I’m a Dietitian, and This Is the Pantry-Staples Lunch I Eat Almost Every Day

Photo: Getty Images/Daisy Daisy
Salads are the original go-to lunch for healthy eaters. But now that self-isolating is a key pillar to staying healthy (and keeping others healthy), regular trips to the grocery store to buy fresh ingredients aren't happening as frequently. Healthy pantry staples are the unsung hero of quarantining, hanging out on the shelf and ready to be incorporated into your meals with a healthy nourish bowl recipe.

Well+Good Wellness Council member and registered dietitian McKel Kooienga, RD, has been long-prepared for this moment. In fact, she's been relying on pantry staples for her nourish bowl recipe way before she actually had to. "Without fail, this is one of the staple recipes I eat at least once a day, and it's the perfect formula to keep in mind right now," she says. "It’s a perfect meal-in-a-bowl and completely nourishing when you can find a few of these components."


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Kooienga's nourish bowl recipe follows a simple five-step formula (what she calls the Foundational 5), that makes clever use of common pantry items. "It gives you a quick formula for what to include and you can use what you have on hand and play with the tastes and ingredients you like," she says. "Not only does this framework support you in reaching your nutritional goals, but it also can keep you satiated, supports digestion, keeps your focus sharp, and energy stabilized."

First, choose a starchy base. To avoid meal fatigue, Kooienga switches this up between sweet potatoes, quinoa, millet, brown rice, wild rice, beans—all of which can be stored in the pantry. Then, add your protein, which can include beans (if not already being used as the base), hemp seeds, or nuts.

The third step is adding non-starchy veggies, which means migrating over to your freezer for some frozen vegetables. (Frozen veggies are just as nutritious as fresh ones since they're flash frozen at peak ripeness when their nutritional value is at its highest.) The next step to building your nourish bowl, according to Kooienga, is adding a healthy fat. Once again, your pantry is a good place for this too: olive oil, for example, is a great one. Canned tuna or sardines are other options, too.

The last part of Kooienga's nourish bowl recipe is topping it off with a dressing, sauce, or spices for extra flavor. Turmeric, ginger, paprika, coriander, rosemary...switch it up depending on the flavor profile you're going for. Adding spices not only amplifies the flavor, but adds extra health benefits, too.

Kooienga's five-step nourish bowl recipe hits all the major nutritional buckets while still leaving enough room for dozens of ways to switch it up. Besides that, it's also inexpensive and relies on pantry items instead of fresh foods. Now that's a well-rounded WFH win.

Join Well+Good's Cook With Us Facebook group for more healthy meal ideas. And here are some other healthy lunch ideas that take less than 10 minutes to make.

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