For those of us who can’t afford takeout every night of the week—or want to avoid all of the added sugar, salt, and grease in restaurant dishes—prepping meals has become an essential task. Stocking up on pantry staples ahead of time no doubt has its benefits, but no matter how detailed a grocery list, somehow a mid-week trip to the store is always required. That’s why I reached out to Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, the health and nutrition expert for the TODAY show, founder of Nourish Snacks, and best-selling author of From Junk Food to Joy Food to help us curate some tips. Fill your cart with these staples in order to make the most out of your meals throughout the week. No extra trips to Whole Foods necessary!
One food group you should always have in your pantry is healthy grains, which include quinoa, farro, and brown rice. The beauty of grains is in their versatility. Cook up the whole batch and keep it in your refrigerator to use in different dishes throughout the week, says Bauer. Just reheat, add some veggies, a protein, and eat up.
Photo: Photo: James Sutton / Unsplash
Another staple food group is the legume, which serve as a great way to add protein to meals that need to be thrown together in a matter of minutes. “Protein-packed beans and lentils are an economical and convenient alternative to red meat, poultry and seafood,” says Bauer. “Load up when they go on sale, as canned beans last for up to two years.” But because canning liquids are often high in salt, she recommends opting for low sodium whenever possible or rinsing first with cold water.
To stretch your cart (and your wallet), consider buying frozen veggies. Stocking up on a large bag that you can take small portions from is a great way to make sure you aren’t shopping meal-to-meal. “Frozen produce is always a smart option—it’s often cheaper than fresh yet just as nutritious,” says Bauer, but she suggests shopping with caution: “The clues are listed in the ingredients panel—look for no added sugar or salt or suspect additives or sauces. Ideally, you just want the veggies—plain and simple!” Spices are always a welcome addition when cooking.
Finally, pick up a bulk package of chicken breast or ground beef and pre-portion it for the week, storing individually in freezer-safe bags. This way you avoid throwing out what goes uneaten early in the week. We’ve all been there.