If you’re trying to eat healthier in 2014, you’ve probably thought about better options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Planning your meals is a great way to keep yourself on track and keep to those New Year’s resolutions. But let’s face it: Sometimes life happens and we can’t get to the grocery store, and we are forced to make do with whatever we have on hand. And sometimes we find ourselves needing to nibble on a little something to tide us over until the next meal.
This is where many of us fall off the healthy eating wagon. (Don’t call it a diet.) A handful of chocolate chips here, a box of mac and cheese there, and the next thing you know, that healthy eating wagon has crashed into a heap. But don’t worry. A well-stocked pantry is your secret weapon for better nutrition. Here are 12 items to keep in your pantry to help you stay on track all year long.
- Oatmeal Not just for breakfast anymore, you can grind oats and add them to you burger mix, or use them to make no bake cookies for a healthier sweet treat. They’re a whole grain and full of fiber, which means you’ll feel fuller longer, and less likely to snack.
- Green tea If you’re used to drinking a sugary specialty coffee drink, or a few cups of cocoa, to warm up from winter’s chill, now’s a good time to switch to green tea. High in antioxidants, green tea can boost your immunity, helping you fight off all the illnesses winter brings. And in warmer weather, you can enjoy it over ice for a light, refreshing drink.
- Nuts Whether you choose almonds, walnuts, cashews, or some other variety, nuts provide protein to keep you full between meals. You can also grind them up to stretch your meatloaf without using excess carbohydrates.
- Salsa If you’re a snacker, salsa is one of the best weapons in your healthy eating arsenal. Not only is it extremely low in calories, it provides vitamin C and other antioxidants. Most varieties have about 5 calories per teaspoon, and zero fat. Some are higher in sodium than others, so if you’re watching your salt intake, be sure to check the label.
- Extra virgin olive oil Providing heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, olive oil is a key element in the Mediterranean diet, which is said to be one of the healthiest in the world. People from that part of the world traditionally have lower risks for heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, and longer life expectancy.
- Reduced sodium soy sauce Stir fries are a great way to enjoy lean meats and lots of vegetables, but regular soy sauce is extremely high in sodium. Switch to a reduced sodium variety for a healthier option.
- Organic low sodium chicken broth As the basis of several recipes, chicken broth is extremely versatile, especially in cold weather when we all crave comfort foods like soups and stews. But chicken broth can be ridiculously high in sodium. Next time you’re at the grocery store, look for an organic, low sodium version of your favorite broth. They are surprisingly affordable.
- Tuna For a quick meal high in protein and low in fat, you can’t beat tuna. Keep a few cans, or pouches, in your pantry, so you can always have a healthy option.
- Quinoa You may be puzzled as to how to pronounce it (say keen-wah), but this quick cooking grain is dense in nutrients and low in calories. Use it in place of rice or potatoes once a week and you may notice an improvement in your health.
- Flax seed These little seeds can be added to your smoothie, sprinkled in your salad, or added to batter for muffins. You’ll hardly notice them. But they’re doing great work—flax seeds provide dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans which may reduce the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer.
- Almond butter You may love a good PB&J, but most peanut butters are loaded with sugar. Go to your grocery store’s bulk foods department and look for the machine that grinds fresh almond butter. The only ingredient is almonds. No sugar, no preservatives, no junk. Use it as a dip for fresh apple slices.
- Protein powder If you don’t have time to make a healthy breakfast in the morning, or you need some fuel to get you through your workouts, protein powder is essential. There are as many varieties as there are tastes. Some people like whey. Some like hemp. Some prefer pea powder. Whatever you choose, look at the ingredients and decide what’s best for you. Then you’re equipped to whip up smoothies with fresh fruit and veggies, or add a scoop to your pancakes for a protein boost.