to start. When you are selecting nuts for your pantry, remember that unsalted and nonroasted varieties are a better choice.