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Plant-Forward Pantry Guide
Mar 26

Plant-Forward Pantry Guide

By Maris Altieri RD, LMP Coordinator

In efforts to prevent the pandemic COVID-19 from spreading, many of us are tucked away in our homes, only to go outside for meditative walks and to purchase necessities while we wait for the quarantine to pass.

Grocery shopping is understandably stressful during this time. With packed aisles, emptying shelves, and failed attempts at keeping the 6-foot rule, our minds can quickly become overwhelmed by the anxious energy suspended in the air.

Although we might feel pressure to “stock up” for months, it’s important to be mindful to only buy what our families need, and to get the most nutrients out of our selections. Panic purchases are unaffordable and leave a lack of supplies for vulnerable populations who aren’t able to buy large amounts of food at one time. Remember, we are all in this together!

As a Registered Dietitian, one of my main messages is that a well-stocked (not overstocked) pantry sets you up for success, and is at the foundation of a happy and healthy kitchen. Not sure where to start? Check out the list below of my shelf-stable kitchen staples:

Whole Grains

Whole grains are a rich source of fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals. Not only are whole grains nourishing and delicious, but they are also shelf stable and affordable. Adding whole grains to your meals helps with digestion (thanks fiber!), and can keep your belly satiated for hours. Have a sensitive stomach? Soaking and sprouting your grains can help decrease phytic acid, making them more digestible.

I try to keep 2-3 types of whole grains in my pantry at all times to add versatility to my meals.

My favorite whole grains: Brown rice, oats, whole grain pasta, soba noodles, farro, barley and quinoa

Beans & Legumes

Whether you are an omnivore or vegan, beans have a place on everyone’s plates. Beans are an excellent source of plant-protein and add texture and flavor to your meals. The high fiber and magnesium content of beans help keep our bodies happy by stabilizing our blood sugar and providing us with sustained energy. Beans and lentils are also rich and antioxidants (e.g. quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, etc.), which may help reduce the risk of heart disease. I am a big fan of dried beans, but canned beans are a great option as well! Make sure you look for low-sodium options and rinse your beans thoroughly before consuming.

Like grains and seeds, I try to keep 2-3 types of beans in my pantry at all times.

My favorite beans and legumes: Chickpeas, black beans, lentils (especially black lentils), and navy beans

Nuts & Seeds

Nuts and seeds are wonderful sources of protein and healthful unsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good cholesterol). Walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds all have omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for reducing inflammation in the body. For these reasons, research shows that eating small portions of nuts (1 ounce) multiple times a week may significantly reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke.From a culinary lens, nuts are extremely versatile and can be added to sauces, dips, or simply used as a delicious topping.  If purchasing nuts and seeds in bulk, store half in the refrigerator and the other half at room temperature away from potent foods like onions and garlic (they will take on the scent). Nuts and seeds at room temperature will last for up to 3 months before going rancid.

I am a big advocate of nuts and seeds, and keep at least 4 types in my pantry. My favorite go-to breakfast is chia-seed pudding.

My favorite nuts and seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and cashews.

Dried Herbs & Spices

Herbs and spices have been used medicinally for generations, and for good reason. They have potent phytochemicals, which serve as powerful antioxidants. Additionally, many herbs and spices are rich in vitamins and minerals. One tablespoon of cumin has 4.0 mg of iron, which is 22% of the average adult’s daily value (DV).

While fresh herbs and spices add color and refreshing flavors to dishes, they aren’t always necessary or the best choice when cooking at home. Delicate fresh herbs (e.g. basil, cilantro, mint) can lose flavor after extended heating. For this reason, fresh herbs and spices should be saved for salads, dips, and salsas. On the contrary, dried herbs and spices come to life when making sauces, sautés, soup or any heat-based meal. To save time when cooking, I keep a stock of homemade spice blends on hand for an easy flavor boost. Making your own seasoning blend allows for you to control the salt and sugar content, and cater the flavors to your liking…a double win!

Dried herbs are stronger than fresh herbs, so you only need to use a third of the amount if replacing fresh herbs in a recipe (1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs). Dried herbs should be stored in a cool, dark place and should be replaced every 1-3 years depending on the seasoning.

My favorite dried herbs and spices: Rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, turmeric, mustard seeds, curry powder, cinnamon, black pepper, chili pepper

Canned Vegetables and Fruits

Having canned vegetables and fruits on hand help fill gaps of any dish. Relying on a mixture of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables can make the goal of hitting your “5 a day” more attainable and affordable. Canned fruits and vegetables are picked when ripe, which allows for a rich vitamin and mineral profile. In fact, canned tomatoes are richer in the antioxidant lycopene because they are cooked before being canned, which increases the lycopene’s absorbability.

However, it is important to be mindful of the added preservatives when shopping for canned items. Always search for low sodium options and stay clear of fruits packed in syrup. Fruit packed in juice or water significantly reduces the sugar content. Additionally, it is important to buy from brands that use BPA free lining, which will be indicated on the can.

My favorite canned vegetables and fruits: low-sodium diced tomatoes, low-sodium tomato paste, low-sodium cannellini beans, low-sodium black beans, low-sodium sweet corn, canned pumpkin, pineapple packed in juice

Dried Fruit

While I love fresh produce, I always keep a variety of different dried fruits on stock. Dried fruit is rich in fiber, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, calcium, and phytochemicals. This combination of nutrients may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, postprandial glycemic response, and improve lipid profiles. Dried fruit may also improve colon health due to their prebiotic compounds, which serve as fuel for healthful bacteria. 

Dried fruit is just a dehydrated form of the whole fruit, so the portion size is much smaller than a fresh serving. The serving size of dried fruit is ¼ cup or one small cupped hand. Concerned about the sugar content of dried fruit? The fiber content of unsweetened dried fruit slows down the digestion of the naturally occurring fructose and glucose, which stabilizes blood sugar levels much like its whole fruit form.

Most dried fruits can be stored for six months to one year. Discoloration, hardness, and a loss of flavor are signs that your dried fruit is going bad. I like using dried fruits as a natural sweetener to add to oatmeal, cereal, baked goods, and even salads!

I like to keep 2 different types of dried fruit in my pantry.

My favorite dried fruits: dates, raisins, craisins, tart cherries, figs, mangos, apricots


  1. Guasch-Ferré M, Liu X, Malik VS, Sun Q, Willett WC, Manson JE, Rexrode KM, Li Y, Hu FB, Bhupathiraju SN. Nut consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2017 Nov 21;70(20):2519-32.