When you’re hungry and in a rush to whip up a healthy meal, the only thing you can count on is how well you stocked your kitchen.
You might keep ketchup, Kraft Dinner and chicken strips stocked year-round but here’s a look at 12 healthy food staples registered dietitians always keep in their fridges, freezers and pantries.
A handful of the experts listed Greek yogurt as their go-to staple because it’s packed with protein and is incredibly versatile.
Jennifer Sygo, a sports nutritionist at Cleveland Clinic Canada, told Global News she uses it for snacks, to make frozen treats and in baking. It’s even a sour cream substitute in some recipes.
“We usually have a tub of plain and a tub of flavoured Greek yogurt open in our house and we mix them together to reduce the sugar in the flavoured varieties,” Sygo said.
Nicole Osinga, a Courtice, Ont.-based registered dietitian, uses it to make breakfasts, such as smoothies, overnight oats and oat crumbles. There are 10 grams of protein per half a cup of Greek yogurt, Osinga said – that’ll fill you up at breakfast time.
Frozen chicken or turkey meatballs
Christy Brissette, a Toronto-based registered dietitian and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition, told Global News the biggest challenge is finding healthy sources of protein for each meal.
This is why she relies on lean turkey or chicken meatballs always kept frozen in her kitchen.
“I have a lean protein source I can prepare in two minutes. Sometimes I’ll make up a batch of these as a quick snack to fill me up if I know I won’t have a chance to eat for a while,” she said.
Forget raisins or dried cranberries. Dates are “nature’s candy,” according to Sygo. They’re high in potassium and fibre, provide a boost of energy before working out, and they’re sweet to keep sugar cravings at bay.
“They’re an easy, portable snack, and also great for baking. I use them for one of my favourite recipes for coconut date energy balls along with cocoa and almonds or almond butter,” she said.
Unsalted pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are usually green in colour, semi-flat and oval shaped. They have a nutty taste and a chewy texture.
Andrea D’Ambrosio, a registered dietitian at Dietetic Directions in Kitchener, Ont., said they’re a great source of protein and heart healthy. They’re also packed with antioxidants.
She adds them to hot or cold cereal, sprinkles them on top of green salads and uses them as a topping on yogurt. She even eats a handful with a piece of fruit for a snack.
Eggs were another popular staple for the experts. Krista Leck Merner, Halifax-based registered dietitian at Bent Fork Nutrition, loves eggs because they make a quick, satisfying meal.
A large egg has about six grams of protein and they’re budget-friendly.
A quick omelette could be loaded up with spinach and red peppers. That’s Leck Merner’s “fallback meal” when dinner needs to be on the table fast.
D’Ambrosio keeps hard-boiled eggs on hand all the time, and recommends the same to her clients.
“I encourage my clients to not skip the yolk, since the yolk contains half the protein and most of the nutrition such as choline for brain functioning, selenium to prevent the breakdown of tissues and vitamin A for healthy skin and eyes,” she said.
Her suggestion? Hard boil four to six eggs on the weekend and keep them in the fridge for up to one week. They can be added to meals or even eaten as a snack.
D’Ambrosio keeps frozen edamame in her freezer so they’re ready to be steamed or microwaved. She adds them to stir-fries, salads, soups or stews. They’re also great in quinoa or rice dishes for extra protein. She even mashes them into guacamole.
Edamame beans are fresh young soy beans that are harvested before the seeds harden. They’re like peas, but have a subtle buttery flavour, are crunchy in texture and are found inside a fuzzy green pod.
“Edamame beans are low in calories, with 120 calories per half a cup serving as well as 12 grams of protein, eight grams of fibre, and an excellent source of folate,” D’Ambrosio said.
The World Health Organization named 2016 the International Year of Pulses. Toronto-based registered dietitian Andrea Miller turns to chick peas because they’re a great source of fibre, protein and iron.
They can be worked into most dishes, too: in salads, in soups, to pasta sauce or even roasted into a crunchy snack.
Keep in mind, they’re also an inexpensive source of plant protein, so if you’re trying to save money or cut down on meat, they’re a great option.
Miller blends them into a hummus dip to spread in wraps and sandwiches. They can also be ground into flour and used in baking to increase fibre and protein in baked goods.
Leck Merner makes sure her family always has vegetables on the dinner table by keeping a stockpile of frozen options in the freezer. She keeps pre-chopped vegetable mixes at the ready to throw into spaghetti sauces, chilis or casseroles.
“Double check your frozen veggies to ensure there are no seasonings or sauces added, but otherwise frozen veggies are just as jam-packed with vitamins and minerals as their fresh counterparts. A quick saute or steam and they’re ready to go,” Leck Merner said.
Brissette keeps a jar of chia seeds in her pantry at all times because they provide a dose of protein, fibre and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids to her meals and snacks.
Chia seeds have about five grams of fibre per tablespoon. They can be worked into breakfast oats, smoothies, homemade muffins and other breakfast snacks. Brissette even puts them into soup and egg recipes.
Leck Merner also loves lentils because they’re nutrition powerhouses and versatile.
“I always have at least a few cans of lentils in my pantry. Eating primarily a plant-based diet, I’m always on the lookout for high-protein and micronutrient-rich foods,” she said.
One cup of lentils is packed with 18 grams of protein and eight milligrams of iron. Leck Merner works lentils into salads and casseroles, or mixes them into marinara sauce for a quick weeknight meal.
Not only are avocados delicious, but they’re filling and a source of healthy fats. Half of an avocado has five grams of fibre and 10 grams of monounsaturated fats – enough to keep Leck Merner satiated for a few hours.
She uses avocado in smoothies, salads and with scrambled eggs on toast. They can be prepared into guacamole, as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise and even sliced and eaten with salt, pepper and olive oil.
Ground flax seed
Miller stocks ground flax seed in her kitchen because it’s a great source of soluble fibre. This can help to manage cholesterol, keeps us regular and is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for heart, eye and brain health.
She adds ground flax seed into yogurt, oatmeal, and baked goods, like banana bread and muffins.
“Store it in the fridge and add one to three teaspoons a day. You can buy them whole and grind them in a coffee grinder, or purchase them already ground,” she said.
Ground flax seed has a mild, nutty flavour and blends easily into many foods.