10 Foods to Always Have on Hand

Kitchen stocking strategies that can get a meal on the table in minutes.
Ten Foods to Always Have on Hand

"There's nothing to eat."

That has to be one of the most disheartening assessments you can make after examining the contents of your refrigerator. Of course, it opens the door to takeout or a restaurant meal and, very often, a far bigger portion of a much unhealthier food than you would have eaten otherwise.

The solution? Keep an intelligently stocked kitchen so you're never more than 10 minutes of cooking time away from a healthy meal.

Thanks to Christopher Mohr, PhD, RD, a dietitian and exercise physiologist in Louisville, Kentucky, we've compiled a list of ten foods that will help you create simple meals at a moment's notice. Plus, "they'll give you a variety of nutrients without an abundance of calories," Mohr says.

1. Boneless, skinless, chicken breast
"Chicken can be prepared with almost anything you have in the house," says Mohr. Grill it for a sandwich, spice it up with curry and cumin for Thai-style satays, or just throw it in a salad. There are thousands of choices.

Frozen chicken will last up to six months in your freezer (well sealed) and will quickly add low-fat protein to any meal.

Serving size: 3 ounces of cooked boneless, skinless breast meat
PointsPlus™ value: 3

2. Unsalted dry-roasted nuts
Choose the roasted, unsalted version you can find in most supermarket produce sections, not the oily snack-mix kind. "They're loaded with healthy fats, iron and B vitamins, plus you can use good mixed nuts as toppings for stir-fry and salads," says Mohr.

Instead of using breadcrumbs, crush the nuts and use them to coat chicken-breast strips for a tasty, protein-packed "breaded" cutlet.

Serving size: 1/4 cup
PointsPlus value: 6

3. Frozen vegetables
A no-brainer, and no guy's freezer should be without them. Stock your favorites, from broccoli to spinach (which can improve everything from soup to pasta). Frozen vegetables can last up to one year, so it's no sweat to keep all the ingredients necessary for an instant, colorful stir-fry. Or, add them to a quick vegetable soup, like minestrone.

Serving size: 1/2 cup
PointsPlus value: 1

4. Fat-free broth
No cook would ever be caught without broth (vegetable, chicken or beef). You can use it to flavor meat, thin sauces, make gravy — and a million other options.

Throw raw vegetables into broth, and they'll last up to three days longer, says Mohr. "They'll not only stay more crisp, but they'll be more flavorful because they'll absorb the flavor of the stock," he adds. Set the pot over a flame and you have an instant healthy soup. Toss in a chicken breast for a tasty meal.

Serving size: 1 cup
PointsPlus value: 0

5. Lean ground beef
"Ground beef is loaded with iron, zinc and protein; it's always good to have some on hand to add nutrients to meals," says Mohr. You could grill it into a burger or crumble it into any conceivable dish.

Serving size: 3-ounce cooked patty
PointsPlus value: 3

6. Basil leaves
When you need a touch of class — and perhaps to create the illusion that you put more effort into cooking the meal than you really did — add a few whole, fresh, basil leaves. It's a flavorful spice and garnish that's visually appealing. You can use it in numerous ways: to make pesto, to flavor fish and meats, or to liven up fresh tomatoes and mozzarella.

Serving size: Almost any
PointsPlus value: 0

7. Extra-virgin olive oil
Sure, it's high in PointsPlus values, but it's one of the most versatile sources of good fat — and a little goes a long way. It's important to purchase extra-virgin olive oil for a flavor boost. When a recipe demands an oil or fat, it's the best choice.

Serving size: 1 teaspoon
PointsPlus value: 1

8. Canned crushed-or-whole tomatoes
Chili, pasta sauce, soup … sooner or later, a recipe will call for it, so keep a can in the pantry. It’s a great source of lycopene, which may potentially fight cancer, and vitamin C.

Serving size: 1 cup
PointsPlus value: 0

9. Chicken sausage
"It comes frozen and is lower in fat than regular pork sausage," says Mohr. It'll add spicy flavor to otherwise drab meals. With spaghetti sauce, create a sausage version of Bolognese or eat it on a roll hot-dog-style. Grill two links for a Cuban sandwich. Give yourself an extra five minutes in the morning, and you might even eat it for breakfast.

Serving size: 1 3/4 ounces cooked
PointsPlus value: 2

10. Dried whole-wheat pasta
A fail-safe any time you crave a quick, filling dinner. Whole-wheat pasta has more fiber than white-flour pasta, so a smaller serving fills you up more. You can add penne to soups, or eat angel hair with a low-calorie marinara sauce or a dash of olive oil, garlic cloves (which you should also keep on hand) and red pepper flakes.

Whole-wheat pasta:
Serving size: 1 cup cooked
PointsPlus value: 4

Store-bought marinara sauce:
Serving size: 1/2 cup
PointsPlus value: 2

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