In the midst of COVID-19 the prevalence of pantry friendly recipes has skyrocketed. Canned, jarred, and dry goods are the real MVPs of self-quarantine cooking– and rightfully so. Naturally shelf-stable staples can provide an excellent amount of valuable daily nutrients when chosen wisely. Of course, not all pantry items are created equal. Read on for advice on what to look out for when choosing shelf-stable foods to keep on hand in your home.
These Aren’t Your Grandma’s Canned Goods
Canned foods have garnered somewhat of a bad rap thanks to their association with bland 1950’s convenience cooking. The TV dinner era is not remembered for its contributions to American nutrition but they may have been on to something with the revelation of canned goods.
The truth is, the modern canning process retains a majority of vital nutrients and offers some advantageous qualities in return– namely, longevity. Look for labels with minimal ingredients and additives to ensure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck and be on alert for excess sugar and salt, which tend to sneak their way into otherwise healthy items. Ultimately, if you know how to spruce them up properly canned ingredients can present a nutritious and labor-saving alternative to their perishable counterparts.
One last thing to note is to always opt for cans that indicate a BPA-free lining. BPA (short for bisphenol-A) is an industrial chemical found in plastic, resins, and until recently, most canned goods. The industry has come a long way in phasing out this known endocrine disruptor but it’s best to play it safe by looking for labels that specify BPA-free.
Always Read the Label
The same rules apply when shopping for shelf-stable goods as any other kind of food. A helpful indicator for determining what’s worth buying is sodium content. For example, a packaged soup may seem healthy but if the sodium content is well over 50% of the recommended DV you may want to think twice about consuming it too often as it’s likely packed with unnecessary salt that could wreak havoc on your system. Similarly, preserved fruits are often packed in artificially sweetened syrups that will spike your blood sugar faster than you can say shelter-in-place.
When it comes to deciphering ingredient panels– the shorter the better.
With canned goods, aside from citric acid (used to raise acidity to a safe enough level to prevent botulism poisoning) the ingredient panel should read fairly simply. Examples of common food additives to avoid include: sucrose, glucose, fructose, sorbitol, mannitol, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, and food coloring (FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6).
Stock Up on Staples
With a solid foundation of pantry staples and a sprinkle of the right spices you can whip up hearty, nutritious, flavor-packed dinners for the whole family to enjoy. Here’s a list of our favorites to always have on hand:
- -High quality protein (chicken, salmon, tuna, sardines)
- -Canned produce (tomatoes, peas, corn)
- -Legumes (garbanzo beans, black beans, lentils)
- -Nut butters
- -Grains (rice, quinoa)
- -Coconut milk
- -Stock (vegetable broth, chicken/bone broth)
- -Dried Fruits
In addition, the pantry can be home to fresh produce that might not require refrigeration. Think vegetables like potatoes, winter squash and onions that can stay good for weeks and add flavor for days.
Be Selective With Your Snacks
A pantry would not be complete without snacks! These days it’s easier than ever to find worthy snackage but do your due diligence when deciphering health claims.
Oftentimes products are marketed as healthy but a closer look at the ingredients list proves otherwise. Prioritize high fiber foods that are popped, puffed, or dried over fried and pay close attention to serving sizes, which can be smaller than you might expect. Avoid trans fats and processed sugars if possible. Look toward Pulp Pantry, Rind, and ReGrained for some healthy upcycled options to throw in the mix!
Here’s where the fun comes in! Use these ingredients as a starting point to build a catalogue of durable recipes you can rely on when your fridge is looking sparse. Stir a medley of veggies, legumes, and grains in broth for a warming stew that will keep for days. Use coconut milk as a base for a vibrant, earthy chickpea curry. Or whip up a creative casserole using a mix of the above!
If you know how to shop, the pantry can present a reliable backup plan for those times when you’ve run out of a fridge staple your recipe relies on. And of course, a byproduct of purchasing items with a longer shelf life is you’ll be less likely to waste food, which is a cause we can definitely get behind!