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Perk Up Your Pantry (Plus 3 Great Recipes)

How does your pantry stack up? Do you feel prepped (at least most of the time) to whip together a healthful meal that also tastes good?

I invited Suzanne Irene Natz, a dietetic intern and graduate student pursing a Master of Science degree in clinical nutrition at New York University, to guest blog on how to perk up your pantry (and refrigerator, and freezer…)–a timely topic especially when the weather is cold and getting around (especially on snow-covered streets and sidewalks) is more like doing an obstacle course. Suzanne also provided some bean and pasta recipes to help you make use of many wonderful pantry items. Enjoy!

Couldn’t get to the grocery this week? We’ve all been there, and it can sometimes seem difficult to get a healthy meal on the table for yourself and your family, especially when your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer is empty. But by strategically stocking your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, you’ll be in a better position to whip up a satisfying, delicious, good-for-you dinner, even when your trip to the grocery store doesn’t fit into your schedule.

Here are some tips for what to keep on hand so you can mix and match a healthy meal in no time:

In the Freezer

Keeping on hand some frozen fruits and vegetables (preferably made without added sugar or fat) is an inexpensive, easy way to get the 3-1/2 to 5 cups a day most of us need, especially if you ate that last banana yesterday. Try adding some frozen berries to low-fat yogurt for breakfast, or sauteeing some frozen broccoli and snap peas and serving over brown rice.

In the Fridge

Citrus fruits can keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, so you don’t have to sacrifice freshness during your busy week. Some best bets include oranges, clementines, grapefruit, and pineapple.

In the Cupboard

Root and tuber vegetables like sweet potatoes, celery root, and Jerusalem artichokes and various forms of squash are great roasted and will keep stored in cool, dry places longer than other vegetables.

Whole grains can be purchased in bulk and stored in airtight containers in your pantry. They add some fiber and texture to any meal!  Some choices include whole grain, high fiber cereals, oats, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat crackers, and of course popcorn. Be adventurous and try some that you haven’t before–you may even find a new favorite!

Canned beans (preferably “no-salt added” or “low-sodium”) can give your last minute meal a boost of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates to keep you healthy and satisfy you.

In the Spice Rack

An assortment of dried herbs and spices can make rice and beans or a veggie quinoa salad a lot more exciting. To help yourself use them when cooking, choose a part of the world to serve as your theme (like Morocco–see my recipe for “Moroccan Spiced Beans” below), and choose a variety of spices used in that cultural cuisine. As your spice cabinet grows, so will your ability to select your own flavor combinations.

The next time your vegetable drawer is empty, try out these clean out your pantry recipes:

Black Bean Burgers

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4


¼ cup oats

8.5 oz can black beans (no salt added)

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (optional)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 egg

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ tsp chili powder

2 Tbs olive oil

Optional serving suggestions:


Caramelized onions

Avocado slices

Whole wheat English muffins or hamburger rolls


1.    In food processor, pulse oats until finely ground. Remove from food processor and set aside.

2.   Pulse beans in food processor with jalapeño and garlic until well mixed. Mix spices in bowl with oats. Add in along with egg and pulse until well mixed.

3.   Refrigerate mixture for 30 minutes.

4.   Remove mixture from refrigerator and form patties using about ½ cup of the mixture per patty.

5.    Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in large skillet and cook patties until one side is browned, then flip. Once both sides are browned and mixture is warmed through, transfer patties to a plate. Repeat this step using the rremaining tablespoon of olive oil and the rest of the patties.

6.   Serve with optional toppings.

Nutrition info per serving: 150 calories, 9 g total fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 630 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar, 6 g protein.

Moroccan Spiced Beans

If you’re craving something ethnic, this takes as little time as ordering take out and will save you some time (and keep your sodium down for the day!) Try it with a side of steamed Brussels sprouts or a classic green salad.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total time: 20-25 minutes

Serves: 4


2 Tbs olive oil

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 lb lean ground beef or lamb (optional—if using, use only half can of each bean)

1 Tbs paprika

1 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 can (8.5 ounces) garbanzo beans (no salt if available), rinsed and drained

1 can (8.5 oz) black beans (no salt if available), rinsed and drained

1/2 cup dried fruit, such as chopped apricots, chopped dates, or golden raisins

1 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped, or 2 Tbs dried

1/2 teaspoon salt (leave out if using salted canned beans)

2 cups low sodium chicken, vegetable or beef stock

8 oz whole wheat couscous or quinoa


1.    In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add carrots, onion, paprika, allspice, and cinnamon, and cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender (if using meat, add after about 3-4 minutes).

2.   Increase heat to medium-high and stir in beans, apricots, parsley, salt, and 1/2 cup broth. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly.

3.   Meanwhile, prepare couscous or quinoa as label directs, substituting remaining stock for some of the water called for to prepare couscous.

4.   Serve bean mixture on top of grain.

Nutrition info per serving (for recipe made with couscous): 520 calories, 10 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 380 mg sodium, 17 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar, 19 g protein.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Vegetable Sauce

Great when you’re out of fresh vegetables but craving something healthy and satisfying. Top with grilled chicken breast (or have it plain–it’s delicious as is!) and serve with a side salad.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4


2 Tbs Olive Oil

1 Onion, diced

2 Garlic cloves, minced

1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, quartered

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets

8.5 oz can Canellini beans (no salt if available), rinsed and drained

8.5 oz can diced tomatoes (no salt/low sodium if available)

1 Tbs dried basil or ¼ cup fresh, chopped

1 tsp dried or 2 tablespoons fresh oregano

1 tsp crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz whole wheat pasta of choice

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

1.    Heat olive oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent. Add broccoli and artichokes and sauté an additional 5 minutes. (Now is best time to boil water for pasta).

2.   Add tomatoes and canellini beans, and spices. Bring to slight boil. Reduce to simmer and continue to stir occasionally.

3.   While simmering, drop pasta and cook to al dente. Once cooked, drain pasta and add to skillet.

4.   Toss with cheese (if using) and serve warm.

Nutrition info per serving: 390 calories, 10 g total fat, 1 g sat fat, 240 mg sodium, 13 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugars, 13 g protein.

Email Suzanne at

How do you perk up your own pantry? If you make one of the above recipes, please let us know how you enjoy it; snap a photo and you may very well see it on The ZIED GUIDE blog.

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized and award-winning health and nutrition expert, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books. An avid walker, she loves motivating others to #moveitorloseit. A book lover, she recently earned a certificate in children’s literature from Stony Brook Southampton and is currently working on several young adult novels. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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