“A healthy meal will include adequate protein, moderate amounts of healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, and plenty of non-starchy vegetables,” says Patterson. To help you out, Patterson created a list of healthy foods to stock up on for each food group.
“Proteins break down into amino acids that the body uses for all sorts of reasons,” says Patterson. “Not only do amino acids help in repairing and building cells, such as skin cells, nails, hair and muscles, but those amino acids are also used to produce things like hormones.” She adds that protein can help us stay full for longer.
In the freezer
- Skinless poultry (e.g., ground lean turkey or chicken; skinless chicken breasts or thighs)
- Lean cuts of red meat or pork (e.g., sirloin, tenderloin, top round, or ground meat with 10 percent fat or less)
If you’re stocking up on these items, you want to make sure your items don’t go bad before you get a chance to use them. The USDA says you should cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within two days. Beef, veal, lamb, or pork, should be cooked or frozen within three to five days. To maintain the quality of these items, keep them in their original packaging and wrap them in another layer of freezer-recommended foil or plastic wrap.
In the pantry
- Canned beans (e.g., kidney, pinto, garbanzo, white beans, etc., ideally low sodium, but rinsing helps if not)
- Dried beans or lentils
- Nuts or nut butters; or seeds and seed butters for those allergic to nuts
- Canned tuna or other fish, or canned chicken
Patterson says it’s good to keep canned items on hand because they’re shelf stable, and great to have on hand for days when you really don’t feel like cooking. Canned beans have a bad reputation because of their sodium content, so she recommends buying low-sodium canned beans when you can, rinsing them thoroughly before use. She says you should keep healthy fats like nut butters on hand, because when paired with plenty of fiber and protein, they can help you feel fuller for longer and give you energy.
In the Refrigerator
It’s always good to have eggs on hand, since they’re cheap, easy to find, and an excellent source of protein. The USDA says that shelled eggs can last three to five weeks in the refrigerator. When removed from the shell, the USDA says fresh yolks and whites can be frozen for up to a year, but shelled eggs are best left in the refrigerator. When it comes to cheese, the FDA says hard cheeses in the refrigerator last six months when unopened and three to four weeks once opened.
“Carbohydrates break down into glucose and provide the body with much needed energy,” says Patterson. She recommends keeping starchy vegetables, grains, legumes, fruit, and other high-fiber and high-protein carbs on hand. “Plant foods are where we’re going to get a lot of our vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals,” she says. “Getting a whole lot of variety of those foods gives our bodies all those different nutrients that it needs to function efficiently and properly.”
In the freezer
- Frozen vegetables (e.g., squash, peas, corn, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, sweet peppers, etc.)
- Frozen fruit
- Whole grain bread, English muffins, tortillas, pita
Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritions fresh ones, Patterson says, and convenient to stock up on. She says you can quickly defrost frozen fruit by rinsing it, and then add it to oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, or smoothies. Bread products can be frozen for up to six months. Just pop it in your toaster or oven to bring it back to life, and serve.
In the pantry
- Whole grains (e.g., brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats, farro, whole grain pasta, etc.)
- Whole grain flour for baking bread, muffins, or making pancakes, waffles
- Whole grain crackers
- Oatmeal or low-sugar whole grain cereals
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash (e.g., butternut, acorn, spaghetti, etc.)
- Canned vegetables (e.g., carrots, green beans, greens, mushrooms, okra, etc.)
- Canned or dried legumes (e.g., beans and lentils)
- Canned fruit packed in 100 percent juice, canned pumpkin, or jarred applesauce
- Dried fruits (e.g., prunes, raisins, cranberries, mango, etc.)
Patterson suggests keeping complex, whole grains on hand, because refined ones can big spikes in blood sugar. And starchy vegetables like potatoes and spaghetti squash are high in fiber, she says.
in the Refrigerator
Cooking and baking supplies
- Olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, or avocado oil
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Whole grain flour
You never want to run out of the basics. Buy keeping cooking and baking supplies, you’re able to get creative and whip things up like pancakes, breads, and muffins.
“In cases of mild illness—poor appetite, some nausea, mild diarrhea—stay hydrated,” she says. Having clear liquids around can will help you stay hydrated when your stomach is sensitive or your appetite is low. “For severe illness including vomiting and severe diarrhea, contact your doctor,” she says.
In the pantry
- Low sodium broth (chicken, vegetable, or beef)
- Sugar free Jell-O (gelatin)
- Sugar free popsicles
- Clear diet soda
- Rehydration beverages (e.g., Pedialyte)
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