Healthy Eating

8 Healthy Foods A Dietitian Always Has on Hand

Plus how to enjoy these delicious foods.

By: Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC

The most essential habit to making healthy eating a natural part of your lifestyle is making sure your fridge, freezer, and pantry are stocked with wholesome ingredients that are ready to go.   A little planning coupled with mindful grocery shopping will set you up for success.

As a registered dietitian-nutritionist, there are some RD kitchen staples that always have a place in my home. Yes, there are some unsurprising RD kitchen staples like fruits and veggies, but there are some items that may come as a surprise too. 

Generally speaking, every food item that I keep on hand offers a nutrition punch or makes it easier for me to get healthy and delicious food on the table.  

Here are the kitchen staples that, as a dietitian, I always have on-hand, no matter what.

Pantry Staples 

Canned Beans

In an effort to eat more plant-based meals, I keep cans of chickpeas, cannellini (white beans), and black beans on hand to beef up almost any recipe with all the fiber and none of the saturated fat.  When using canned beans as a topping for a salad or side dish, I rinse them to help remove some of the sodium that may remain. When adding beans to soups, stews, or one-pot dishes—the liquid adds creaminess, so I don’t rinse.  

One of my favorite quick and easy pantry dinners is a can of white beans + a can of chopped artichoke hearts, plus a can of diced tomatoes.  Start by simmering one tablespoon of olive oil with garlic, add the contents of all the cans, and season with capers, salt & pepper, and pecorino romano cheese. Top spaghetti squash or whole-grain pasta with the mixture for a plant-based meal, or use it to liven up chicken or fish. 


I keep an array of vinegars on hand — red wine, white, rice, balsamic, and apple cider.  Vinegars make up the base for marinades and dressings.  Making your own marinades and dressings is quicker and easier than you think. 

The benefit is that you moderate the amount of fat, salt, and sugar added for a fresher and healthier version. Vinegars add acidity and brightness to foods.  Want your rice to go from ordinary to extraordinary — sprinkle a few teaspoons of apple cider or rice vinegar, mix and serve.


Walnuts are my go-to snack when I am feeling puckish, but it’s too early for a meal. Since eating walnuts is linked to a slew of health benefits like weight loss and improved heart health, noshing on those little nuts is something I can feel good about. Plus, walnuts go well in just about any dish. From baked goods to pasta dishes to a crust for fish to salads, walnuts seem to find their way onto my dinner plate quite often.  

My Fridge & Freezer Staples 

Vegetable and Chicken Broth

My freezer is stocked with quart, pint, and cup-sized containers of frozen vegetables and chicken broth. I enjoy making my own broth from the vegetables I didn’t get to in time and leftover whole chicken.  

A great short-cut tip is using leftover store-bought rotisserie chicken, and your broth will benefit from the seasonings.  If you don’t want to go through the process of making your own broth, store-bought broths are a time-saving alternative.  Use these broths beyond soup making to sauté vegetables or substitute half the amount of liquid when preparing quinoa or rice to enhance flavor.  


You will always find fresh and frozen spinach in my fridge and freezer. Spinach is a super-food packed with more nutrients than you can count on one hand.  Most notably, spinach contains key nutrients like vitamin K, Vitamin C, and folate. 

Spinach can be added to just about any dish at any mealtime — add to eggs for breakfast, a smoothie for snack, to a salad for lunch, and sauteed as a side for dinner.  

Frozen Shrimp 

Shrimp is a source of lean protein and healthy fat that cooks super-quickly and is incredibly versatile. Keeping frozen shrimp in the freezer is a lifesaver when I am running low on protein choices and don’t want to lean on take-out. 

I simply defrost the shrimp and toss them in stir-fries, soups or I use them as a topping for salads once they are cooked through. 

Pre-Cooked Frozen Quinoa

When I actually cook quinoa, I make extra and freeze it. While cooking quinoa is not difficult — all you do is boil water and add the grain — the boiling and cooking can be time-consuming. On busy days when I need a grain in a pinch, having pre-cooked quinoa ready to go is a dream come true. 

I simply place my cooked frozen quinoa in a microwave-safe bowl and heat it until it’s warm. I then use it as a side for many of my dishes for a hearty food that provides fiber, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals. 

What’s on My Counter? 

2 in 1 Blender/Food Processor

While I don’t love keeping many appliances on the counter, I keep my blender handy to make shakes and smoothies.  It also comes in handy for purees (think butternut squash), salsa for taco night, hummus, and dips for vegetable-centered snacks and marinades (my fav is chimichurri). 

A Bowl Of Fresh Fruit

I find that I tend to snack on food that is in my eyesight. So, instead of keeping beautiful pastries on my countertop, I always have a bowl of bananas, apples, avocados, and many more fruit options beautifully displayed to make grabbing a piece super-tempting. It helps me eat my quota of fruit intake for the day. 

Stocking Your Kitchen For Healthy Eating Success 

Having wholesome ingredients ready to grab from your fridge, freezer or pantry increases the likelihood of cooking something healthy that is also incredibly satisfying.  Reaching your health goals is going to require some planning — and having some favorite go-to ingredients that will support your health goals will help support you on your health journey in a delicious and approachable way.   

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