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Shopping for groceries in the midst of a global pandemic is tricky. Your local supermarket may be running low on certain items, grocery pickup and delivery slots are sometimes a week or two out, and you’re not guaranteed to receive everything on your list.
You may be facing a small storage space in your apartment, or you may be trying to buy a bit extra to reduce the number of trips you have to make. As a dietitian, there are a few things I do when I buy groceries so that my family has delicious and nutrient-dense meals week after week.
Pick Fresh Produce
Buy fresh fruits and vegetables with a timetable in mind. You’ll want to select a few items that you can eat right away, plus some foods that have a longer shelf life. For example, berries should be eaten within a few days, but apples can stay fresh and crisp for weeks.
Here are some fruits and vegetables that can be enjoyed a week or two later:
Many of these will keep for two weeks or longer if stored properly.
Pick Up Some Proteins
There are a few protein-rich staples that can make several meals. These are great workhorses because you can use them in so many dishes. They also can be frozen in packages to be used in future meals.
Here are some great proteins to add to your shopping cart:
1. Whole chicken
A whole chicken can make so many meals. A roasted chicken (in the oven, slow cooker, or pressure cooker) can star as a main dish one night and can be turned into a chicken salad the next day. The carcass can be stewed to make a delicious stock for chicken veggie soup.
Chicken is a rich source of B12 vitamins, as well as important minerals and protein.
2. Ground meat
The options are endless! Meatballs, burgers, tacos, enchiladas, bolognese, casserole, stuﬀed cabbage rolls, stuﬀed peppers – the list goes on and on. Look for ground meat, whether beef or turkey, that is 90% lean or above.
3. Chicken breasts
Fresh or frozen, chicken breasts can be made into so many meals. From kabobs to breaded chicken cutlets and the ever-versatile grilled chicken, chicken breasts are so handy to have around. They are very low in fat and pack a real protein punch.
Often found in the produce section, tofu blocks often have a shelf life of a month. Not only is it a great source of plant-based protein, but it also has a good amount of calcium. Firm tofu can be baked, stir-fried, braised, or crumbled, seasoned, and sauteed. (1)
5. Frozen shrimp
Shrimp are another great source of protein that also boast choline, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and zinc. They are also low in mercury. (2) Shrimp can be added to healthy fried rice or quinoa, stuﬀed into a fresh wrap, tossed on a salad, or grilled.
6. Frozen salmon fillets
Many freezer sections now have salmon fillets that are portioned, and vacuum sealed, making thawing a breeze. Salmon is famous for its anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, contains potassium, and is a great source of protein. (3)
Season salmon lightly and pop it under your broiler for a delicious and simple main dish or throw on the grill for a delicious treat.
Whip up a quick veggie omelet for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, enjoy hardboiled eggs on a salad or in a wrap, or poach eggs and place them on top of greens with a vinaigrette for an upscale light meal. Many meals get an upgrade with the addition of a fried egg, from burgers to rice bowls.
Dried or canned, legumes are nutrition powerhouses. Full of fiber, folate, and protein, (5) these can be turned into a dip such as hummus, mashed and spread onto tortillas or toasted bread, shaped into patties, tossed on salads, or used in a grain bowl.
Don’t forget about adding beans to your favorite curries and soups.
9. Canned salmon
Just like its fresh counterpart, canned salmon has more vitamin D and calcium (6) because the fine bones are soft and easy to digest. Swap canned tuna for salmon in your favorite tuna salad recipe or make salmon patties or cakes for dinner.
10. Canned sardines
Sardines are so often overlooked, but they have a ton of nutrients packed in the can like, well, sardines! They contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and protein. (7) These little fish are perfect in pasta and can also be served with fresh avocado on whole-grain crackers for a light lunch.
Other Pantry and Freezer Staples
Here are a few other foods that are “must-haves” for a healthy kitchen because you can do so much with them. Keep these in your pantry and freezer to make delicious meals day or night.
1. Herbs and spices
It goes without saying that with a few key herbs and spices, you can make so many dishes from a variety of cuisines.
Cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, ground ginger, basil, oregano, thyme, dill, paprika, chili powder, curry powder or garam masala, and bay leaves come up in recipes again and again. Plus, herbs and spices have been shown to contain a variety of antioxidants. (8)
This grain is actually a seed. Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids and is rich in fiber. It’s also naturally gluten-free, (9) so it is a great choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Quinoa makes a great side dish as a pilaf, and it goes well in salads or as the base of a fun bowl. You can also boil quinoa in some milk with vanilla and cinnamon for a hot breakfast dish.
3. Wild rice
Full of fiber and B vitamins, this grain can be thrown into soups and stews, served as a side dish, or used in salads.
4. Bean-based pasta
Recently, a slew of bean and lentil-based pasta has hit supermarket shelves. They boast more fiber and protein than traditional pasta, and they contain more folate and iron as well.
5. Canned tomatoes and sauce
Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce can be used in chili, soup, stews, curries, slow cooker meals, pasta, pizza, and more. So many cuisines rely on cooked tomatoes, making this a versatile ingredient.
As a bonus, canned tomatoes have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes, which can help promote healthy prostate in men.
It is great to make your own stock or broth from scratch, but it is also good to keep a few cans or cartons of your favorite broths and stocks in the pantry. Look for low-sodium versions to keep the salt level down, which is important for blood pressure.
Keep a few oils on hand for cooking, making salad dressings, and finishing a soup or dish. Olive, sesame, and hazelnut oils are all very flavorful and are great in salads and on steamed vegetables.
Look for neutral-flavored oils that stand up to high heat, such as canola, for cooking and baking.
8. Maple syrup
The real stuﬀ is just so much better. Of course, maple syrup is great on pancakes and waﬄes, but it also can be used on plain Greek yogurt, in baking, in making your own granola, or in salad dressings. Maple syrup contains some minerals, including zinc, potassium, and calcium.
This humble condiment can do so many things. Sure, mustard is popularly used on a burger, but it also can add a great zing to dressings, sauces, marinades, and meatballs. Look for Dijon, whole-grain, and spicy versions for diﬀerent flavor profiles.
10. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has many purported health benefits, but it is also prized for its culinary uses. It has a slightly sweet note, making it great for dipping sauces, marinades, and dressings.
11. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are excellent for snacking, baking, and topping yogurt, oatmeal, and cereal. You can throw some into your homemade granola or trail mix.
Nuts and seeds are full of healthy fats, fiber, and plenty of minerals, including selenium and magnesium. Keep a variety in your pantries, such as walnuts, pecans, flaxseed, chia, and pumpkin seeds.
12. Dried fruit
Dried fruit can be used in snack mixes, on hot cereals, or in savory dishes such as braised chicken, or salads and pilafs. While the drying process does destroy some nutrients in the fruit, plenty of others remain. Look for dried fruit that does not have a lot of added sugar.
13. Frozen fruits and vegetables
Did you know that frozen produce contains just as many nutrients as their fresh counterparts? They are picked at peak ripeness, blanched, and flash frozen.
Frozen vegetables can be simply steamed or used in soups, stews, curries, casseroles, and stir-fries. Frozen fruit makes a delicious smoothie or can be thawed and enjoyed on top of yogurt.
Don’t Neglect the Treats
While it is important to take care of your physical health right now, it is also important to take your mental health into account and treat yourself from time to time.
Although the occasional packet of chips is no big deal, in the long run, they often lack nutrients. However, there are some treats and snacks that contain some good-for-you vitamins and minerals.
1. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, as well as minerals, including iron, copper, and potassium. It has also been linked to low blood pressure. Look for chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, such as 70%–85% cacao. These bars are also low in sugar and fat. (10)
Want something savory? Cheese, please. Although cheese is high in fat, it contains protein, calcium, and vitamin B12. Pair cheese with fresh fruit and whole-grain crackers. (11)
This classic movie snack is actually a whole grain! It is low in calories and full of fiber. Look for microwave popcorn that is low in fat and sodium, or make your own!
As you shop for the coming weeks, include some of these foods on your grocery list. With several of these items on hand, you can create so many delicious and nutritious meal any time!