Going to the grocery store once a week is a good rate for my busy student schedule. My current budget, transportation and planning capabilities are meek, however I have learned to stock-up on 5 pantry essentials.
Instead of watching fresh produce go to waste after a week of lunchbox meals, I have learned to stock items that don’t readily spoil. I found 5 essential items that store well, provide unprocessed nutrients and are very low-cost.
1. Frozen Veggies average price: $1.79/16oz bag
Frozen vegetables hold a comparable amount of nutrients as fresh produce and tend to sell for a markedly lower price. When frozen “at peak of freshness”, the compounds that hold the color, flavor and micronutrients are degraded at a much lower rate. The enzymes that make a banana on your counter brown, are inhibited by the 38°F temperature of your freezer. For an easy, healthy meal I mix homemade tomato sauce with frozen veggies. Throw on some herbs, and I have a delicious 5-minute meal to enjoy before running out to my next commitment!
2. Canned Beansaverage price: $0.99/15.5oz can
Canned beans are the most multi-purpose of my essentials. I use them to blend up as a white-bean hummus (just add herbs and olive oil!), toss on salads for additional protein, or to snack on (roasted garbanzo beans are an antioxidant rich source of protein). As with frozen, canned beans are not less nutritious than dried beans. Make sure to get beans in BPA-free containers and to rinse them before eating in order to reduce sodium.
3. Garlic average price: $0.50/head
Garlic is one of the most nutrient rich seasonings you can add to a dish. Rich in selenium, it assists protein function, cell formation and blood vessel dilation (helping to reduce blood pressure). In order to benefit from the full potential, crush garlic and let it stand for 10 minutes before heating or mixing with any acidic ingredients. Air exposure allows the enzymes react and release even more micronutrients. Although the smell is an acquired taste, it is a great flavor addition to roasted cauliflower, tomato sauce and black bean burgers.
4. Apples average price: $0.99/each
Although the most perishable item on this list, apples are my favorite on-the-go snack. Apples store best in the fridge, however I prefer them red apples room temperature, so I keep them out. They serve as a decorative touch and a reminder to snack healthy. I always make sure to wash right before to decrease the preservative coating. Sprinkling cinnamon on apple slices adds antioxidants and curbs any sweet cravings I have.
5. Onionsaverage price: $1.29/each
Onions are the best “bang-for your-buck” vegetable. Each color and variety offers a slightly different potency and nutrient quality, however any of them are great additions to meals. Scallions, Vidalia onions, and red onions are three of the extreme categories of onions. Listed in increasing flavor sharpness, they serve as great additions to salads, sandwiches and sauces. Onions are a great way to pack more nutrients into a dish that transports easily because they store well chopped, caramelized or whole.
Spend less money, save more time and eat better by stocking up on healthy essentials!