Hummus Quinoa Bowl

Healthy Meal Tips for Busy Lives

Pantry Staples

American lives are busy. Between work, spouses, kids, and families, it can be difficult to find time to prepare healthy meals on a regular basis. The key to eating healthy and tasty meals at home lies in setting yourself up for success. This means shopping smart and having the right ingredients on hand. Use this pantry list the next time you shop and stock up on the building blocks of healthy meals.


  • Oils: extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil
  • Vinegars: balsamic, red wine, sherry, white
  • Canned Fish: salmon, sardines, tuna (look for fish packed in water and no-salt-added varieties)
  • Canned Tomatoes: crushed, diced, sauce (look for no-salt-added or low-sodium versions)
  • Oatmeal: steel cut, rolled, quick cooking (look for plain; flavor yourself with fruit and cinnamon)
  • Dry Whole Grains: barley, couscous, farro, flour, freekeh, kamut, millet, quinoa, wheat berries (look for “whole” as the first ingredient in the ingredient list)
  • Par-Cooked Whole Grains: same list as dry options, but pre-cooked so all you have to do is re-heat (read the ingredient list for plain varieties to avoid added sodium and fats
  • Stock & Broth: vegetable, chicken, seafood, beef (look for no-salt-added varieties)
  • Dry Beans & Lentils: adzuki, black, cannellini, fava, garbanzo, great northern, kidney, lima, pinto; any color lentil (if purchasing canned beans, look for no-salt-added varieties)
  • Nuts & Seeds: almond, cashew, hazelnut, peanut, pecan, pistachio, walnut; flax seeds (buy whole, store in freezer, grind as needed in coffee or spice grinder), pumpkin, sunflower, chia, sesame (reach for unsalted versions)
Refrigerator Staples


  • Citrus: lemon, lime (squeeze on steamed veggies, cooked grains, grilled proteins), grapefruit, orange (easy snacks)
  • Milk: skim, soy (look for unsweetened options)
  • Protein: eggs, hummus, greek yogurt (plain or look for varieties with less added sugar), tofu (watch the sodium in flavored varieties), fish and seafood (some stores will steam these items for you), lean poultry (ask the butcher to trim or cut any piece so you don’t have to)


  • Fruit: berries, mango (read the ingredient list to be sure only fruit is listed, no added sugar)
  • Vegetables: any type (read the ingredients to be sure only veggies are listed)
  • Protein: fish filets, shrimp, scallops, chicken breasts (many stores sell these pre-portioned options in re-sealable bags)
Hummus Quinoa Bowl

Meals in Minutes

Now that you know what to stock in your pantry, fridge, and freezer, you've got meal options that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes. 

  • Grain Salads: start with a whole grain as a base, add your favorite vegetables or fruits (diced), season with oil and vinegar or citrus, add fresh herbs and spices and enjoy.
  • One-Pot Stir Fry: Slice a variety of vegetables, add a lean protein, and season with herbs and spices for a one-pot meal.
  • Overnight Oats: old-fashioned oats covered with milk, stir in dried fruit and nuts and store overnight. Top with fresh fruit in the morning.

Written by Allison Knott, MS, RDN, LDN.

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