Healthy pantry makeover

Make better meals by keeping these 10 ingredients in stock.

Story by Carly Schultz

The simplest way to make healthy cooking a breeze is to have the right and fresh items on hand. Jump-start your healthy pantry journey with these 10 nutritional cuisine staples. Learn how to store them for peak freshness, and discover new ways to incorporate them into the meals you already know and love. With just a little effort, nothing is im-pasta-ble!

Dried beans

Store them: In order to keep the freshness of dried beans, make sure to store them in an airtight container somewhere in a cool, dry and dark place such as a pantry or cupboard. Dried beans include black-eyed, garbanzo, kidney, lima, navy, pinto and many others. 

Use them: Never eat dried beans raw as they are toxic. Soak your beans overnight, drain the water, and boil them according to the specified recipe to rid the beans of lectin. Once cooked, these legumes can be used to add body in soups, salads or even prepared into creamy dips.

Canned beans

Store them: Unopened canned beans can last up to a year in the panty. However, once canned beans are opened and rinsed, the leftovers should be transferred into a glass or plastic airtight container and stored in the refrigerator to preserve taste for up to 3-4 days. 

Use them: Beans are one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen as they are inexpensive, high in protein and are a filling treat. Spruce up your sides by adding beans to make a tasty pesto, mild salsa or zesty collard greens. Focus on the main course by including canned beans to a spicy chili, a tangy curry or a loaded chicken taco.

Whole grains

Store them: Keep all heat, light and moisture away when storing whole grains to maintain quality. If stored in airtight containers, intact grains such as brown rice, oats, barley or quinoa, can last up to six months in the pantry. Whole-grain flours and meals only last up to three months in proper food-safe containers. 

Use them: The easiest way to incorporate whole grains is through substitutions of your favorite recipes. Switch to whole-wheat flour in your pastries, bread or pastas. Replace one-third of regular flour with old-fashioned oats. Replace noodles with a cup of barley or brown rice to your homemade soups or stews. Instead of croutons, sprinkle quinoa on top of your salads. The possibilities are endless!

Whole-grain pasta

Store it: It is safe to keep whole-grain pasta in its original container on the pantry shelf, but keep it out of the fridge, as it easily retains moisture. Aesthetically speaking, transferring it to a clear glass airtight container will show off its playful shapes and sizes. Lasting up to a year, this grain will stand the test of time until you’re ready to use it in the kitchen. 

Use it: Enhance the taste of this healthy grain by tossing it with herbs, pesto or a splash of olive oil. Play the savory card by blending in your most treasured mozzarella, cheddar or parmesan cheeses. Add in some cooked veggies such as broccoli, peas or spinach to get more nutrients. And of course, pour over pasta’s classic sidekick of freshly prepared tomato sauce.

Steel-cut oats

Store them: Moisture is the enemy of oats, which leads to the growth of mold, so make sure to store these high-nutrient grains in a cool, dry place. Uncooked oats will last up to six months if stored properly. Save leftover cooked oats in a seal-tight container in the fridge for 5-7 days for a week of balanced breakfasts. 

Use them: Depending on how much time you have, these fiber-filled oats are great for preparing overnight. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over a cup of steel cut oats with a pinch of salt. Cover and let it soak overnight. In the morning, cook the oats over medium heat until all the water is absorbed (5-6 minutes). Looking for more flavor? Pour in a little milk for a finished creamy texture combined with the oats’ nutty taste.

Apple cider vinegar

Store it: Apple cider vinegar can sit on the shelf for 2 years unopened and maintain its peak taste. It does not need to be refrigerated even after opening since its high acidity creates a self-preserving climate made for the pantry life. Just make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight.

Use it: Filled with numerous health benefits, apple cider vinegar needs to be diluted by pouring 2 tablespoons in a glass of water when consumed by itself. However, chefs have found ways to incorporate it into their meals. Consider using it to sear salmon, prepare a sharp vegan queso dip, braise cabbage or mix it in with any slow-cooker pulled meat.

Raw nuts & seeds 

Store them: Nuts and seeds (almond, cashew, peanut, hazelnut, walnut, pumpkin, sunflower) need to be stored in airtight containers and will last in the pantry for up to 3 months, in the refrigerator for 6 months and in the freezer for a year. Whole, shelled and raw nuts preserve longer than ground-up or roasted nuts. Keep nuts and seeds out of sunlight and in a dark cool place.

Use them: These are great for an on-the-go snack as you can eat them by the handful without having to cook them. However, nuts and seeds can be used for surprising enhancement to recipes. Try crushing seeds or nuts to prepare a gluten-free flour, breading for chicken or fish or the crust to any warm pastry.

Dried fruits

Store them: There are several ways to store these fruity treats (apricots, dates and raisins), either in home canning jars, plastic freezer bags/containers or vacuum packaging. Keeping dried fruit at room temperature and completely sealed off from moisture is essential for maintaining its freshness. These factors can determine whether the fruit expires in 4 months or up to a year. 

Use them: Fruit’s natural sweetness lends itself nicely to include in pastries and other baked goods. Explore your hand at date nut pinwheels, date bread or no-bake raisin oatmeal cookies. Try combining a handful of different dried fruits, nuts, seeds and rolled oats together in the oven to make a delicious to-go snack or hearty cereal.

Canned diced tomatoes

Store them: Keep the tomatoes in the original can. Use within 18 months to sustain taste. Like the majority of foods, transfer to a sealed container in the refrigerator after opening. 

Use them: Tomatoes are very adaptable to the majority of savory recipes. Use them in casual dishes such as pasta sauce, pico de gallo and in the sauce surrounding a braised rotisserie chicken. Dress them up for more complex dishes, such as a tomato-based rasam with mussels, the stuffing in a manicotti noodle lasagna or as the spicy simmering sauce for baked eggs.

Nutritional yeast

Store it: In order to preserve its vitamins and health benefits, nutritional yeast needs to be stored in a cool dark area. Keep it in an airtight container, whether a glass jar, sealed plastic container or freezer bag. Stored correctly, this item will last up to a year.

Use it: With its grated cheese-like consistency and color, vegans tend to include this secret ingredient to recipes that normally call for regular cheese. Delicious substitutions can be made for vegan mac and cheese or any other savory meal. Sprinkle over freshly made popcorn along with a little pour of virgin olive oil and a dash of salt for an addictive and healthy snack.

Foods you should never keep in your pantry after opening

Chocolate syrup 

Coconut oil 

Cold-pressed oils

Cured meats 

Infused olive oil

Jam or jelly 


Lime/lemon juice

Maple syrup 





Pasta sauce


Whole-grain flour

Need more pantry space? 

If you love your cabinets but feel the need for more space, easier access to your items or just better organization, click here for inspiration from Tresa and Chris Dorris, owners of ShelfGenie.

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