If health and fitness are the top priorities in your life, a well-stocked pantry is a must. Not only can it ease the meal-prep process on a hectic day, but it’s a huge time saver – sometimes all it takes is a quick spread, mix or blend! Having simple, versatile items and healthy ingredients at home means you’re less likely to binge on processed foods or (gasp!) settle for drive-thru fare. Ready to shop, stock and load up? These are the five pantry staples you can't live without:
This heart-healthy whole grain is crucial for me because, in a pinch, I can always make a meal or (enhance it) with oatmeal. Keep a jar full of ground oats to use for making pancakes and adding to smoothies (and if you have more time, oats are great for making homemade protein bars, too). But if you think oats are just for breakfast – you’re wrong. Instead of bread crumbs, coat chicken cutlets in oats or add to a healthy, lean meatloaf or turkey loaf recipe. You can also use this hearty whole grain to replace white flour when baking.
2. Natural peanut butter
This protein-packed staple is a healthy fat and an ideal ingredient for quick food prep. When perusing the grocery store shelf, look for a large jar of natural peanut butter that displays a short ingredient list. The two ingredients to look for is nuts and salt (optional). This versatile ingredient can be used to spread on homemade pancakes (made with grounded oats, of course!), to enhance yogurt and shakes, or to make a nutritious peanut butter snack using a whole-wheat wrap. Peanut butter can even be used in exotic dishes, like Asian-inspired stir-fry, as a sauce.
3. Vanilla protein powder
The vanilla flavor blends well with a variety of foods and it's a great way to sneak in extra protein. Add vanilla protein to cottage cheese, yogurt, oatmeal and desserts. But if time only allows for a cup of coffee (hey, you're busy), you can even add it to your morning cup of joe! To make my protein coffee recipe, pour 1-2 inches of coffee in a cup, add a tablespoon (or more) of protein and stir quickly. Add the remaining coffee, continue stirring.
4. Coconut oil
This superfood has a host of benefits thanks to its fatty acids, which can help keep you feeling fuller, longer. Use coconut oil to grease pans, make salad dressings, and to coat veggies, chicken and fish before baking. You can even add a teaspoon to your coffee and smoothies. This oil also makes a great makeup remover, hair treatment, moisturizer and lip balm – so pack a small jar in your bag when you're on the go!
5. Beans and lentils
Beans are loaded with fiber, protein, antioxidants and vitamins. Providing the same benefits are lentils, categorized as legumes, which are affordable and versatile. Stock up on pinto beans, black beans, edamame, etc. to add to soups, vegetable dishes, rice and salads. For a snack, quickly whip up a bean salad, hummus or roasted garbanzo beans.