Keeping a well-stocked pantry is always a top priority — menu planning and impromptu meals are made easy when I have what I need at hand. Building a healthy pantry takes time and can be overwhelming to shop for in one go, so start small. Go for one or two of the following recommendations and before you know it, a treasure trove of healthy cooking goodies will be at your disposal. The bulk food store is your best friend in the case for many of these goods, so stock up.
1. Coconut Oil
The virgin variety of coconut oil, known for its luscious tropical taste, is heat-stable up to 350°F. I like to use this in place of butter for dairy-free baking, in smoothies, to sauté vegetables and as a foundation for coconut milk-based curries by toasting the spices in it. Coconut oil is one of my favourite ways to incorporate some healthy fats into my daily diet.
Try coconut oil in place of butter in pastry: Vegan Sweet Potato and Kale Galette with Pistachio Parmesan
2. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
EVOO contains anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats and cell-protecting antioxidants. I use the extra-virgin variety for salad dressings, to garnish soups and grains, and even bake with it. More refined “light” olive oils are better for high-temperature roasting (325°F plus) as they’re less likely to oxidize.
Try baking with EVOO: Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Mandarin Orange Glaze and Walnut Olive Brittle
3. Apple Cider Vinegar
I keep apple cider vinegar handy to perk up just about any savoury meal. It goes especially well in salad dressings, and can brighten up a bean soup without added salt. “Raw” unpasteurized apple cider vinegar contains probiotics for a healthy immune system, making it a pantry must-have.
Use apple cider vinegar to brighten up a whole grain salad: Quinoa, Roasted Eggplant and Apple Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
4. Raw Nuts and Seeds
I keep raw chia, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and hemp seeds in my refrigerator for quick nutrient boosters for any meal, whether it’s a bowl of oats or addition to a salad. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and cashews get a workout in my homemade granolas, trail mix and homemade nut butters. Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats, protein and minerals, so I make sure to have at least a handful (all unsalted) every day.
Turn chia seeds into a creamy, dairy-free dessert: Berry Chia Seed Pudding
If I don’t have beans and legumes in my cupboard, I may go into full-on panic mode. I buy canned chickpeas (and cook my own when I’m feeling ambitious) for quick soups, stews, salads, vegan “fudge” and homemade hummus. Instead of egg or chicken, I mash chickpeas with mayonnaise and lemon for a chickpea salad to add between whole grain bread or tuck inside a wrap – it’s a quick, make-ahead lunch.
Have chickpeas this weekend for brunch: Smoky Chickpeas on Grilled Toast with Poached Eggs & Zahtar
6. Whole Grains
I buy whole grains in bulk so I can try a small portion of each one. Millet, quinoa, short-grain brown rice and large-flake oats are my top picks, all delivering a unique nutritional profile. If you have a blender, you can grind your own gluten-free and whole grain flours for baking (for this, I recommend oats, millet or quinoa). Build a grain bowl, make a porridge or pudding, bake a cake, toss a salad, stir into a soup or stew — the sky’s the limit with whole grains.
Replace white rice with whole grain millet in risotto: Millet, Kale and Lemon Risotto
7. Whole Grain Pasta
Sometimes, only pasta will do. I buy spelt, kamut or gluten-free brown rice noodles in every shape and size available (I really love pasta!). To watch portion size, I’ll enjoy 2 to 3 ounces (dry weight) and fill it out with plenty of low-starch vegetables and some protein, like a fried or poached egg — and probably some cheese on top.
Bulk up whole grain pasta with lean greens and meaty mushrooms: Whole Grain Spaghetti With Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms
8. Maple Syrup
I have a moderate sweet tooth and usually try to satiate it with fresh fruit (apples or bananas with peanut butter is my afternoon go-to). However, I always keep real maple syrup, preferably grade B “medium” for its full-bodied taste, in my kitchen. It is a great addition to granola, sweetening up Greek yogurt, baking, stir-fry sauces, beverages, as well as an obligatory topper for whole grain spelt pancakes and waffles.
Enhance your healthy comfort food dinner sides with maple syrup (and EVOO!): Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes
9. Dried Herbs & Spices
If I want to add flavour to any meal and also bump up the nutritional prowess, I head on over to my spice cabinet. Like whole grains, I buy small portions of dried herbs and spices in bulk, for the most variety and best price. Dried herbs and spices contain lesser-known antioxidants that support good health. Cinnamon is great for sweet treats or Moroccan-inspired savoury dishes, cumin is always added to hummus, dried thyme tastes wonderful in roasted potatoes and chili powder helps to build a flavour-packed chili.
Give omega-3-packed salmon a hit of smoky, earthy spice: Blackened Salmon
10. Sea Salt
I choose unrefined sea salt for its mineral profile and clean, crisp taste. Fine-grain sea salt goes well in baking and flaky salt adds texture to just about any food, both savoury and sweet.
Skip store-bought trail mix and make your own sweet and salty, heart-healthy walnut version: Maple-Glazed Walnuts with Sea Salt