RD’s Must-haves for the Pantry


If you were to take a peek into my pantry, these are some of the foods you would find.  I consider these foods not only staples of a nutritious diet, but also good for easy snacks and meals.  (Most of these foods are store-brand, unless otherwise specified.)

  • Whole wheat pasta: Use in any of your favorite pasta dishes.
  • Brown rice: Brown rice is a hearty side-dish to your favorite meat.  When you’re short on time, use Minute brown rice, which cooks in about 5 minutes.
  • Whole wheat bread: Make sure the first ingredient is “whole wheat flour.”
  • Mission Carb Balance whole wheat tortillas: These tortillas are a staple in my diet. At only 80 calories per tortilla, I like to use them for any meal: scrambled egg wrap, quesadilla, meat and cheese wrap, spread with peanut butter for a pre-workout snack, or with tacos.
  • Couscous: If you haven’t tried this grain, then you should. It cooks in just a few minutes and offers a break from the usual rice or pasta.  My favorite brand is Hodgson Mill.
  • Triscuits or Wheat Thins: Both of these crackers are whole-grain, which makes them a great choice. I like to eat mine with cheese as a snack.
  • Vanilla wafers or gingersnaps: These are two of my favorite cookies. They are both two of the better choices when you are looking for cookies because they are low in fat, saturated fat, and trans fat.
  • Dried beans: Beans are full of fiber, protein and carbs. They are a very inexpensive food that offers so much nutrition. I try to cook with beans once a week.
  • Canned beans: When you don’t have time to cook dried beans, canned beans are an excellent choice. To make a delicious and quick dip for vegetables, bread, or crackers: drain and rinse a can of beans, place in blender, add a little water, add seasonings to taste, and puree until smooth.  Now you have a tasty bean dip.
  • Canned Hormel turkey chili with beans: This makes for a quick meal when you are pressed for time. Serve with homemade cornbread, rice, or over a baked potato.
  • Canned fruit packed in juice or lite syrup: Canned fruit is good with any meal and is just as healthy as the fresh version.
  • Canned vegetables: I prefer fresh or frozen vegetables generally, but canned ones are good to have on hand as well. Try adding canned diced tomatoes to your spaghetti sauce, drained canned mushrooms to your homemade pizza, or canned corn to your cornbread batter.
  • Baking ingredients: white flour, whole wheat flour, vegetable oil, olive oil, baking soda, baking powder, spices and herbs, salt, vinegars, sugars, etc. I like to cook from scratch as much as possible.  Make sure to always have the basic baking and cooking ingredients on hand so you can make your own muffins, cakes, cookies, biscuits, marinades, casseroles, etc.
  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips: Not only for baking, but also to satisfy chocolate cravings!
  • Non-fat dry milk powder: Dry milk powder in the large boxes is usually cheaper than milk. If you are looking to trim your grocery bill, make up a quart of dry milk to use in cooking and recipes throughout the week.
  • Whole oats: Oatmeal is one of my favorite breakfasts. I like to add a variety of fruit, sugar substitutes, cinnamon, nuts or peanut butter, and milled flax seed.
  • Milled flax seed: An excellent source of fatty acids. Try adding to your cereal, yogurt, baked goods, or even use as an egg substitute in your baking!
  • Dry cereal: My favorites are Cheerios and Wheaties. But I like pretty much any kind.  A small bowl of cereal and milk makes a great bedtime snack.  When choosing your cereal, make sure the first ingredient has “whole” in it, to make sure it is a whole-grain cereal. Try to stay away from cereal with a lot of added sugar or fat.
  • Popcorn kernels: Air-popped popcorn makes a healthy snack. I like mine sprayed with olive oil and salt.
  • Sugar-free hot chocolate mix: I found a recipe for hot chocolate on the Splenda website. It is easy to make and delicious, especially during the winter.
  • Raw, plain almonds, peanuts, and walnuts: Nuts are another great source of protein, carbs, and fiber. One of my favorite snacks when I’m on the go is an ounce of nuts mixed with 2 tablespoons of dried fruit.  It’s satisfying and doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
  • Canned chicken and tuna packed in water: These are both lean sources of protein and make for super-quick meals and snacks.
  • Granola bars: Although granola bars are often considered a “health food”, I tend to disagree. I think most are more like a cookie disguised in a wrapper.  But, I do keep them on hand for times when I need a really quick snack-on-the-go or when I would like something sweet. (They are better than cakes and pastries.)  My favorite brands are Nature Valley, Kashi, Fiber One, Lara, and Kind.  But usually you will find the cheapest ones in my pantry since I don’t eat them very often.

What’s your pantry must-have?

RD’s Must-haves for the Refrigerator

If you were to take a peek into my refrigerator, these are some of the foods you would find.  I consider these foods not only staples of a nutritious diet, but also good for easy snacks and meals.  (Most of these foods are store-brand, unless otherwise specified.)


  • Skim milk: It’s my favorite beverage at breakfast and I also use it throughout the week in cooking.
  • 2% milk sharp cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, lite feta cheese, and parmesan cheese. I use it in some of our favorite meals: homemade pizza, pasta salad, tacos, and grilled cheese sandwiches for a super-quick meal.
  • No-sugar-added, fat-free yogurt: An excellent source of calcium, carbs, and protein, which makes for a great snack. Yogurt is also good for smoothies (blend yogurt and frozen fruit together until smooth).
  • Eggs: Eggs are good for any meal! I like scrambled eggs for breakfast with whole wheat toast and fruit or for dinner when I need a quick meal.  Don’t forget about hard-boiled eggs which make great snacks.
  • Plain, low-fat yogurt: My children love plain yogurt and with the healthy probiotics it contains, it makes an A+ choice for snacks. As a plus, it is less-expensive than the other yogurts that are marketed to kids.  If you don’t like plain yogurt, try adding honey, jelly, or a little sugar.  Plain yogurt can be substituted for sour cream in recipes.
  • Greek cream cheese: This cheese is a naturally lower-fat version of cream cheese. I use it in recipes in place of regular cream cheese.
  • Condiments such as ketchup, mustard, spicy mustard, light Ranch, low-fat mayonnaise, low-sodium soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pickles, balsamic vinaigrette (my favorite marinade for chicken), barbecue sauce, A1 sauce, jam, lemon juice, and lime juice. Most of these are store-brands to save money.  The exception is the light Ranch.
  • Hershey’s lite chocolate syrup for mixing with skim milk for a sweet snack.
  • Maple Grove Farms sugar-free maple syrup as a low-calorie topping for pancakes and waffles.
  • 100% fruit juice: If you are taking a multivitamin or iron supplement, consider taking it with juice—the vitamin C will help maximize the absorption of iron.
  • Hormel natural choice deli meat: This lunch meat is nitrate/nitrite free and is a good choice for sandwiches or wraps. I like it wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla with mustard and a slice of cheese.
  • No-sugar-added applesauce: Always a quick side for lunch or use as a substitute for oil/butter in baking.
  • Fresh fruit and fresh vegetables: It varies by the season, but during the winter, I always have clementines.
  • Lite butter (stick): For baking and cooking.
  • Butter (stick): There are times when pure butter is the only way to go!


What’s your “must-have” in your refrigerator?

Some Favorite Nutritious Foods, Tools and Websites

Nutritious Foods

Almonds – Satisfying snack, packed with carbs, protein, Vitamin E, and fiber25

Chicken Breasts – Versatile, lean meat that is served often at my house

Black Beans – Puree canned beans with garlic and a little salt and you have a tasty bean dip

Spinach – My favorite way to eat it is sautéed with garlic

Sugar Snap Peas – Another great snack: slightly sweet and very crunchy

Red, Yellow, Orange, and Green Peppers – Peppers are packed with antioxidants and go well with so many foods.  I especially like mine sautéed and served on a tortilla with beans.

Zucchini – Full of vitamins and minerals and low calorie

2% Milk Sharp Cheddar Cheese – Full of calcium and protein and even reduced fat

Skim milk – Milk is a great post-workout snack because of the combination of carbs and protein

Bananas – I prefer them with cereal and milk or topped with peanut butter. Yum!  Excellent source of potassium.

Clementines – These sweet little oranges are portable, full of Vitamin C, and easy to peel

Berries – Frozen berries are always in season.  I like mine pureed and mixed with applesauce, on pancakes, in oatmeal, or in muffins.

Whole wheat bread (especially if it’s made by my mom) – Who doesn’t like fresh homemade bread?

Oats – Cooked to make oatmeal, I like to put raisins in mine.  Or I’ll add them to pancake batter or cookies.

Barilla Plus Pasta – A tasty, whole grain pasta with added omega-3 fatty acids

Whole Wheat Flour – I replace white flour with whole wheat whenever I can: in brownies, muffins, or pancakes, for example

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars – Made with whole grains and goes great with yogurt

Wheaties – Good source of fiber and not too much sugar

La Tortilla Factory Tortillas – A great brand of low-carb tortillas

Hershey’s Lite Chocolate Syrup – Another great tasting treat that doesn’t taste “light”.  Add to skim milk for chocolate milk.

Whipped Butter My spread of choice for toast or baked potatoes

Favorite Tools

Pedometer – It’s motivating to count your steps throughout the day.  Have you gotten your 10,000 steps today?

Exercise Bands – When you don’t have time to go to the gym, these are great for toning

Jump Rope – A fun way to burn a lot of calories

Running Shoes – Asics have been my favorite since high school

Jogging Stroller – I bought my Avenir double jogger at a local bike store. I couldn’t do without it!

Food Scale – An essential kitchen tool that I use often.  I have an inexpensive one that I bought at Target.  Eventually I’d like a nice digital one.

Food Thermometer – How else do you know if the food is really done?


Some Favorite Websites


A useful website for current, science-based nutrition information


The USDA’s website on “MyPyramid.”  Go there to find your personalized recommendations for what to eat everyday.


All the recipes you could ever need created by pros


One of the best sites to visit for nutrition information of food


Where to go to find out how much you burn


Another helpful website for easy meal ideas


Healthy recipes using canned foods

Fool-proof Weekday Eating


One of the most common complaints my clients have is “not enough time to cook.”  That’s why I want to share my top meal prep tips with you.  Eating well all starts with what you bring in the house.  By having an (easy) plan, you can avoid costly trips to restaurants and instead enjoy home cooked (or semi-home cooked) meals at home.  This will save you money and improve your health.

  • Always have a “plan B” in mind if your original meal plan falls through. For lunch it can be a frozen meal you keep at work or at home.  For breakfast, grab a snack bar from your pantry and a cheese stick.  For dinner, always keep some canned soup and canned fruit in your pantry.  It will make a super-quick dinner when you’re in a pinch.
  • Schedule grocery shopping trips on your calendar.
  • Keep a running grocery list. Every time you notice a staple is running low, immediately add it to your grocery list.  If you have sufficient space, keep an extra package of every shelf-stable item you use.  We use a bedroom closet to keep an extra bottle of condiments, cereal, crackers, canned meats and beans, pasta, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, baking items, etc.  We can almost always throw a meal together with the staples we keep on hand.
  • Take one hour a week to make some snack items. I always like to have homemade wheat bread, homemade muffins, or homemade granola bars in the freezer or refrigerator.  They are good for hearty snacks or breakfast.  If you have some extra time, cut up vegetables, hard cook some eggs, and portion crackers into snack bags.
  • Of course making things from scratch and using fresh ingredients are preferred, but sometimes we don’t have time. The steam-able bags of veggies can be life-savers.  I especially like the ones mixed with beans and whole grains.  They make great side dishes and leftovers for lunch.

 Remember, eating well doesn’t have to be complicated.  It doesn’t have to be boring.  Just take a little time every week to keep your kitchen stocked, and you’ll be well on your way to eating well and feeling well.


Please share, what do you do to simplify meal prep?