Eating healthy is much easier when these 16 foods are always within reach.
When you're trying to clean up your diet, having healthy foods within reach is essential. But being prepared doesn't have to mean stocking an endless supply of apples and chicken breasts.
"Variety is important," says Lindsay Yau, R.D.N. She's a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in obesity and weight management at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers in San Diego. Nutritionally, variety helps ensure that you get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. And psychologically, variety helps make mealtimes more enjoyable and healthy eating more fun, Yau says. That translates to a better chance of sticking with healthy eating for the long haul.
It's no surprise that your weekly grocery haul should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins - both plant and animal sources. But within each category are foods that nutritionists love recommending to clients so that they're always prepared when hunger strikes.
Here are 16 foods to keep on hand — including fridge, freezer, countertop, and cupboard items — to make sticking to a healthy diet a little easier.
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Food to Stock #1: Carrots
High in vitamin A and fiber — which can help fill you up and prevent blood sugar spikes — carrots are “nutrient-dense, versatile, easy, and convenient,” Yau says. That’s everything you want in a food when you’re trying to eat healthier.
Most people eat carrots in the form of raw sticks, maybe plunged into a bowl of hummus or as an alternative to chips alongside your lunchtime sandwich. Both are good options, but you can also enjoy roasted carrot "fries" (cooked in a little heart-healthy olive oil), ribboned carrot "noodles," or pureed carrot soup. You can even buy shredded carrots and use them in place of potatoes in a breakfast hash. The healthy, high-fiber possibilities are endless.
Food to Stock #2: Pre-Washed Salad Greens
Salad greens are low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals, and water. That makes them especially helpful if you're trying to lose weight. Eliminate the hassle of washing and drying greens by opting for the pre-washed versions of spinach, kale, romaine, watercress, or arugula. They all provide vitamins A, K, C, and B9 (folate), and minerals such as iron and potassium. (FYI: Iceberg lettuce is a less nutrient-dense salad green, so it's more nutritious mixed with other greens.)
These and other “shortcut” items — such as pre-cut vegetables, shredded cabbage, and precooked, vacuum-packed beets — are great for making quick meals in a pinch or for bulking up a frozen entrée or any meal that’s light in the veggie department, says Lindsay Moyer, R.D.N. She’s a senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Food to Stock #3: Cantaloupe
Another item that's high in water and low in calories, this melon offers a sweet and satisfying way to pack in essential vitamins. For example, 1 cup of balled cantaloupe delivers more than 100 percent of the recommended daily value (DV) of vitamin A and more than 75 percent of vitamin C - all for just 60 calories.
In that same 1-cup serving, you’ll also get a decent dose of potassium, an electrolyte that helps regulate the heart and blood pressure by counterbalancing sodium.
Food to Stock #4: Eggs
"Protein is an important part of a balanced meal that helps us stay full for longer, and it's also essential for maintaining lean muscle mass," Yau says. The average egg delivers 6 grams, making eggs a protein powerhouse.
Eggs are also a great source of vitamin B12. This nutrient keeps nerve and blood cells healthy and protects against a type of anemia that can make you feel exhausted. That’s especially valuable when you’re trying to stay motivated to maintain a regular exercise routine.
And remember: Eggs aren't just for breakfast. A hard-boiled egg adds heft to salads, while a fried egg is delectable atop roasted asparagus, sautéed kale, or a variety of other veggies.
Food to Stock #5: Low-Fat Greek Yogurt
A cup of low-fat Greek yogurt has about 22 grams of high-quality protein. That makes it an excellent ingredient for a satisfying meal or snack — especially if you’re a vegetarian. The tangy, creamy stuff also scores points for bone-building calcium and probiotics to support healthy digestion, Yau says.
Plain Greek yogurt can be a little bland, so try topping it with berries, nuts, and/or homemade granola. (Simply mix whole-grain oats with almonds and a little maple syrup. Set your oven to 325˚ F and bake until it’s the consistency you like — it should take about 30 minutes.) If store-bought granola is your only option, make sure it has fewer than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
More ways to use Greek yogurt:
- Whip it up with chopped cucumber and dill for a delicious dip.
- Sub it for mayo in chicken salad or for sour cream in a burrito bowl or on top of chili.
Food to Stock #6: Frozen Vegetables
Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, riced cauliflower, green beans, spinach … the list goes on. Whatever you choose, a stash of frozen veggies is like an insurance policy for your healthy diet.
"They're fast, easy, and don't spoil quickly, so you can stock up on as much as you'd like," Yau says. Then they'll be there when you realize your supply of fresh produce is completely drained or when that red pepper languishing in the crisper drawer starts feeling, well, not so crisp.
What's more, frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, if not more so, Yau says. That's because vegetables that will be frozen are picked at peak ripeness, when they're the most nutritious, and then packaged within hours. But fresh produce often travels far from the farm to the grocery store and can lose some of its nutritional value along the way.
Food to Stock #7: Frozen Berries
Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are excellent foods to keep on hand because they're rich in antioxidants and fiber. But they go bad fast. A bag of frozen berries, on the other hand, can last for months.
“Any frozen fruit is great,” Moyer says, “but I like to go for frozen berries and cherries that tend to be more expensive to buy fresh when out of season.”
You can toss them into a smoothie or mix them into Greek yogurt or oatmeal for a sweet and simple nutrient boost.
Food to Stock #8: Edamame
These young soybeans are often served salted in their shells at Japanese restaurants, but you can also find them in the freezer aisle. One cup of cooked edamame has about 18 grams of protein along with 8 grams of fiber.
“Edamame is one of the few plant-protein sources that is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs but cannot produce,” Yau says.
You can buy them fresh and steam, or pick up the precooked frozen variety and briefly microwave to defrost before chowing down. You can also pop edamame out of the shell and add to soups or salads for an easy vegetarian protein boost.
Food to Stock #9: Salmon
Another of Yau's favorite high-quality proteins to keep on hand is salmon. It's an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, known as healthy fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help tame inflammation, arthritis, and high blood pressure. They’ve also been linked to healthy aging of the brain. Research suggests that people who eat fatty fish once a week are less likely to die of heart disease.
Not a big fan of salmon? "Any cold-water fish can provide a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, including herring, tuna, and sardines," Yau says.
Food to Stock #10: Ice Cream Bars (or Your Treat of Choice)
Yes, you read that right. Moyer recommends keeping lower-calorie frozen treats such as Enlightened Light ice cream bars or Yasso Greek Yogurt Bars in your freezer for desserts or random sweet cravings.
Experts agree that depriving yourself of the things you love is a surefire way to derail your healthy eating habits. Keeping pre-wrapped, single-serve options on hand will help satisfy your cravings without overdoing it.
"It doesn't need to be ice cream if that's not your favorite," Moyer says. "But buying any single-serving treats makes portion control automatic, and that helps limit your servings of high-sugar, calorie-dense foods."
Food to Stock #11: Grape Tomatoes
When you walk into the kitchen for a snack, you're likely to eat the first thing you see. So keeping grab-and-eat fruits and vegetables on the counter is a no-brainer.
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers, including breast cancer and prostate cancer. Generally, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it has.
To maximize the protective benefits, pair your tomatoes with a healthy fat such as avocado or olive oil. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating salsa with avocado boosted the absorption of lycopene by nearly 4.5 times.
Food to Stock #12: Avocado
Beyond being an excellent complement to your tomatoes, avocado adds creamy texture and essential nutrients to any salad, sandwich, or bowl, Yau says. "They're rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as fiber and potassium. Plus, the fat gives meals and snacks staying power to keep you feeling fuller longer."
Get ideas for easy ways to incorporate avocado into your meals — beyond guacamole and avocado toast — here.
Food to Stock #13: Clementines
Citrus fruits are best known for their abundance of vitamin C. And for good reason: A single clementine - commonly known by the brand names Halos or Cuties -provides 40 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. What most people don't realize is that clementines can also contribute to your daily fiber needs.
While a clementine contains about 1 gram of fiber, keeping them on your countertop and snacking on a few throughout the day is an easy and delicious way to boost your fiber intake. They're also sweet, easy to peel, and usually seedless, making them a perfect grab-and-go snack for all ages.
Food to Stock #14: Oatmeal
When you need a quick, filling, and healthy breakfast, oatmeal is hard to beat. Oats are high in a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has numerous health benefits that include lowering cholesterol and improving digestion.
For the biggest fiber boost per bite, opt for rolled oats (also called old-fashioned oats) instead of instant versions that are more processed. Rolled oats take only about five minutes to make on the stove, while steel-cut oats (an equally healthy choice) require about 30 minutes to cook.
Oats not only make a tasty hot breakfast (especially if you try these flavor-boosting tips), but they can also make a great thickener for smoothies or an alternative to breadcrumbs when coating proteins for dinner, Yau suggests.
Food to Stock #15: Low-Sodium Canned Beans
Beans make an excellent base for plant-protein-heavy meals, Moyer says. That's why she recommends keeping them stocked, whether it's black beans, cannellini beans, or chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans). Many beans are also a good source of iron, which is great news for anyone cutting down on iron-rich meat.
If you can't find low-sodium or unsalted options, buy what's available and rinse them in water before eating. This will help remove about a third of the excess sodium.
Want more ideas on how to make beans a star ingredient? Check out this guide.
Food to Stock #16: Nuts
Nuts are a powerful part of a healthy diet, delivering fiber, healthy fats, protein, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. In a review of 29 studies, researchers found that eating nuts - including walnuts, peanuts, and hazelnuts - was linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
All nuts have their strengths, but Yau is a big fan of walnuts because they offer more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut.
While nutritious, nuts are also high in calories, so be sure to watch your portions. Most adults should aim for four 1.5-ounce (about a handful) servings of unsalted nuts per week, according to the American Heart Association.
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