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  • Writer's pictureShannon Crocker, RD PHEc

How to Stock Your Kitchen with Foods for Easy, Healthy Meals

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

I'm not sure I'm comfortable calling this a silver lining at all, but an unintended positive consequence of COVID19 social distancing is that we're having to cook and eat (and enjoy?) more meals at home.

The thing is, we can't go out to eat at our favourite restaurants.

But we all have to eat.

So, into the kitchen we go!

Since we're making more meals at home and also limiting trips to the grocery store, having your kitchen stocked with some basic, nutritious ingredients has become even more important.

Before you shop, you need a strategy. Here are a few steps to take to help you reduce food waste and make sure you're not spending money on food you don't need.

Step 1: Take Inventory

Take a look in your cupboards, fridge and freezer before going to the store. Check expiration dates (toss what's expired) and make a list of what you've got and what you need.

I know some people keep a running list on their freezer door (or have it posted somewhere in their kitchen) so they know what is in the back of the cupboard or at very bottom of the freezer underneath all the frozen fruit. Smart!

Step 2: Make a Meal Plan

I don't usually plan much more than a few days ahead, but as of right now, I'm starting a weekly meal plan. Knowing what you're going to cook allows you to buy ingredients you need so you don't have to run out to the store again. A plan also helps so you don't waste food that you've bought.

Make your plan based on foods you already have in your cupboard, fridge and freezer. Start with foods that need to be eaten soon and build from there.

Be sure to include some "nextover" meals with batch cooking and planned leftovers. So, for example, if you're cooking rice, make a double batch and have a plan to use that rice for another meal.

I'm using the meal plan to get my teens involved in the kitchen a little more. Everyone is responsible for a meal (or more) each week -- that means they have to help with the plan too. With my teens home ALL the time now, it's gives them something to do other than play video games!

Step 3: Make Your List and Stick To It

Based on your kitchen inventory needs and your meal plan, write your grocery list.

Add a few extra items that are longer-lasting, shelf stable or freezer-worthy, but don't overload. Please don't buy food you don't need or won't use. We need to be community-minded and leave supplies for others.

When you're in the grocery store, stick to your list as much as possible so you don't buy food you don't need and don't spend extra money.

Don't get caught up in panic buying. Those canned lima beans might catch your eye because there's only one can left on the shelf, but it doesn't make sense to buy lima beans if your family won't ever eat them.

A word on food safety and COVID19 precautions: Before you go to the grocery store, wash your hands. When you come home from the store, wash your hands. Before you cook, wash your cooking surfaces, wash all veggies and fruits, wash your hands. Before you eat, wash your hands. Cook food thoroughly and refrigerate it within two hours of cooking. After you put food away, wash all surfaces again. Wash your hands. (See a pattern here?)

To help you, here are some basic, nutrient-rich foods to stock in your cupboards, fridge and freezer to help you make easy, nourishing meals. This is what I stock up on -- take what works for you, leave what doesn't.

And, go with what you can find in the store -- if there's only white rice, go for it!

No pressure here.

10 Nutrient-Rich Foods to Stock in Your Cupboards

  • Canned and jarred tomatoes (look for low sodium if available)

  • Canned fish (e.g. tuna, salmon, sardines)

  • Canned fruit (packed in water or juice) and dried fruit (e.g. prunes, apricots)

  • Canned vegetables (try to find them with no added salt)

  • Grains (go with whole grains if you can: e.g. brown rice, barley, oats)

  • Bread and crackers (whole grain is most nutritious)

  • Pasta

  • Canned and dried beans, peas, lentils (e.g. black beans, chickpeas, red lentils)

  • Whole grain cereals (e.g. no/low sugar options)

  • Shelf-stable boxes of milk (or plant-based beverage), evaporated milk or powdered milk

In addition, stock basic ingredients like baking items (e.g. flour, wheat bran, sugar, cocoa, salt, baking soda), oils (canola, olive, avocado), broth/stock, condiments, spices, vinegars and garlic.

Plan for about two weeks' worth of shelf-stable items -- that will be important if you're not well and can't leave the house and don't have a friend, family member or neighbour who can deliver to you.

Of course, snack foods are in my cupboards too (e.g. whole grain crackers, popcorn, bars, crunchy lentils, dark chocolate and we are baking goodies too) but we're talking about ingredients to make meals so they're not in the top 10 list.

10 Nutrient-Rich Foods to Keep in Your Fridge

  • Vegetables (enough for a few days with some longer lasting veggies too e.g. cabbage, carrots, kale) *

  • Fruits (make some longer-lasting e.g. apples, oranges, grapefruit) *

  • Packaged coleslaw-style salad blends (stir fry or eat as salad)

  • Milk (or plant-based beverage)

  • Eggs

  • Cheese, yogurt and kefir

  • Nuts and seeds (unshelled) and nut butters

  • Hummus or other bean-based dips

  • Tofu (soft and firm)

  • Fresh pastas e.g. cheese ravioli or tortellini (my teens love to cook these!)

Also for the fridge, have flavourings, condiments and salad dressings (e.g. fish sauce, salsa, mayonnaise).

Keep cooked ingredients (e.g. hard-cooked eggs) and leftovers (e.g. cooked meat/poultry, cooked grains and roasted veg) for quick meals.

* Don't forget about on-your-counter veggies and fruit like tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, onions, bananas.

10 Nutrient-Rich Foods to Keep in Your Freezer

  • Lean meat, poultry, including ground meats

  • Fish and seafood (e.g. salmon, shrimp)

  • Bread, tortillas, flat breads (I go for whole grain, sourdough, sprouted/fermented grain)

  • Frozen vegetables

  • Frozen fruits

  • Edamame

  • Milk *

  • Cooked grains (ready to add to soups or quick defrost for grain/power bowls)

  • Nuts and seeds (larger quantities)

  • Meals, soups, pancakes, muffins/baked goods you've made and frozen

* Bagged milk can be frozen for up to 6 weeks; defrost in the fridge, shake well before opening. Thawed milk may be slightly grainy -- if you find that, use it in baked goods and cooking (e.g. soups).

One last much as I think it's a great time to try new recipes and experiment in the kitchen (because what else are we all doing?), if the idea of prepping meals stresses you out, by all means, keep it simple. A piece of toast with avocado, some leafy greens and a couple soft cooked eggs is an easy and nourishing meal. A peanut butter sandwich is also a nourishing meal. So is a couple of pieces of cheese with some cut up veggies and crackers.

One more last thing...this is a stressful time for all of us. Eating well is important to help you feel energized and to support your immune system. Make most of your choices nourishing ones. And if you're enjoying more "comfort foods", that's okay. It's normal. Don't stress about food choices, especially now.

Stay healthy and well,


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