As you probably know by now, I’m a big fan of healthy food. When I first started dabbling in home cooking, I was pretty aimless with my grocery shopping. I knew what I liked and used on a regular basis, but I still lacked strategy. Because I wasn’t clear on the kind of recipes I wanted to make, I didn’t know how to stock my pantry with the right ingredients. It was pretty haphazard, with boxes and bags of pasta, and some rice and canned soups.
Now that I’m clearer on the kind of food I love to make and eat, I know exactly what to stock up on, and shopping is much less of a guessing game. Books like Deliciously Ella and Oh She Glows (read about the healthy plant-based foodies I love to follow) were a huge help in making sense of this, and pantry stocking now seems so simple and obvious to me.
What’s great about having all these ingredients at the ready is that, along with saving money in the long-run, your weekly shop will just consist of the few fresh ingredients you’ll need for the recipes you’re planning that week. You’ll save more money if you buy these ingredients in bulk (try an online food shop like Amazon‘s health/organic section) – and because they last long and are so versatile, none of them will go to waste.
Without further ado, here’s a list of the ingredients I always make sure to stock up on for healthy cooking and baking – excluding fresh/perishable foods like bread, fruits, and veg. While there are always other ingredients I’ll introduce depending on what recipes I might be trying (like maybe some buckwheat flour for pancake day), these are the ones I really can’t live without. I hope this inspires your next shopping trip! Remember to check out this post I wrote about my favorite sites to get healthy recipes from.
Aah, rolled oats. What would I do without you? I get jumbo bags of this stuff to use for hot oatmeal (check out my yummy banana and almond butter oats recipe), overnight oats, and baking cookies. I also blitz oats in a blender to get oat flour, which I use for baking. Oats of any kind are super affordable and high in fiber, which is perfect for a healthy breakfast that keeps you fuller, longer.
Yep, these are the fancy seeds that healthy foodies love to bang on about. These tiny (and flavorless) seeds are packed with fiber, protein, omega-3s, magnesium, iron, and calcium. Because they act as a thickening agent by soaking up liquids, they’re great for use in overnight oats (try my favorite overnight oats recipe) and puddings and parfaits (like this chocolate chia one). For that reason, it’s best to eat them wet and not dry. You can also add them to smoothies or oatmeal for added nutrition and crunch. While they can be pricey, a little goes a very long way.
Flax seeds are high in omega-3s, fiber, and magnesium. They’re great as an oatmeal or salad topping. I also love using flaxseed meal (ground up flaxseed) in oatmeal, smoothies, and as and as an egg replacement in baking.
Quinoa is an excellent source of plant-based protein. In fact, it’s one of the best and most complete sources of plant protein. Fun fact: quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain. As a carboholic, I sometimes opt for quinoa as my base for meals to switch things up and make sure that I’m getting enough protein in my diet. Quinoa’s texture is hard not to love, as it gets really fluffy after cooking (simmering one part quinoa to two parts water for 15 minutes). On the other hand, it is practically flavorless – but that can be a great thing if you know what to pair it with.
Brown rice is a real necessity in my kitchen. I don’t use white rice as it doesn’t contain any nutritional value; during processing, it’s stripped of its bran and loses all its nutrients. Brown rice, on the other hand, is a whole grain that has real nutritional value. Because it’s rich in fiber (as well as other nutrients), it keeps blood sugar levels stable instead of spiking it like refined carbs do. I like having big batches of brown rice at the ready to use as a base for meals like buddha bowls, burrito bowls, and even just mixed with salad. If you’re not used to brown rice, give it a try! It tastes good and makes any dish taste heartier.
Chickpeas are life! They really are. Besides being the main ingredient behind our beloved hummus, chickpeas are great when they’re soaked in a little olive oil and served with pita bread or added to buddha bowls. They’re so versatile, and I don’t feel right if I don’t have them in my kitchen.
I always like to have boxed beans at the ready: cannellini, black beans, and kidney beans are essential with stews, or pared with rice, burritos, and pasta. They’re an easy addition to any meal, and are a great natural source of protein and carbs.
These guys are amazing! As nature’s sweetener, I like using them in energy bites (try this recipe), or will just snack on a couple when I need a little sweet treat. You can sweeten up smoothies with them, too. If you’re having a major craving for chocolate, try pitting a couple medjool dates (slice them lengthwise just enough to remove the pit) and stuffing them with almond butter. I got this snack idea from Deliciously Ella’s first book… It’s so good, it may just change your life.
Cacao powder is unrefined, unsweetened cocoa powder. It packs a lot of flavor and is rich in nutrients like magnesium and antioxidants. I can’t live without it, as it’s an essential ingredient for smoothies and smoothie bowls, chocolate chia puddings, brownies… and anything else that needs a chocolatey kick!
Almond meal is a healthy baking fanatic’s dream. It’s basically a fluffy flour made from almonds. This stuff just makes me happy; I feel like nothing has a nicer texture, smell, and flavor. I always like to have it on hand when I’m ready to get my bake on.
Is there anything as rich and creamy as nut butter? I use this stuff on toast (topped with fruit), in oatmeal and smoothies (always!), and in all kinds of baking. I like that they’re an easy way to add a little protein and healthy fats to my diet. While you can make your own, I prefer store bought butters as they just save a lot of time. Be sure to read the ingredients, as so many brands unfortunately add a lot of unnecessary ingredients like sugar and hydrogenated oils. I mean, why ruin something that’s perfect on its own? My favorite nut butters are almond, peanut, and hazelnut.
Coconut oil is what I use when making sweet treats like pancakes, cookies, and energy bites. I think it works really well as a substitute for butter, but I still use it in moderation as it’s high in saturated fat. While coconut oil has been reported to have health benefits, I wouldn’t consider it a real superfood that you need to have with every meal. If you have a slight aversion to coconut, try Biona’s “Coconut Oil Cuisine” version. It’s my favorite so far as it is odorless and mild, so it would work well with any recipe that calls for it.
I don’t use artificial sweeteners or refined sugars when I’m cooking, so maple syrup is my natural sweetener of choice. I sincerely heart the taste, and find that it works so well in oatmeal and almost any kind of baking. And I can’t eat waffles or pancakes without a drizzle of it on top. To me, it has the best flavor among all sweeteners. I try to go easy on it, but won’t deny myself that extra bit of sweetness! A girl’s gotta live.
What are your must-have ingredients? I’d love to hear your food shop essentials.