Learn how to stock your kitchen like a registered dietitian to make healthy eating a breeze! This post focuses on dietitian kitchen essentials to keep in your pantry.
As a registered dietitian, people often ask me about what I keep in my pantry and kitchen. It’s one of my favorite topics to discuss, because a well-stocked kitchen truly makes healthy eating easy, seamless, and quick.
Healthy eating looks different for everyone, but we share similar barriers that prevent us from making the choices we want. For many, lack of resources in the kitchen is a big barrier. This series will teach you how to stock your kitchen with the tools you need to make delicious, healthy meals at home…even if you haven’t grocery shopped!
The best place to start is with your pantry, which is where we are diving into today. The dry goods you keep on hand are versatile, inexpensive ingredients that will last for months or years. This is also where you will find a lot of flavor and creativity, because you can crease different sauces and dressings with pantry ingredients.
This list will include several ingredient categories. I’ll note the uses for each individual ingredient, as well as provide recipe suggestions for several of them.
Dietitian kitchen essentials: what to keep in your pantry
Oils and Vinegars
Extra virgin olive oil: This is the most versatile heart healthy cooking oil to keep on hand. Use it for salad dressings and sauces, to roast vegetables, as a dip for fresh bread, or in a stir fry. Look for cold-pressed olive oils, because this processing method maintains the highest quality without risk of oxidizing the fat.
Avocado oil: A newer oil on the market, I use avocado just as much as I use olive oil. It has a neutral flavor, is rich in monounsaturated fats, and has a higher smoke point than olive oil. I use avocado oil for high heat cooking over 400 degrees F, such as in this recipe for maple cinnamon sweet potato wedges. Make sure you’re choosing pure avocado oil that isn’t blended so you get the high smoke point.
Coconut oil: I love to use unrefined coconut oil for baking, because it has a slightly sweet, coconut-y flavor. Coconut oil is higher in saturated fat than olive oil and avocado oil, so I choose those oils more frequently when I cook. But there is definitely a place for a little coconut oil in your diet, especially if you love the flavor like I do!
Toasted sesame oil: If you love Asian flavors, this is definitely an oil you will want to always have on hand! I drizzle sesame oil onto food after cooking, instead of cooking with the oil, because it has such a strong flavor. I love to create Asian inspired sauces with sesame oil.
Balsamic vinegar: When in doubt, a simple homemade balsamic dressing is my favorite way to dress a salad. Just whisk together equal parts balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a spoonful of honey and dijon mustard. I also love to make a balsamic reduction to drizzle over roasted vegetables.
Red wine vinegar: Red wine vinegar is another versatile vinegar for salad dressings. If I’m making a salad with Greek flavors, this is my vinegar of choice for the dressing.
Apple cider vinegar: I love the tangy, slightly sweet flavor of apple cider vinegar. It is a really fresh addition to cooking and salads.
Rice vinegar: This is another must have if you love Asian flavors. I always use rice vinegar whenever I make peanut sauce, which is pretty frequent in our house. I prefer to buy unseasoned rice vinegar, which does not have added sugar, so I can better control the added sweetener I use.
Soy sauce or Tamari: This in not an oil or vinegar, but I use it frequently to make sauces and dressings. If you follow a gluten free diet, choose tamari. I also choose low or reduced sodium options.
Spices and Dried Herbs
Salt and Pepper: No explanation needed – these are your bare minimum items to keep in your spice rack. I like to use pink Himalayan salt because it contains trace minerals. Also, I suggest using a pepper grinder with whole peppercorns instead of pre-ground pepper, because it preserves the flavor and fragrance better.
Garlic powder: It’s not as good as fresh garlic, but it works when you’re out of the real stuff. I also add garlic powder in addition to fresh garlic in recipes, because who doesn’t love garlic?
Adobo: One of my favorite ways to roast vegetables is simply with olive oil and adobo seasoning. I’ve been using this brand for years, and it’s amazing. It contains salt, pepper, oregano, turmeric, onion, and garlic.
Cumin: This spice is great in chilis, hummus, and on roasted vegetables.
Other spices: I frequently use chili powder, cayenne, crushed red pepper, oregano, Italian seasoning, turmeric, and paprika. These spices and dried herbs are all versatile and add a lot of flavor to any dish. There is no need to have ten thousand spice jars, especially if you’ve only used something for a single recipe.
Rice: Choose 1-2 whole grain rice varieties to keep in your pantry. Rice is a humble ingredient that adds nutrients and bulk to foods to help you feel satiated. I love experimenting with different types of rice, from brown rice, to wild rice, and even purple rice!
Quinoa: I use quinoa just as frequently as rice in my kitchen! Quinoa is technically a seed, but it cooks and tastes like a grain. It is higher in protein than other whole grains. Also, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. I love making quinoa stuffed peppers and quinoa salads for meal prep.
Farro: Another whole grain, farro has a nutty flavor and chewy texture that holds up very well in grain salads.
Rolled oats: Oats come in different varieties, but rolled oats are the most versatile. Use them to make oatmeal, overnight oats, cookies, and ground up as flour for baking.
Pasta: Because pasta can absolutely be part of a balanced, healthy diet! I love to make pasta dishes that are loaded with vegetables and a simple sauce. I recommend whole wheat pasta or chickpea pasta, which increases the fiber and protein content of your meal.
Cereals and granola: I keep a few varieties of high fiber cereal and granolas in my pantry. I love to add them to yogurt bowls or just munch on them with a snack.
Canned and Jarred Goods
Beans: I keep a variety of canned beans in my pantry. Beans are a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Plus, they are inexpensive and filling. I usually have chickpeas, black beans, and kidney beans in our pantry, but select a few varieties you love. Add beans to salads, soups, and tacos!
Diced tomatoes: A 28 oz can of diced tomatoes is the base for so many meals! Use it in chili, soups, and simple homemade tomato sauce.
Tomato sauce: I always keep a few jars of tomato sauce in the pantry. In a real pinch, you can make a meal of jarred tomato sauce, pasta, and frozen vegetables. Look for tomato sauce without any added sugar when purchasing. I love this brand of marinara.
Pumpkin: You can use canned pumpkin for more than just pumpkin pie! Canned pumpkin is a nutritious ingredient to keep on hand for breakfast items, baked goods, and even creamy pasta sauce.
Artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, and sun dried tomatoes: These jarred or canned items are all delicious additions to salads and grain bowls, especially when you’re low on fresh ingredients. You can add them to homemade pestos or sauce. Also, these ingredients are a great addition to a mezze platter or cheese board when you’re entertaining last minute.
Tuna: This is a great affordable protein source (and omega-3s) to add to salads, pasta dishes, and sandwiches.
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds: Perfect for snacking, baking, and adding to salads, almonds are probably my most used nut.
Cashews: I also love to add cashews to granola, in trail mix, and blended up as cashew cream for a vegan alternative to cream in recipes.
Pine nuts: Use pine nuts to make homemade pesto, or toast them to provide a delicious flavor, healthy fats, and crunch on top of a salad.
Sesame seeds: I add sesame seeds as a garnish to Asian flavored dishes.
Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and hemp hearts: I treat these like “sprinkles” for breakfast bowls. They add healthy fats (including omega-3s) and plant-based protein to yogurt and oatmeal, which helps keep us full for longer. I also make no added sugar chia seed jam and chia pudding with chia seeds.
Nut butter: Nut butters are versatile, healthy ingredients. Use nut butters on toast, in sauces, as a replacement for butter/oil in baked goods, or as a dip with fresh fruit. I always have a few jars of nut butter, including peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter. Choose 1-2 favorites to always have.
Tahini: Tahini is a nut butter-like paste made from sesame seeds. It’s a wonderful addition to many dressings and sauces, and even tastes delicious on it’s own.
Almond flour: Almond flour is a nutrient dense ingredient for gluten free baking. I use it in several baked goods, like this banana bread, and other healthy desserts.
Spelt flour: I love to use spelt flour instead of whole wheat flour in baked goods, because it has a lighter, sweeter flavor.
Honey: I sometimes bake with honey, and also add it to tea and matcha almost daily. Also, did you know honey never expires? If it crystalizes, just put the honey container in hot water until it becomes liquid again.
Maple syrup: Maple syrup is my sweetener of choice for most baked goods.
Baking soda and baking powder: If you bake a lot, keep these on hand all the time. Make sure to replace baking soda within a year (or sooner) of opening, because it loses it leavening properties.
Pure vanilla extract: Another must-have staple if you love to bake.
Chocolate chips: I always have chocolate chips on hand! If you need to make a last minute dessert, chocolate chip cookies will never disappoint. Lately, I’ve been loving these no added sugar chocolate chips!
Cacao powder: I love to bake with cacao powder to make brownies, and I stir it into oatmeal sometimes.
Be sure to check back next week for the second post in the Dietitian Kitchen Essentials series. Let me know if you love this post by leaving a comment below, and check out Instagram and Pinterest for more healthy lifestyle inspiration. Thanks for stopping by!
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