The 12 Ingredients Your Kitchen Should Never Be Without

Nutrition experts share what's always in their kitchens, so you'll never want for a quick, healthy meal.

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Photo by John Block/Getty Images

At the end of a chaotic day, finding the time to sit down together over a meal is difficult enough without having to think about actually preparing it. Even First Lady Michelle Obama is no stranger to the dinner dilemma: “People are busier today. Life is different. We’re never going to go back to the way things were when my grandma was coming up,” she said in a new interview with Cooking Light. “But we have to find those new norms—the new healthier norms. How do we make that work in our modern-day families without making people feel judged or burdened by the limitations that are real?”

To help with that dilemma, we asked three nutritionists to share the key ingredients they always keep on hand for healthy, quick meals. If you have these dozen ingredients on hand, you’ll never go hungry.

  • Plain Greek Style Yogurt: Nutritionists Cheryl  Forberg and Heather Bauer both say they love this tasty staple. Great for everything from breakfast smoothies and parfaits to dips and mayo or sour cream replacements, you’ll also be adding some good protein and calcium to your diet.
  • Eggs: Bauer and nutritionist Julie Upton combine eggs with leftover veggies to make delicious omelets, frittatas and salads. Or you can hard boil and eat on the go. With 70 calories, 6 grams of protein and more than 15 different vitamins and minerals, according to Upton, these little guys pack a healthy punch.
  • Frozen Berries: Combine with yogurt for a healthy smoothie or use as a sweet-replacement snack instead of cookies or candy. Upton prefers to use raspberries: “They have more filling fiber than any of the berries and are antioxidant-rich.  A cup has 80 calories and 9 grams of fiber—that’s more than most bowls of high-fiber cereal,” she says.
  • Canned Tomatoes: Forberg uses canned, diced fire-roasted tomatoes for everything from pasta and pizza sauce to salsa. And, because veggies are canned within several hours of harvesting, they maintain their nutrients, says Upton.
  • High Fiber Crackers: “I love keeping these around as a filler to any meal,” says Bauer, who tops the crackers with almond butter for breakfast, uses them as a replacement for croutons in salads, pairs them with cheese for a snack, or crushes them up as a breading substitute for chicken.
  • White Vinegar: “I love using this for any dressing (mix with some olive oil and lemon). It’s perfect over chicken, over salad and you can even use white vinegar to clean your house,” Bauer says.
  • Hard Cheese: Cheeses like Parmesan and Romano tend to have less fat and calories, says Forberg. You can use the cheese over pasta, salad and veggies to add additional flavor, and, as Forberg puts it, “Who doesn’t love cheese?”
  • Pasta/Rice: Even when your pantry goes bare, if you have pasta or rice, you always have dinner, Upton says. Add some veggies or whip up a quick sauce with those canned tomatoes, and voila: dinner!
  • Mushrooms: Forberg opts for cremini or shiitakes, and uses them in stir fry and veggie sautés, or to stretch ground meat in a sauce, burger or meatloaf.
  • Canola Oil: It’s low in saturated fat and a good source of plant-based omega 3s, says Upton. And since it’s good for baking, sautéing, and for making salad dressings, you’ll never find yourself in a jam.
  • Broth: It’s perfect for thinning out sauces, whipping up a quick soup by adding to pureed veggies, or using as a water replacement in recipes to amp up flavor, says Forberg. She even sips on it between meals, occasionally with a bit of ginger added in.
  • Organic, Frozen Meals (under 300 calories): And for those nights you really don’t have a clue or there isn’t a grain of rice to be found, Bauer recommends keeping a few organic, frozen meals that are under 300 calories in the freezer, just in case. Add some frozen veggies like broccoli or spinach, and you’ll still be doing all right.