One of the biggest perks of moving into your first home or apartment is that you’re in charge of the kitchen. That means you get to decide what is—and what isn’t—on the menu. Stock your pantry with these foods and you’ll have everything you need for mealtime success right at your fingertips.
- Whole-grain cereal: Look for lightly sweetened brands with a minimum of 5 g of filling fiber and no more than 8 g of sugar per serving.
- Old-fashioned oats: Sure, these cholesterol-lowering grains are great for breakfast. They’re also a smart swap for bread crumbs in meatloaf, meatballs, and salmon cakes.
- Quinoa, brown rice, barley, and bulgur: People who regularly eat whole grains tend to weigh less than those who don’t. Whip these up as a side dish or sprinkle them into salads and soup.
- Polenta: Top this quick-cooking whole grain with marinara sauce for a speedy weeknight meal.
- Whole-wheat and semolina pasta: Whole-wheat pasta is best, but regular semolina pasta is no slouch either. Each 2-ounce serving offers up 2 g of fiber and 7 g of protein. Plus, it’s enriched with iron and folate, which may help you feel less tired.
- Panko: These crunchy Japanese bread crumbs sport nearly one-third the calories of the traditional kind.
- Whole-wheat bread: Look for brands with fewer than 100 calories per slice.
- Whole-wheat and white flour
- Low-sodium canned soup, chicken, and vegetable broth: These can be huge sodium bombs. Reach for reduced-sodium varieties.
- Canned garbanzo, black, pinto, kidney, and cannellini beans: Like soup, these can contain loads of sodium. Go for no-salt-added beans whenever possible.
- Red lentils: The ultimate fast food, these little legumes cook in just 15 minutes flat.
- Peanut, almond, and sunflower butter: Seek out varieties that are free of added sugar and hydrogenated oils as well as palm oil.
- Marinara sauce, canned plum tomatoes, and tomato juice: Tomato products can pack a surprising amount of sodium, so look at the Nutritional Label and ingredient lists and compare brands.
- Canned salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies: Loaded with beneficial omega-3 fats, canned fish is one of the most underrated health foods. Choose water-packed versions whenever possible.
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Spices and Sweeteners
- Chili powder, curry powder, garlic powder, cumin, black pepper, dried basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary: These help add a calorie-free kick to your favorite foods.
- Kosher salt: Thanks to its big, fluffy flakes kosher salt delivers nearly 20 percent less sodium than table salt.
- Sesame seeds: Two tablespoons give you as much calcium as half a cup of milk. Sprinkle them over cucumber salad or Asian noodles.
- Sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, and honey: Use these sparingly to sweeten hot cereal, plain yogurt, and whole-grain muffins.
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Condiments and Cooking Oils
- Salsa: It’s a no-brainer for dialing up flavor in eggs, tacos, chicken and fish—and it has only 5 calories per tablespoon and 0 SmartPoints.
- Tahini: Try it as a dip for raw veggies or whisk it with lemon juice for a healthier spin on salad dressing.
- Canola and olive oils: These heart-friendly oils deliver beneficial monounsaturated and omega-3 fats.
- Mayonnaise: Look for brands made with canola oil for an omega-3 fatty acid boost.
- Red wine, white, balsamic, apple cider, and rice wine vinegars: Worth 0 SmartPoints, these pantry staples can be used to flavor a salad or zoodles.
- Reduced-sodium soy sauce
- Dijon and yellow mustard
- Worcestershire sauce
- Hot sauce and Sriracha
- Nuts (all kinds!): Store nuts in a tightly closed jar or container, as their delicate fats tend to spoil quickly. After a couple of months, transfer them to the fridge where they’ll stay fresh for up to a year.
- Pumpkin and sunflower seeds: A protein-packed alternative to nuts. Store them the same way you would nuts.
- Popcorn kernels: Popcorn is a whole grain! Air pop it and you can munch on 3 full cups for less than 100 calories.
- Dried fruit: Divide into ¼-cup servings and store in snack-size plastic bags for portion-controlled nibbling on-the-go.
- Whole-grain crackers: Seek out brands with at least 3 grams of fiber and less than 150 calories per serving.
- Black, green, and herbal tea
- Sparkling water
Skip These Foods
You know chips, cookies, and candy have no place in a healthy pantry. Here are some less obvious offenders to steer clear of:
- Flavored instant oatmeal and cereals with more than 8 g sugar per serving
- Crackers that don’t list whole grains as the first ingredient
- Pita chips and pretzels
- Boxed macaroni and cheese
- Granola and granola bars
- Trail mix
- White bread
- White rice
- Coconut oil
- Soda, sweetened iced tea, energy drinks, and sports drinks
- Coffee creamer