Despite our best intentions, making healthy food choices can be a struggle. Between meal planning, grocery shopping and preparing food, it’s easy to give up or get off track. But simple practices, like stocking your pantry with a variety of healthy options, helps ensure you always have something on hand when hunger strikes.
“When you have a lot on your mind, your brain gets overloaded, which is known as decision fatigue,” says Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutrition and wellness expert and co-author of Sugar Shock. “That’s why planning is such a critical part of eating healthier. When you keep more nutritious foods in your pantry and know how to assemble quick meals and snacks, it makes it easier to eat better, even when you’re worn out.”
Below are six foods Cassetty likes to keep in her pantry. Follow her lead and stock up on each for an easy way to promote better decision making and healthier eating at home.
“The healthiest snacks have simple, whole-food ingredients, low or no added sugar, and have nutritional value,” says Cassetty. She prefers the That’s It brand of fruit bars, which are composed of real fruit and contain zero added sugar. “A pantry staple like this helps you meet your fruit goals when you need a snack on the go or you’ve run out of other options.”
According to Cassetty, very few people eat the recommended 2 servings of seafood per week. That’s why canned tuna is among her top pantry picks. “It contains vitamin D, which is essential for immune function, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory fats that are important for heart and brain health. And it’s a great source of protein,” she says. Tuna is also more versatile than you may think — it’s not just for tuna salad sandwiches. Try tossing it into pasta with olives and veggies for a well-rounded dinner, or mix some tuna with sesame oil and tamari and serve it over salad greens.
Your typical boxed pasta is made from flour and water, but pulse-based pastas are usually made from nutritious lentils or chickpeas, which provide protein and fiber. Cooking with pulse-based pasta is a quick and easy way to add balance to your meals because you don’t need to cook a separate protein component. “It’s an all-in-one product, so you can just add veggies and sauce and call it a night,” says Cassetty.
“Unsweetened dry oats have a lot going for them,” says Cassetty, noting that they contain a wide spectrum of nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium and fiber. Oatmeal is a natural choice when faced with dry oats, but here’s a fun fact: “When eaten raw, oats provide a type of prebiotic fiber known as resistant starch,” says Cassetty. “Studies suggest that resistant starch may assist with blood sugar regulation and weight management, and it may help reduce bloating from gas and keep you regular.” To get the most from your oats, sprinkle raw oats over a salad, on top of avocado toast, toast topped with nut butter, or use them to coat homemade energy bites.
KETO PANCAKE AND WAFFLE MIX
“If you want to make your healthy eating habits sustainable, it’s helpful to find better alternatives for foods you love,” says Cassetty. “That’s why I suggest keeping Birch Benders Keto Pancake & Waffle Mix at home. Even though I don’t follow the keto diet, I appreciate the nutrient-rich ingredients, like almond flour and tigernut flour, and the fact that the mix has no added sugar.” Of course, you could just buy all the ingredients separately and make your own pancakes and waffles, but using a healthy mix is a lot more convenient. If you need some inspiration, Cassetty likes to top her pancakes with raspberry chia jam and a spoonful of nut butter. “It’s so decadent-tasting, it’s hard to believe it’s healthy!”
These powerful snacks contain more ALA — an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid — than any other nut. Each serving contains 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and polyphenol antioxidants, which are good for the gut. “Several studies have found an association between eating walnuts and better appetite control,” says Cassetty. “This may be why data from the Nurses’ Health Study showed that people who boosted their walnut and other tree nut consumption gained less weight and had a lower risk of developing obesity over the 20- to 24-year follow-up period.”
You can eat walnuts by themselves or add them to yogurt, oatmeal, salads and pilafs. You can also use crushed walnuts in place of breadcrumbs on fish and chicken, says Cassetty. But remember, while unopened walnuts are a great pantry staple, they should be stored in the freezer or fridge once you open the bag.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you want to lose weight, maintain weight or just keep your body fueled with nutritious foods, it’s smart to keep healthy go-to’s at home. This eases the decision-making process and encourages you to make healthy choices, whether that’s grabbing a package of nuts on your way out the door or incorporating high-protein pasta into your weeknight dinners.
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