10 Food Staples Every Meal Prepper Should Keep Stocked

Healthy eating is so much easier when you go into the week with a fridge full of prepped meals. Spur-of-the-moment fast food run for lunch? Nope!

“I think that prepping your food ahead of time, if you could, really helps to set the tone for the week,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet. “It takes a lot of the guess work out of what to eat and makes it so much easier to stay on track.”

With a few staple foods on hand you can throw together an easy, nutritious meal even when you don’t make it to the grocery store. Gans recommends a winning combo of one-quarter whole grains, one-quarter protein, and one-half vegetables.

Stock up on these shelf-stable and frozen food staples for your next meal prep marathon.

frozen peas

Though they are delicious when they’re fresh, peas are frozen at their peak flavor and nutritional value, so once thawed they have every ounce of goodness the grocery store kind has, says Gans.

A cup of these green goodies packs an unexpected six grams of protein and five grams of fiber. Gans recommends tossing them into a pasta sauce or into salad greens for extra flavor and nutrients.

frozen edamame

With about 19 grams of protein and five grams of fiber per cup, soybeans can be appreciated by vegetarians and meat-lovers alike. They make a great addition to stir fries and can easily be tossed in with other chopped veggies.

Related: 9 Protein Sources For Vegetarians

nuts

When a salad or veggie dish feels a bit bland, Gans likes to jazz up the texture by adding nuts. Plus, they often bring some extra protein and healthy fats to the meal. Almonds, for example, contain six grams of protein and 15 grams of unsaturated fat per quarter-cup serving. Try sprinkling slivered almonds over your next string bean dish or side salad.

whole wheat pasta

Yes, pasta can totally be a part of your meal prep! Gans recommends brands that make 100-percent whole-grain pastas. One cup of your average whole-wheat penne pasta provides nine grams of protein and six grams of fiber (more than you’ll find in most conventional pastas) and can help you feel satisfied after your meal, says Gans. Plus, many whole-grain pastas are fortified with B vitamins.

Since grains take longer to cook, they’re definitely worth prepping in bulk once a week and stashing in the fridge. In the warmer months, Gans likes to whip up a cold pasta salad by mixing veggies and beans or pulses into her pasta.

quinoa

This seed is one of our meal prep faves, because it creates the perfect canvas for tons of flavor and food combinations. Plus one cooked cup contains eight grams of protein and five grains of fiber.

Cook your quinoa in vegetable broth to bump up the flavor, recommends Gans. Then, mix in peas and mushrooms along with your favorite spices for a satisfying veggie-packed side.

canned beans copy

Beans are a great, shelf-stable source of plant-based protein—and with so many varieties of beans out there, you’ll never get bored! A cup of black beans offers about 15 grams of protein and 17 (woah!) grams of fiber. Meanwhile, a cup of chickpeas packs about 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber.

Mix a cup of your favorite beans in with corn, chopped red onion, and tomatoes, for a fresh and filling salad.

oil

Okay, this may not be a veggie, whole-grain, or protein source, but oil is still a power player when you’re prepping meals. You’ll need oil for stir fries, dressings (what would cold pasta salad be without it?!), and cooking veggies and protein.

Go for olive oil or almond oil, which contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, says Gans. Just keep in mind that a tablespoon of these oils contains around 14 grams of fat, so avoid getting too heavy-handed with your pour.

canned tuna

Need protein in a pinch? Say hello to canned tuna. After all, just three ounces pack 20 grams of protein. You can easily toss tuna into a pasta or veggie salad, or quinoa-based dish for a quick, well-rounded meal.

Related: 9 Ways To Take Canned Tuna To The Next Level

frozen meat

Stash some frozen chicken or lean beef in the freezer and you’ll be set on protein when you don’t feel like hitting the grocery store. Just defrost the meat in the fridge 24 hours before meal prepping or pop the meat in the microwave when you’re ready to go.

Pair a serving of lean meat with veggies and a whole-grain, or throw them on top of a salad, says Gans.

frozen seafood

To keep your meals interesting, store frozen seafood alongside the other proteins in your freezer. Three ounces of both shrimp and salmon contain about 17 grams of protein—plus, that salmon packs between 1,500 and 2,000 milligrams of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Mix shrimp into a veggie and quinoa stir fry or serve your salmon over greens or alongside whole grains and veggies, Gans recommends.

Related: Shop a wide selection of ingredients for a healthier kitchen.

8 Surprising Sources Of Protein

When it comes to lean protein, we immediately think of chicken breast. But luckily for your taste buds, protein is found in tons of other foods, too.

We know you know protein is important—but just in case you need a quick refresher, here’s why: “Protein is required for most of our bodily functions, including metabolizing food, building muscle, exercising, producing essential hormones like insulin and glucogen, ensuring healthy skin, and transporting oxygen,” says Angel Planells, M.S., R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

You may need anywhere from 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight depending on your age and activity level, says Planells. (Find out your exact protein needs here.)

Try one of these surprising protein sources to pump up the amount of protein you get out of your next meal.

pumpkin seeds
With about nine grams of protein in a quarter-cup, this grab-and-go snack is a delicious way to bump up your protein intake. Laura Baum, R.D., M.Sc.F.N., loves to sprinkle pumpkin seeds over a bowl of Greek yogurt, mix them into a trail mix with other plain roasted nuts, or add them to rice dishes. They make a great crunchy addition to any dish, but we’d eat them straight out of the bag, too.

quinoa vector
This seed (yes, it’s a seed!) contains all nine essential amino acids, earning it the title of ‘complete protein,’ which we usually associate with animal proteins, says Planells.

Quick refresher: We break the protein we eat down into amino acids, explains Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D.N. Our bodies produce some aminos, but we can only get the nine essential aminos from food. It’s important to get all nine so that our body can build the proteins that form our muscles, hair, skin, and more.

One cooked cup of this fluffy, grain-like stuff packs eight grams of protein. Quinoa will absorb just about any flavor you cook it in, so it’s a great substitute for rice in stir-fries. Baum also likes to mix it into Greek salads or with steamed veggies for a side dish.

tuna
Are you giving this animal protein the love it deserves? With less fat than many other animal proteins and a dose of omega-3 fatty acids (which support heart health—specifically our blood pressure and arteries), tuna packs 20 grams of protein per three-ounce serving. Planells recommends incorporating seafood into your daily grub two-to-three times per week. One of his favorite protein-packed snacks: a serving of tuna spread on whole-grain crackers.

Related: 9 Ways To Take Canned Tuna To The Next Level

cottage cheese
Yeah, you already know Greek yogurt is chock-full of protein, but it’s not the only dairy food that should be on your radar. Half a cup of cottage cheese offers 12 grams of protein and is the perfect canvas for both sweet and savory snacks. Go for a sweet version by adding fruit, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a spoonful of flaxseed—or try a savory variety by adding chopped veggies, salt, and pepper, recommends Planells. If you’re feeling really creative, you can even mix cottage cheese into your favorite pancake mix, says Baum.

spinach
When it comes to veggies and protein, spinach gets the gold medal with six grams of protein in a cup, says Begun. Plus, Popeye’s go-to food also provides minerals like calcium, iron, and potassium.

When you mix and match spinach with other veggies, the protein can really add up, says Begun. A medium white potato, a cup of broccoli, and a cup of Brussels sprouts all contain four grams of your muscles’ favorite macronutrient.

nut butter
We all loved a good PB&J as kids, and we haven’t grown out of our nut butter obsession! Two tablespoons of peanut butter contain seven grains of protein, and pair perfectly with other protein sources, like Greek yogurt, whole-grain bread, or oatmeal, says Begun.

If peanuts aren’t your thing, or if you just want to expand your nut butter horizons, two tablespoons of almond butter also contain about seven grams of protein. Score!

soy
Soy is the sweetheart protein source of vegetarians and vegans everywhere for good reason: It’s another rare plant-based ‘complete protein,’ containing all nine essential amino acids.

Tofu packs about 10 grams of protein per cup, but it’s not your only option. Tempeh, which is made from fermented tofu, offers about 20 grams of protein per cup, says Planells.

You can always go for soybeans in their original form, known as ‘edamame,’ too. One cup of cooked edamame provides 18 grams of protein and makes a great addition to a stir fry or salad, says Begun. They also happen to pack nine grams of fiber.

Related: 7 Protein Sources For Vegetarians

lentils

Half a cup of cooked lentils offers nine grams of protein—more than a cup of milk, a serving of cheddar cheese, or an egg, says Planells. He likes to mix one cup of lentils with an egg and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese for a breakfast that packs 17 grams of protein.

For a fun and protein-rich meal, Baum recommends making stuffed peppers or eggplant with a mixture of rice and lentils. (If you’re not into lentils, Baum recommends going for other beans, like kidney beans, which pack eight grams of protein per cup.)

Related: When in doubt, there’s always a protein supp.

Pin this handy infographic to pack your diet with a variety of protein sources: 

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8 Breakfasts That Pack Between 20 And 30 Grams Of Protein

It’s old news: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But are you building yourself the best morning meal for your health—and waistline? One major key to a successful breakfast: protein.

Though we all need different amounts of protein throughout the day (depending on size and activity level), you want to make sure it’s a part of every meal, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N. “Protein is crucial for repairing and building muscle,” she says. The sweet spot: about 20 grams of protein per meal. This much will help your body maintain muscle mass without going overboard, since, according to Harris-Pincus, your body may store anything beyond 30 grams of protein as fat instead.

Hit that sweet spot with these eight nutritionist-approved breakfasts.

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photo: Lauren Harris-Pincus
  1. Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Overnight Oats

One of Harris-Pincus’ favorite breakfasts is overnight oats because they’re easy to make in advance. With 23 grams of protein, eight grams of fiber, and antioxidants from the cocoa powder, her chocolate-covered strawberry overnight oats will keep you full ‘til lunchtime.

You’ll Need:
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ scoop chocolate protein powder
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 packet preferred sweetener
1/3 cup unsweetened preferred milk
1/3 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 tsp mini chocolate chips

Stir together the oats, protein powder, cocoa powder, and sweetener in a container. Add the milk, stir, then add the yogurt and stir. Mix in most of the strawberries, then top with chocolate chips and remaining strawberries. Refrigerate overnight and enjoy in the morning.

Related: 8 Overnight Oats Recipes That Make Breakfast Taste Like Dessert

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photo: Lauren Harris-Pincus
  1. Toasted Coconut Wild Blueberry Smoothie Bowl

This smoothie bowl has a little secret: It packs 14 grams of fiber (thank you, coconut flour!), helping you stay fuller longer. Not to mention it contains 27 grams of protein.

You’ll Need:
1 Tbsp toasted, unsweetened coconut flakes
½ cup preferred milk
1 tsp chia seeds
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 packet preferred sweetener
2 Tbsp coconut flour
1 cup frozen blueberries
½ cup ice

Add all ingredients except the toasted coconut to a blender. Blend until smooth and pour into a bowl, then top with toasted coconut.

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photo: Lauren Harris-Pincus
  1. Protein-Packed Chocolate Cereal Bowl

Cereal has been a breakfast favorite since we were kids, but typically lacks protein and leaves us hungry and wanting yet another bowl within the hour. This protein-packed cereal bowl will have you slurping up every drop of milk—and also happens to pack 22 grams of protein. Harris-Pincus recommends choosing a high-fiber cereal that adds a lot of volume—but not calories—to your morning meal. Mix up the protein powder flavor, fruit, and type of cereal for a dozen breakfast combos.

You’ll Need:
1 cup toasted oat cereal
½ cup high-fiber cereal
¾ cup preferred milk
3 Tbsp chocolate protein powder
1 cup sliced strawberries

Add cereal and strawberries to a bowl. Whisk protein powder into milk until dissolved, then pour over cereal and strawberries.

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photo: Rachael Hartley
  1. Smoked Salmon And Goat Cheese Frittata

Bake this bad boy at the beginning of the week and serve up a slice every morning for a high-protein breakfast. Rachael Hartley, R.D., L.D., C.D.E., C.L.T., loves this frittata because it incorporates fish (a great lean protein) into her morning meal. With 25 grams of protein per serving, this isn’t your average ‘ole egg breakfast.

You’ll Need:
10 eggs
½ cup preferred unsweetened milk
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup sliced scallions
1 chopped tomato
4 oz. chopped smoked salmon
2 Tbsp of chopped dill
2 Tbsp of capers
3 oz.  crumbled goat cheese

Beat eggs and milk until well-combined and then season with salt and pepper. Preheat broiler. Heat olive oil in a large, oven safe skillet on medium heat and sauté scallions for one minute. Add tomato and cook for three minutes. Then add smoked salmon, cooking for 30 seconds, and pour in egg mixture, dill, and capers. Stir until combined and cook five to seven minutes until mostly set. Top with a sprinkle of goat cheese and broil in the oven for one minute. Serve hot or cold.

enchiladas
photo: Rachael Hartley
  1. Breakfast Enchiladas

Move over, huevos rancheros. This healthy breakfast is a Mexican food-lover’s dream come true.

“Beans are a great vegetarian source of protein to include at breakfast,” says Hartley. These breakfast enchiladas pack about 25 grams of protein per serving from the beans, corn tortillas, and eggs. Plus, sweet potatoes add extra fiber and antioxidants.

You’ll Need:
2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 sweet potatoes, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 chopped onion
2 minced garlic cloves
2 tsp of chili powder
1 can black beans, drained
6 beaten eggs
12 corn tortillas
12 oz. jar salsa verde
3 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Add sweet potatoes and sauté for five minutes, or until browned. Add onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and chili powder, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Remove mixture from pan, place in a large bowl, and add beans to the bowl. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in the skillet and add eggs. Scramble and stir in potato mixture. Pour a half-cup of the salsa verde into a large baking sheet. Spoon a half-cup cup of the egg-potato mixture into corn tortillas, roll, and place seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat for the rest of the tortillas and egg mixture. Top with remaining salsa verde and feta cheese. Bake 20 minutes.

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photo: Tori Schmitt
  1. Blueberry Cream Smoothie

This vegan, gluten-free, high-protein smoothie packs 23 grams of drinkable protein. According to Tori Schmitt, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., this breakfast helps kickstart your morning by providing a balance of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. The dates add a subtle natural sweetness and the cauliflower adds a sneaky serving of vegetables.

You’ll Need:
1 cup unsweetened preferred milk
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 tsp kale powder or 1 handful fresh kale
1 cup frozen blueberries and strawberries
1 pitted date
3 cauliflower florets
1 tsp chia seeds

Add milk, protein powder, kale, date, frozen mixed berries, and cauliflower to a blender. Blend for two to four minutes and add ice until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Pour into a glass and top with chia seeds.

Scrambled Eggs and Vegetables on weathered wood
photo: iStock
  1. Broccoli And Egg Scramble

These flavorful morning eggs pack 20 grams of protein, plus an extra kick of unsaturated fatty acids for sustained energy from the avocado, and fiber from the broccoli, says Schmitt. Quick, easy, and packed with produce.

You’ll Need:
½ cup broccoli
2 eggs
2 Tbsp shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 medium avocado
1 cup raspberries

Sauté the broccoli in a skillet, add eggs, and scramble. Once cooked, remove from pan and top with the shredded cheese and avocado. Serve with a side of raspberries.

healthy breakfast with yogurt, muesli and berries
photo: iStock
  1. Cottage Cheese Bowl

The pili nut (a native of the Philippines that you can find in many health food stores) is one of Schmitt’s favorite ways to add protein to a snack or meal. This nut, cottage cheese, and fruit combo provides 20 grams of protein, plus healthy fats and magnesium.

You’ll Need:
¾ cup cottage cheese
½ cup green grapes, halved
2 Tbsp of pili nuts
Dash of cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and top with cinnamon.

Related: Find oils, seasonings, sweeteners, and more to help you whip up healthy meals.

How To Make The Best Smoothie For Your Goals

We love a good smoothie, but not all blends are created equal. In order to make these liquid snacks work for your personal health and fitness goals, you may need to switch up the ingredients you throw into the blender.

First things first, you want your smoothie to provide a balance of four things: nutrient-dense carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fats, and plenty of fiber, says Wesley Delbridge R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. From there, a few tweaks will help you whip up your perfect drink.

Whether you’re looking to bulk up or shed a few pounds, these nutritionist-backed guidelines can help you make you a smart smoothie next time you reach for the blender.

Goal: Weight Management

If you’re trying to shed pounds, calorie control is the name of the game. While the body needs carbohydrates for energy, cutting down on the carbs and fat in your shake can keep its calories in check to support weight loss. Making sure your shake packs plenty of protein, though, helps you maintain and build muscle while cutting calories, says Jim White, R.D., founder of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios.

Unsweetened almond milk makes a great base for a weight loss-friendly shake because it’s low in calories, White says. (One cup has 39 calories.) He recommends blending it up with whey protein powder—one scoop for women and two scoops for men. This blended snack comes in somewhere around 150 to 200 calories, keeps carbohydrates low, and packs on the protein.

Related: This Is The Best Cardio Workout For Weight Loss

Goal: Meal Replacement

On super-busy days, sitting down for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) just isn’t in the cards. Smoothie to the rescue!

If your blend is replacing a meal, White recommends women shoot for a 400-calorie drink while men go for a 500-calorie drink. When building your meal replacement smoothie, be sure to incorporate protein, carbohydrates, and fat before blending for a nutritionally-balanced result.

Start with a base of six to eight ounces of coconut milk and add the following: dry oats (a quarter-cup for women and half-cup for guys), one cup Greek yogurt, three quarters-cup berries, and a tablespoon of chia seeds. The berries knock out a serving of fruit, the oats provide fiber-filled carbs, the yogurt provides protein, and chia seeds add essential fatty acids. Now that’s a balanced, busy day-friendly meal.

Goal: Muscle-Building Or ‘Bulking’

In the fitness world, protein and muscle gains go together like peanut butter and jelly. While the average person needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day, athletes who are really working their muscles hard may need up to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram, says Delbridge. (That’s roughly 0.36 grams per pound for the average person and 0.64 grams per pound for someone stressing their muscles big time.)

White recommends muscle-making smoothies that have a ratio of one part protein to two parts carbohydrate. If bulking up is your goal, you need carbs after a lifting session to restore the glycogen in your muscles, in addition to needing protein to help them rebuild and grow. Mix one cup of skim milk (nine grams of protein and 13 grams of carbs) with a scoop of whey protein (about 20 grams of protein). Then add a medium banana for two full servings of fruit and 27 grams of carbohydrates. That gives you a prime post-workout shake consisting of 316 calories, 41 grams of carbs, and 30 grams of protein.

Related: Find the flavor of protein powder you’ll look forward to every time.

Goal: Endurance Exercise and Performance

If you’re training for a distance-racing event, or are just trying to run or cycle farther, smoothies can be a great way to fuel your body for the long haul. For this, you’ll need higher amounts of nutrient-dense carbs for long-lasting energy, says Delbridge. Oh yeah, there are bananas and oats in your future.

White recommends starting with a base of unsweetened almond milk and adding the following: a half-cup to one cup dried oats, half a frozen banana, a handful of spinach, and a full orange. This shake uses whole food sources to jack up the carbs (upward of 100 grams) and provides some protein from the oats and spinach to promote recovery post-workout, he says.

Save this handy infographic for the perfect smoothie instructions, whenever you’re craving a blend: 

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The 5 Best Nighttime Snacks If You’re Trying To Lose Weight

Anyone who gets hit with a late-night snack attack probably worries a little bit about eating after dinner—especially if they’re trying to lose weight. But have no fear! Nighttime snacks can be a completely healthy addition to your daily diet.

Just consider a few simple guidelines: First, ask yourself why you want to eat. “Are you snacking because you feel hungry or because you are bored or watching TV?” says Melissa Prest, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.R., L.D.N. Give your dinner about an hour to digest and then check in with your motives before scavenging through the fridge.

When you do snack, it’s all about keeping your kitchen stocked with healthy bites, so you’re not left aimlessly staring into the refrigerator (and reaching for unhealthy choices) before bed. “Plan snacks just like you plan other meals,” says Jackie Newgent, R.D.N., culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. Plan out your full day of meals (snacks, too!) at least a day or so in advance to keep healthy eating on track, Newgent says.

A weight loss-friendly snack should include a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber, and come in between 100 to 200 calories, says Angel Planells, M.S. R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A combination of macronutrients helps you feel fuller from smaller portions—and that’s because the protein and fiber fills you up and helps to lessen the impact carbs have on your blood sugar, he explains. Just don’t eat within an hour of hitting the hay, or you may be in for some digestive upset overnight, adds Newgent.

These five dietitian-approved snacks are perfect options for your next nighttime nosh:

cherries pistachios article

  1. Trail Mix

For a sweet and salty combo, try an easy mix of dried fruit and nuts. Dried tart cherries with pistachios or raisins with peanuts are two quick and easy combos, says Newgent.

“The combination of protein and fiber in this snack duo is notably satiating,” she says. Half an ounce of pistachios (about 25 kernels) contains 81 calories and almost three grams of protein. Pair that a quarter cup of unsweetened dried cherries (65 calories) for a snack that totals 146 calories.

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  1. Fruit Smoothie

Blend half a very ripe mango (or half a cup of any fruit you like), three quarters of a cup of plain Greek yogurt, water, and ice for a delicious, probiotic-packed drink, recommends Newgent. The mango has about 100 calories and the yogurt adds 75 calories to the mix.

If you’re not feeling an icy beverage, mix the fruit into a bowl of plain yogurt instead. Prest also likes adding a tablespoon of hemp or chia seeds to her yogurt bowl for a boost of plant-based protein and fiber.

Related: Give your next smoothie a boost with a scoop of protein powder.

veggies hummus article

  1. Veggies and Bean Dip

Newgent loves this pick because it’s a delicious source of plant-based nutrients and soluble fiber. With just 50 calories in two tablespoons of hummus and another 50 in a cup of carrot sticks, this snack is an easy, low-calorie option. Just portion out your hummus and put the container away!

apple nut butter article

  1. Apple and Nut Butter

Prest recommends an apple with one tablespoon of nut butter for a mix of carbs, protein, and fat that comes in around 150 calories. A tablespoon of unsalted peanut butter contains almost four grams of protein and eight grams of unsaturated fat.

popcorn article

  1. Popcorn

If you’re looking for something salty, swap the greasy chips for three cups of air-popped popcorn, says Prest. You can even top it with sea salt or nutritional yeast seasoning for some extra flavor. Nutritional yeast is used as a cheese replacement in lots of vegan diets and packs lots of B vitamins and some protein.

You can snack on a full three cups of air-popped popcorn for just 92 calories, with that sprinkle of a tablespoon of nutritional yeast adding three grams of protein for just 20 calories.

Related: Check out the Snack Zone for a variety of ready-to-eat, health-conscious foods.

Pin this handy infographic and never stare aimlessly into the fridge at night again: 

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Eating Cholesterol Might Not Be Such A Bad Thing

Many of us grew up thinking cholesterol = bad. Eat a lot of cholesterol, end up with high cholesterol, right? Well, that might not be the case.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines once capped daily cholesterol consumption at 300 milligrams, but dropped the limit recommendation in 2015, stating that “available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol” and that “cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

Recent research has found that the cholesterol we consume may not be as big of a heart health risk as we once thought, says Tori Schmitt, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., founder of YES! Nutrition. “For many people, when they eat cholesterol, their body accommodates by producing less,” says Schmitt. (Yep, your body makes cholesterol!)

But what does the stuff even do? Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is the starting point for making cells and steroid hormones (like sex and adrenal hormones) in the body, says Rachel Begun, M.S., R.D.N. It also plays a role in vitamin D synthesis and digestion.

Cholesterol is transported throughout the body by two different kinds of lipoproteins: Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver throughout the body and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry the cholesterol back to the liver, Begun says.

LDL cholesterol can contribute to plaque buildup in the blood, which is why it’s known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol, Begun explains. “Generally, the lower your LDL and the higher your HDL, the better your odds for preventing cardiovascular disease,” she says.

The sticky substance is found in the cell membrane of animal cells, so foods high in cholesterol are animal-based foods like meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, and milk, says Schmitt. Nope, you won’t find cholesterol in plants!

Just don’t consider the recent research an invitation to go crazy: One review published in the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology suggested dietary cholesterol generally does not impact blood cholesterol levels or coronary heart disease risk but still cautioned that some people may be more sensitive to cholesterol intake than others.

Even if you don’t need to worry too much about dietary cholesterol affecting your LDL levels on its own, though, certain foods it’s found in contain something you do need to look out for: saturated fats. These fats can increase that ‘bad’ cholesterol and the USDA dietary guidelines still consider them a threat. Monitor your intake of fatty meats and high-fat dairy, and keep saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your daily calories, recommends Schmitt.  

If heart health is a priority (and it should be!) your diet should focus on “fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, plant oils, and moderate amounts of lean animal protein,” says Begun.

When it comes to cholesterol-containing foods that don’t pack much saturated fat, there are a few that deserve a spot on your plate.

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  1. Eggs

One large egg packs on 186 milligrams of cholesterol. (That’s 372 milligrams in two.) We don’t know about you, but we like more than one egg in our morning scramble, and we get that this may feel a little bold, considering that previous 300 milligram limit. But cholesterol or not, eggs are super-nutritious and definitely deserve a spot in your daily grub.

Eggs are quite nutrient-dense, with six grams of protein, 41 IU vitamin D and 270 IU of vitamin A per egg, says Schmitt. She adds that egg yolks also have a nutrient called choline, which helps support fetal brain development during pregnancy.

Related: An Ode To Egg Yolks (Yes, They’re Good For You!)

shrimp

  1. Shellfish

Shellfish, like shrimp, are a delicious way to get lean protein and essential minerals without much saturated fat, says Begun. A three-ounce serving of shrimp, for example, contains about 161 mg of cholesterol and packs 20 grams of protein with only trace amounts of fat.

Not into the little guys? Other varieties of shellfish (like lobster) are also low in fat but high in nutrients.

salmon

  1. Salmon

That salmon filet contains some cholesterol, but also provides a variety of valuable nutrients. A three-ounce fillet of wild salmon contains 43 milligrams of cholesterol, 19 grams of protein, 312 milligrams potassium, and 2158 milligrams of polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3s, Schmitt says.

“Salmon’s omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, can support heart health, memory, and cognition,” says Schmitt.

Related: 7 Fatty Foods That Are Good For Your Health

chicken breast

  1. Chicken

Chicken is probably already a staple in your diet. After all, it’s a prime source of lean protein. But did you know it contains some cholesterol, too?

A three-ounce serving of chicken breast contains 52 milligrams of cholesterol, 18 grams of protein, and is a great source of niacin, vitamin B12, and selenium, says Schmitt. Go for lean cuts, like the breast, to keep that saturated fat intake low.

Related: Browse an assortment of supplements to promote heart health.