Keeping your kitchen stocked with staple foods and ingredients can make healthy eating quick and easy. I recently shared the 10 foods nutritionists always have in their pantries, and now it’s time to help you build the healthiest fridge and freezer possible. These must-have basics will help you build nourishing meals and snacks at any time.
For The Refrigerator
1. Fruits And Veggies
I like to plan out the week’s meals before I food shop to make sure I don’t end up wasting any produce, but I do have a few go-to’s that last a little longer and can be used in a number of ways. Fruit provides potassium, which is important for the prevention of heart disease and stroke, and it’s got fiber to help keep things moving through your body. When it comes to fruit, I usually keep a mix of sliced mango and berries to add to bowls of cereal or cottage cheese, along with some heartier, longer-lasting fruits, like apples and pears, which I can snack on, use in a weekend cobbler, or poach for dessert.
When it comes to veggies, you’ll always find onions, carrots, peppers, broccoli, and some sort of potato in my fridge because they are super versatile and can last throughout the week.
I also stock up on bagged, pre-washed salad greens. Just top them with grilled poultry, fish, seafood, or beans for a quick lunch or dinner, or add nuts and dried fruit along with a drizzle of balsamic glaze for a simple side dish. Some brands even make salad kits that come along with dried fruit, nuts, and dressing. (Two cups of leafy greens is equivalent to a cup of veggies, helping you put a decent dent in your recommended two to two and a half cups of veggies per day.)
And if buying pre-cut produce will ensure that you get your veggies in, do it!
My fridge is never without several types of milk. I like skim or one-percent low-fat milk for cereal, almond milk for smoothies and baking, and reduced-lactose milk for my hubby. All of these milks help boost intake of bone-building calcium and vitamin D and can be woven into a wide range of recipes.
Eggs are an easy-to-prepare and versatile source of protein, with about seven grams in an egg. They are also rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are both important for eye health. Ward often uses eggs in omelets and frittatas, and to make egg-cheese-avocado sandwiches with whole-wheat English muffins.
Not only is plain yogurt delicious with fruit and nuts mixed in, but it’s also a great substitute for sour cream or mayonnaise. Mandy Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of the couples nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials, prefers plain skyr, an Icelandic-style yogurt that’s strained four times, so it’s higher in protein and lower in carbs than conventional yogurt. Its thicker consistency makes skyr a great ingredient for spreads, sauces, dressings, and dips. Plus, it’s a great way to add calcium to your meals. (A serving provides 20 percent of your daily value.)
5. Sauerkraut And Kimchi
“These fermented foods naturally contain probiotics, which studies suggest may promote a healthy gut microbiome,” says Michelle Loy, M.P.H., M.S., R.D.N. Plus, these foods are made from cabbage, which supplies immune-supporting compounds such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and indoles. Cabbage is also a good source of fiber, promoting healthy blood sugar levels, bowel regularity, and enhanced satiety. Loy enjoys eating sauerkraut and kimchi as side dishes or condiments. “I’ll toss sauerkraut onto scrambled eggs or serve it alongside roasted chicken, and I like mix kimchi into a bowl with brown rice, seasoned ground turkey, and other veggies, or eat it alongside fish, like grilled salmon,” she says.
For The Freezer
1. Frozen Fruits And Vegetables
The fruits and vegetables you find in the freezer aisle are usually flash-frozen when they’re ripe to help preserve nutrients. Because of this, they may contain even more nutrients than produce that’s picked, shipped long distances, and exposed to light and heat before arriving at our supermarket.
“I don’t always remember to eat fruit, and sometimes it spoils before I have a chance to enjoy it,” Enright admits. So she stocks up on frozen fruit so she’ll always have some on-hand without worries of it going bad. Whether you’re feeling berries, pineapple, peaches, your favorite frozen fruit is easy to toss into oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies. You can even freeze fresh fruit you have on-hand to keep it from spoiling, Enright suggests.
And whether you’re in the mood to make a soup, a stew, omelet or quiche, frozen vegetables (like corn or blends of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots) can come in handy and add a nutritional punch to any meal or snack—without having to leave the kitchen. The fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants in veggies help to protect us from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, while keeping us feeling full with very few calories.
2. Frozen Edamame
Soy beans are packed with protein (10 grams per cup) and make for a quick snack or plant protein add-in to meals, says Liz Ward, R.D.N. She likes to snack on steamed edamame straight from the pods and using the shelled type to punch up the protein and plant power in salads and side dishes.
3. Frozen Meals
With more and more healthy options in the freezer aisle, frozen meals can be a part of a healthy diet and come in handy when you don’t have time to cook. Just pair it with a salad or fruit on the side to bump up your produce intake. Pick the healthiest frozen meal possible by looking for the following: a short, simple ingredient list, 300 to 500 calories total, 15 to 20 grams of protein, at least five grams of fiber (preferably from whole grains and veggies), and as little sodium as possible (140 milligrams or less). And make sure to check serving sizes so you don’t accidentally down two dinners!
Take this shopping list with you the next time you run out for groceries:
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.