What pantry staples do I need for healthy eating?

I guess the first question is, can I even use pantry staples for healthy eating? The answer is a resounding YES. And we’ve all been there. You get home from a long day at work and it’s time to cook dinner. You stare blankly at the pantry wondering, “What the heck am I going to cook?” You’re already home and you don’t want to make the trip to the grocery store. What can you make with your pantry staples?

But now more than ever, people are wondering what they can do with pantry staples while still aiming for healthy eating. Many people are settling into their homes to practice social distancing and to work from home. Gyms, restaurants, companies are shutting their doors to consumers. People have flocked to grocery stores in a panic that we will be quarantined. Schools have closed for kids, and universities are switching to online classes. There is a lot of stress and uncertainty. Not only do people feel the need to have pantry items on hand if there is a quarantine, but also many people’s jobs are on the line, and there is a need to eat on a tighter budget.

healthy pantry staples

Eating with pantry staples can be just as nutritious as eating fresh foods. With a little planning, there can be many options available to you! Beans, pasta, rice, canned fish, frozen vegetables, and a few pantry staples and freezer staples can be used to create a dinner masterpiece!

You’ve probably heard the saying “shop the perimeter” when you’re at the grocery store, aka buying mostly fresh items from the produce, meat, dairy, and fish sections. But as we now know, this is not always an option. There are so many nutritious options throughout the rest of the store! Beans, grains, nuts, canned fish, frozen fruits and vegetables…they can all be used to create a nutritious dinner, and they last a long time!

What Pantry Staples to Buy

Here are some of my favorite pantry staples for healthy eating:

pantry staples for healthy eating


Now what to make with these foods? Here are a few simple recipes to try using these pantry staples!

What to Make Using Pantry Staples for Healthy Eating

1. Black Bean Tacos using Pantry Staples 

healthy pantry staple tacos

Photo by Kaitlin Eckstein

Almost all of the ingredients in this recipe are shelf-stable, so it is easy to keep them stocked. This is also a great dinner to have as a Plan-B if your routine gets thrown off. This takes only 5-10 minutes to put together!

2. Shrimp Stir-Fry using Pantry Staples

shrimp fried rice bowl pantry staples for healthy eating

Photo by Kaitlin Eckstein

I love using shrimp as a quick protein because it thaws SO FAST and cooks even faster! This shrimp stir-fry can seriously be on the table in about 10 minutes. That’s a winner in my book!

3. 5-Ingredient Chicken Curry using Pantry Staples 

pantry staples curry

Photo by Kaitlin Eckstein

The fewer the ingredients, the easier it is to keep the recipe on hand in your pantry staples! This chicken curry is always a favorite of mine! It’s too good to pass up! You can even make a big batch and then freeze the rest for another day.

4. Tuna and Pasta Salad using Pantry Staples 

tuna-salad pantry staples for healthy eating

Photo credit Kaitlin Eckstein

The combination of pasta and tuna salad is so simple but it has long been a favorite of mine. It’s a nostalgic dish for me and I LOVED it whenever my mom would make it. Tuna offers healthy fats, and I’ve replaced part of the mayo with Greek yogurt to reduce the saturated fat. Delicious and heart healthy! Find the recipe here.

5. Spinach and Pesto Naan Pizza using Pantry Staples 

naan pizza pantry staples for healthy eating

Photo credit Kaitlin Eckstein

Dietitians, particularly this one, love pizza! If you’re feeding a crowd, you can easily make a pizza bar and let everyone make their own creations. For this meal, I’m using naan for the crust because it can be stored in the freezer and can be ready at a moment’s notice. I always try to sneak some veggies on my pizza, so I went with some frozen spinach for this one!

6. Quinoa and Black Bean Bowls using Pantry Staples

quinoa bowl pantry staples

Photo credit Kaitlin Eckstein

Quinoa has received a lot of attention recently. It is a delicious whole grain, and is one of the few grains that actually contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Black beans boost the protein and fiber in this meal even more. These bowls are extremely versatile and you can add whatever toppings you have on hand.

7. Broccoli Cheddar Mac & Cheese with Chicken Sausage

pantry staples for healthy eating broccoli cheddar mac and cheese

Is mac and cheese healthy? I believe it can be. It’s carbohydrate, protein, and fat all in one. Now, I like to add a little bit of vegetable and a little extra protein to round it out. Here, traditional mac is made better with broccoli florets and chicken sausage (both from the freezer). This comfort food is sure to hit the spot!

YouTube video


For more pantry staple and budget meals:

Easy Meals on a Budget

Three EASY $10 Meals

Turn Your Random Pantry Items into Meals

You can also look for Budget Friendly Recipes on our Pinterest Board

Maryland Dietitians Pinterest Budget-Friendly Board





What’s your go-to meal to cook from your pantry or freezer essentials? Let us know! If you need help navigating how to make healthy meals from your pantry and freezer, or are struggling to meet your health goals while stuck at home, make an appointment with one of our nutrition professionals today by clicking here or calling 301-474-2499. We offer virtual counseling so you can see us from the comfort and safety of your own home. 


Updated March 2020


An award winning recipe developer, Dietitian Kaitlin’s mission is to empower others to reach their health goals by encouraging them to get back into the kitchen. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Diabetes.