Top Kitchen Food Essentials Recommended by Our Dietitians

  • 4 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

If you stock your kitchen wisely, you will increase your likelihood of making healthy choices. MyNetDiary Dietitians share their personal kitchen food essentials.

Top Kitchen Food Essentials Recommended by Our Dietitians

Do you have a New Year's resolution to eat healthier? Lose weight? It all starts with a healthy kitchen. As the adage goes, "if it's in the house, it's in your mouth." I asked my fellow MyNetDiary Registered Dietitians to share kitchen food essentials that make healthy eating a no-brainer. We invite you to take a peek into our kitchens...

In the Fridge

Ever stand in front of the fridge with the door open, looking for something to nibble on? Stock it up with nutritious options, and you can't go wrong!

You will always find low-fat cottage cheese in Kathy Isacks' fridge.

Joanna Kriehn and Kathy consider pre-washed baby spinach essential to keep on hand for a nutrient-packed addition to scrambled eggs, smoothies, soups, and cooked meats.

Brenda Braslow keeps raw vegetables such as carrots, peppers, mushrooms in the crisper drawer for noshing, adding to meals or cooking in soup and stews.

Me? Plain Greek yogurt is always in my fridge. It is so versatile as it can be used in smoothies, as a base for a savory vegetable dip, or as an alternative to sour cream. I've also recently discovered coconut aminos-a savory, low-sodium soy sauce alternative that can be used in sauces, dressings, and marinades.

In the Freezer

The freezer is a great spot for convenient meal starters and back-up options if you don't have fresh produce around.

Though she says it is "kinda boring", Joanna keeps frozen chicken breasts to make chicken fajitas, her anything-but-boring family favorite. She also keeps 1-2 Tablespoon portions of tomato paste stored in freezer bags. Many recipes call for this amount, and it is a great way to reduce food waste.

Brenda keeps a variety of frozen vegetables in stock to add to soups or to round out a meal. She also finds frozen chopped onions and soup starter mixes (a blend of chopped onions, carrots, and celery) handy to keep stocked in the freezer. When Brenda makes chicken or ground turkey, she makes extra for freezing. The frozen meat can be used to make quick soups, tacos, burritos, and casseroles.

Kathy lists unsweetened berries and non-starchy veggies as freezer essentials. Although she buys seasonal fresh fruit, living in Colorado means periods of tasteless (and expensive) fresh fruit. Frozen berries are an easy solution. They are great with yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, or added to a low-fat/low-sugar ice cream treat. Kathy's favorite frozen veggies are green beans and cauliflower, and she prefers microwave-in-a-bag types for easy clean-up. She eats these veggies with cottage cheese for a filling, high-protein, high-fiber breakfast.

I'm a huge fan of frozen vegetables as well, as it means there is never an excuse for no mealtime veggies. I also keep a few healthy frozen entrees as a back-up option for "don't have time for anything" days. I'm always happy when I have leftovers of my favorite, freezer-friendly, enchilada soup on hand. Add a salad and a few crushed tortilla chips and dinnertime is saved!

In the Pantry

The pantry is not just for snack foods and cereals. The pantry can be the starting point for many quick and healthy meals.

Martha, Kathy and I all like to keep a variety of nuts for healthy snacking. Kathy wisely measures out her daily portion of 1/2-1 oz, as the calories can add up quickly.

Martha always keeps healthy cereals and homemade granola for snacks as well as breakfast.

Canned black beans offer the start for many of Joanna's meals. She sautées them with onions and spinach alongside eggs for breakfast, on a tostada for lunch, or in a burrito bowl with brown rice and green chile for dinner. (Can you tell she enjoys the flavors of the Southwest US, where she grew up?) Joanna also has old fashioned oats on hand for stove-top oatmeal, to add to a smoothie, or to make her favorite pumpkin oatmeal bars.

Extra virgin olive oil is essential in Kathy's pantry. She uses it as one would use butter-over toast, drizzled over vegetables, etc.

I always keep a range of canned tomato products stocked, as they are used in most soup and chili recipes. I also keep low-sodium vegetable broth and a few healthy soups on hand. Amy's and Imagine have several flavorful low-sodium options.

Brenda keeps lentils and barley as high fiber, tasty soup add-ins.

In the Spice Cabinet

Herbs and spices are essential for adding flavor (and an antioxidant boost) to any meal.

Joanna keeps cumin, which she uses frequently in her cooking. She is also a fan of Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning to flavor grilled chicken.

Brenda loves spices and keeps a variety of spice blends handy to season her dishes.

Kathy always keeps good quality ground cinnamon, cumin, and harissa (North African chili paste) on hand. The cinnamon makes her low-fat/low-sugar ice cream treat (topped with frozen berries) taste great. She notes that cumin makes almost any savory dish more flavorful. She thinks harissa is fabulous on non-starchy veggies, adding a rich flavor with a hint of heat.

While at times spices linger too long in my spice cabinet, I always keep garlic and onion powder up-to-date to maximize the flavor punch. Penzey's Fox Point seasoning is a versatile, salt-free blend I use in many dishes. I also love adding smoked paprika to chilis and soups.

What about Treats?

Lest you think our kitchens are only filled with healthy foods, I remind you we are human and enjoy having treats.

Joanna notes she always keeps "some kind of chocolate" in the house, but on the bottom shelf so she has to do a deep knee bend to get to them. She notes it helps to count out a portion of any treat, and not go back for seconds.

If there are baked treats in the house, Kathy stores them in the freezer (versus on the counter) to avoid mindless snacking.

Brenda keeps a variety of bread stored in the freezer. That way she can enjoy a slice without risking the rest of it going stale.

I keep a bag of mini-chocolate chips in the freezer for an add-in to energy balls, oatmeal or pancakes, or for a quick chocolate fix.

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Bottom Line

Take time to stock up with kitchen food essentials, and you will enjoy the benefits of healthy, delicious eating with less effort.

Meal Planning & Diets->Healthy Eating Meal Planning & Diets->"Plan, Shop, Prep, and Cook"
Jan 6, 2020

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