How To Get All The Nutrition You Need From Any Pantry Staple: 7 RD-Approved Tips
By now, you've probably started to adapt to cooking from your pantry, but limiting your shopping trips may mean you've been eating less fresh produce than you'd like. This doesn't have to mean that the nutrition of your meals goes by the wayside though. We spoke to dietitians about their favorite strategies and meal ideas to boost the nutrition of anything you eat—even in isolation.
1. Add greens powder to...anything, really.
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The great thing about a greens powder is it's easy to add to anything, at any time of day. Breakfast? Add it to a morning smoothie, made with frozen produce and shelf-stable nut milk. Afternoon snack? Sprinkle it on some popcorn. Lunch and dinner? Mix it into beans, soup, stews, or add it to a sauce or salad dressing. Look for one with a mild flavor and for even more nutrition, find one boosted by organic sea veggies, which will add hard-to-find essential nutrients including magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamin C.
2. Think about dried options other than beans and grains.
You've probably got canned and frozen veggies on the brain, but what about dried ones? The world of dried fruits and veggies isn't just for snacking or oatmeal-raisin cookies—it's a great place to seek out more flavor for your favorite meals.
"One pantry item I've been loving is sun-dried tomatoes," said Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN. "I love the flavor and texture. I've been throwing them in my veggie egg scrambles, using them in paninis, and adding to some pasta salads."
3. Get roasting.
Now is a good time to undertake some more time-consuming cooking methods, like roasting vegetables. It's also a great way to take your frozen vegetables and make them something tasty—but it's a little different from roasting fresh vegetables. Knudsen shared her strategy for getting crisp, flavorful veggies in the oven, even from frozen options.
"As always preheat your oven to the desired temperature," she told mindbodygreen, "But instead of throwing the frozen veggies directly on the pan and putting it right in the oven, heat up the pan with the cooking oil in the oven first. Once that's nice and toasty, take it out, toss the veggies on it, and then put the pan back in the oven to cook. This should help the texture of the vegetables be more crispy than soggy."
4. Cook to eat, not to meal prep.
One routine you may want to break is your Sunday meal prep date. According to Abby Cannon, J.D., R.D., CDN, "For all veggies and food, for maximum nutrient retention, it's best to eat soon after cooking." If you are batch cooking, she recommends stopping just short of fully cooking vegetables to retain more of their nutritional value, even with reheating them.
That's not to say you shouldn't do any prep at all, though. "Having lots of vegetables that are ready to eat increases the chances that my family and I will actually eat them," Cannon shared. So when you do have a chance to get fresh produce, consider chopping it up and portioning it so you're more likely to eat it, as a snack or part of a meal.
5. Soak your grains.
Grains are a great base for many pantry-sourced dishes, but now's the time to make sure you're making the most of their nutritional value. Plus, you've probably got the time to add this practice to your cooking routine now.
"When cooking grains, it's best to soak them in water overnight," said Cannon. "Soaking grains enhances the bioavailability/absorption of certain nutrients, including vitamins C and A, B vitamins and iron, calcium, and zinc." As a bonus, soaking grains can also help with digestion. Set them up with enough water that there's just about an inch over the top, and leave them for at least eight hours before rinsing them to cook.
6. If you can get fresh produce, do—and then freeze some.
It seems like while some stores are cleared out of canned and frozen goods, others are lacking in fresh produce. If you are able to get fresh produce, it's always a good option to freeze it yourself rather than buying it frozen. Plus, it'll free up space in your probably crowded fridge.
"My goal is to always get in a least one to two servings of vegetables for lunch," said Knudsen, "and even more at dinner. I've been buying a lot of fresh produce that I know I can freeze for later if I can't get to eating it all when it's fresh."
7. If you buy canned foods, this is what to look for.
If your local shop is one that's lacking in fresh produce, there's no reason frozen and canned options can't be healthy. "Always look for unseasoned and unsalted options and add your own flavoring at home," said Knudsen.
Cannon recommended also soaking your beans, canned ones included, overnight, before storing them in BPA-free containers of your own to pair with whole grains and nuts or seeds. "With all these ingredients on hand, it's much easier to whip up a nutritious meal," she said.
If it's inspiration you need for meals while staying home, we've also consulted dietitians about their favorite ways to use their canned goods—everything from fish to beans to veggies. And if it feels like you need more simple things (with fewer ingredients), these recipes come together with only six ingredients—or less.