Pantry-Powered Hacks for Healthy Eating

Angela Charlton R.D.-N.'s picture
By Angela Charlton... on March 27, 2020

Current challenges with grocery shopping create challenges in the kitchen too.  But these cooking-from-the-pantry tips and healthy eating hacks can make it easier to get good nutrition, while shopping (and spending!) less and staying home more. 

Beans, the Perfect Pantry Protein

Canned or dried beans (and their pulse and legume cousins) can take the place of fresh meat in many recipes. Just like meat, they offer tooth-satisfying texture plus plenty of protein. Plus, they are a great source of fiber and provide an array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Black Beans and Pinto Beans
Canned black or pinto beans are both an excellent choice for bean burgers, as well as for meatless chilis and burritos.

A bowl of chickpeas.
Chickpeas are an excellent source of protein over pasta and in pot pies, stews and sandwiches.

Chickpeas—also called garbanzo beans or ceci—offer the right chewiness and color to stand in for poultry meat. Try an equal amount of cooked chickpeas as a substitute for chicken or turkey over pasta or in tacos, pot pies or stews.

You can also mash up some canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained, with mayonnaise, a dab of mustard and a pinch of dried dill to create a meatless take on “tuna” salad. (It’s a popular vegetarian standby.) 

Lentils in a wooden spoon and on a wooden table
Lentils can take the place of crumbled ground beef in many recipes.

Try lentils where you would usually go with ground beef, for example in sloppy joes, lasagna or Bolognese sauce. Two cups of cooked lentils for one pound of ground beef works well in many recipes.

Mushrooms, the Other Meat

Mushrooms boast a hearty texture and enough umami (savory taste) to rival meat. They are also an excellent source of B vitamins, selenium and even some vitamin D. Let them take center stage in stroganoff, Bolognese sauce or Philly-style sandwiches.

Pantry-Friendly Fruits and Veggies

Potatoes and sweet potatoes can last up to two weeks in the pantry, longer if kept in a cool, dark place like the basement.Carrots and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts tend to be among the longer-lasting produce in the fridge.

Bowl of golden raisins.
Raisins are a traditional Sicilian addition to pasta and couscous and can make a pantry-powered meal feel fancier.

Dried fruits are a tasty add-in to oatmeal (another pantry superstar), and raisins are a traditional accent to pasta and couscous in Sicilian recipes.  

And don’t forget frozen fruits and veggies, which are fine to use in many recipes that call for fresh.

Bought a few too many bananas when you first stocked up? Before they get overripe, peel them, slice them and toss them in the freezer for use in smoothies later.   

In a Pinch: Save-Your-Recipe Swaps

If you find yourself short on a recipe ingredient, consider a swap before you shop. The following are tried-and-true, recipe-rescuing substitutions:

Baker’s Basics
Don't spend extra time in the grocery store if you have these substitutions at home.

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder = ¼ teaspoon baking soda + ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar = 1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice = 1 teaspoon white vinegar
Small glass dish of applesauce.
When baking, try replacing half or all of the butter or oil called for with applesauce or mashed banana.

Better (for You) Than Butter
These substitutions work best for muffins, quick breads and cakes:

  • 1 cup melted butter = 1 cup vegetable oil
  • In many recipes, half or all of the butter or oil can be replaced with applesauce or mashed banana

Follow the Breadcrumbs
This is a great use for stale crackers.

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs = 1 cup ground oats or ground crackers

Make Do With Mayo
Mayo can substitute for eggs or oil in many recipes.

  • 1 tablespoon oil = 1 tablespoon mayonnaise (in many recipes)
  • 1 egg = 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Spice it Up
Dried herbs are a fine replacement where recipes call for fresh.

  • 1 tablespoon fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon dried herbs
  • 1 clove garlic = 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon allspice = ½ teaspoon cinnamon + ½ teaspoon cloves

Angela Charlton, R.D.-N., leads our Community Health and Outreach nutrition team and is a regular contributor to Carilion Living.

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