Kitchen Essentials: 10 Things Dietitians Always Keep in Their Pantry

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What's in your pantry?

HealthCentral polled registered dietitians (RDs) to find out what they always have on hand at home in a pinch to prepare a quick meal or snack. These items are versatile and can be used as part of any healthy diet.


Greek yogurt (1/2)

“I always have plain low-fat Greek yogurt in my refrigerator,” says Suzy Carobrese, RD. “I use it in place of sour cream when eating Mexican cuisine, for dips, in my banana chocolate chip muffins, and in many other recipes that may call for sour cream. Greek yogurt is a nutritious substitution for sour cream because it has more protein and can help you to feel full.”


Greek yogurt (2/2)

Cynthia Finley, RD, also has this item on hand at all times. “Greek yogurt can be mixed with fruit for breakfast or a snack, added as a garnish to a baked potato, made into a dip (sweet or savory), made into a smoothie … and the list goes on. It is such a versatile food full of protein, and it is low in calories with many applications. And it keeps well!” Finley says.



“The first thing that comes to mind is eggs,” says Erin Bresnahan, RD. “They are a big staple in our house since they can be used for so many things — even if we’re just using the whites for a recipe.”

“I also always have fresh eggs on hand,” agrees Peggy Wrobleski, Ph.D., RD. “Eggs are a wonderfully versatile, high-protein food that can easily become the base ingredient for a quick breakfast (omelet), lunch (Huevos Rancheros) or dinner entrée (such as quiche)."



Packaged grains, such as quinoa, are staple foods in many households. They have a long shelf life and are inexpensive. They are also high in fiber and protein, rich in nutrients, and a good option for vegetarians. “Instant rice and couscous are good last-minute alternatives to have on hand,” comments Amy Allen-Chabot, Ph.D., RD.

“I always keep some kind of whole grain bread or whole wheat sandwich rounds in my house,” states Erin Bresnahan, RD, for easy lunch packing.



“I love to have nuts on hand for snacks,” says Jennifer McGurk, RD. Packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats, nuts can also be can be sprinkled on top of salad, stirred into yogurt, or added to baked goods for an extra nutritional boost. “Peanut butter is a quick protein staple in my pantry,” says Andi Miles, RD. If someone in your household is allergic to nuts, consider using seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, chia, or flax as an alternative — they pack similar nutritional benefits.


Dried fruits

Similar to nuts, dried fruits can be added to baked goods, yogurt, or cereal. They can be used in making homemade granola bars or trail mix. “I love to have trail mix and granola bars on hand for snacks,” says McGurk.


Frozen fruits and vegetables

“I love to have bags of frozen fruit to defrost and eat, or to use to make smoothies,” says McGurk. “I also love Streamfresh® veggies to pop in the microwave for an easy veggie side. Frozen works so well when you don't have time to get to the grocery store!”



“I always have black beans on hand since I don’t eat meat,” says Allen-Chabot. Beans are high in fiber, protein, and nutrients and can be combined with grains to make a complete, high-protein meal for vegetarians. Dried beans can be quickly made into a side dish or added to a soup or stew. “Roasted chickpeas are a great snack to have at home,” says McGurk.


Herbs and spices

“I always keep garlic, lemon, herbs, and spices in my pantry,” says Miles. “Using them is an easy way to cook vegetables and meats without adding salt.” Both fresh and dried herbs add distinct flavor to foods without adding additional sodium.

Canned or dried vegetables can also add flavor to foods. “Sun-dried tomatoes are a healthy staple in my pantry that can go in salads, chicken dishes, and pasta dishes. Jars of roasted red peppers also are a go-to item for me,” says Allen-Chabot.


Olive oil and vinegar

“I’m a believer in high-end ingredients, so I have a good-quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil in my pantry at all times. I find I will eat less if it is really flavorful,” says Allen-Chabot.

Kay Sandow, Ph.D., RD notes that in addition to olive oil, she always has nonstick cooking spray on hand. “I am less likely to use a fat that is not as good for me if I have a healthier alternative in my pantry,” says Sandow.


Milk and cheese

Dairy products are high in protein and an excellent source of calcium. “I always have milk on hand,” says Helene Pokrywka, M.S., RD. “It’s a basic food that can be used as an ingredient in many recipes.”

“Cheese is a good all-purpose food or base ingredient in many entrees,” Sandow says. “It’s a great snack, especially for kids.”