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Top 10 Must-Have Pantry Basics

pantry-basicsSo, you’ve got a busy life.  Classes, work, errands, a few kids thrown in the mixture that have this annoying habit of wanting to eat on a regular schedule.  What’s a busy mom to do?  Well, wait – scratch that.  A busy mom might not think twice about hitting the drive-thru a few times a week.  That’s not great for your wallet, and it definitely plays havoc on your health.  I’m trying to focus more on the healthy side of the balance, though, and fast-food drive-ins don’t play well.  So here’s a list of items that I keep on hand all the time to make a quick, healthy meal on the fly.

1 – Canned Beans. HUGE amounts of flavor, fiber and protein, and low in both fat and calories.

2- Whole Grain Pasta. Quick cooking and high in protein, you can make virtually anything – pasta salad, serve it with sauce, mix it with beans.

3- Frozen Vegetables and Fruits. Flash frozen straight from the field, they have a surprisingly high vitamin content and you can add them to tomato sauce to help fill little tummies.  Frozen fruits make excellent smoothies, perfect for a fast breakfast.

4 – Canned Tomatoes. Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked to reduced rates of cancer.  They come in all forms – pureed, sauce, diced, whole and seasoned – which cut prep times for meals to almost nothing.

5 – Nuts and Seeds. Although they tend to be high in fats (but the good kind of fat), nuts and seeds add tremendous flavor to meals and are also a great snack item.  Buy in bulk and store in the freezer to keep fresh longer.

6 – Dried Fruits. They add a sweet touch and are amazing in salads.

7 –  Cheese. Especially shredded low-fat cheddar and mozzarella, but don’t forget Parmesan.  Lower in fat than many cheeses and full of flavor, you can create pizza, add depth to a salad, or even serve it in large chunks atop pasta.

8- Bag Salad. This kitchen staple can be used for the obvious, but you can use it to fill in a sandwich or mix it with garbanzo beans and chopped tomatoes for a twist on the original. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to five days.

9 – Canned Tuna and Salmon. You can create quick and simple fish patties, add tuna to spaghetti sauce for depth of flavor, or eat it right out of the can. Slip it into a whole wheat pita and add some bagged salad.

10 – Oatmeal. Long forgotten as a poor man’s breakfast, this whole grain cooks quickly and easily, especially in the microwave, and the great fiber content fills you for hours.  Stir in some dried fruit and nuts and you’ve got a breakfast that will rival anything you could buy at Starbucks.

What are your favorite pantry staples?

May 5th, 2009