I’ll be trying the Pop Tart idea immediately, thank you.

By Betty Gold
April 13, 2020
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During these unprecedented times, you’ve likely been wondering how to best stock your pantry, or (at the very least) use what’s already in it. But by week-whatever-we’re-at of being quarantined, you may have also started wondering how to keep your energy up with a healthy and balanced meal regime when you’re scraping by on canned goods, pasta, and other shelf-stable food items. According to Anastasia Kyriakopoulos, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian for Publix, it’s possible. Here are Kyriakopoulos’ simple tips for making the most out of what you likely already have on hand in the kitchen—and not need a midday nap afterwards.

Canned Soups

Did you know you can take a regular can of soup and cut its sodium levels in half? There are a few ways to do this. First, try incorporating additional ingredients and water. By creating bulk, not only can you get more out of the product than a single can, but you can better split the soup to sodium ration. Try adding more fresh or frozen vegetables (whatever you have on hand will work). You can also bolster the protein levels by throwing in some pre-cooked or drained canned chicken or fish.

Pasta and Rice

No matter what type is in your pantry—white or brown, whole grain, wheat, lentils, and so on–you can make wholesome pasta and rice dishes more balanced by adding protein (like frozen pre-cooked shrimp, or pre-cooked ground turkey) and plain vegetables (such as broccoli or cauliflower) whenever you can. “The important thing to remember is match cup for cup,” says Kyriakopoulos. “Meaning, for every one cup of pasta or rice, you are adding at least a cup of vegetables.” And don’t be afraid to mix it up: instead of heavy sauces, try using olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, and spices to add extra flavor to your dish.

Canned Vegetables and Beans

Similar to frozen vegetables, canned vegetables are also picked and harvested at their ripest form and then immediately sent off to the processing facility to be canned. “A lot of people perceive them to be overly processed and high in preservatives, but because of how they’re handled, their nutritional value is able to be better preserved and controlled,” says Kyriakopoulos. “Canned foods are a convenient, easy add to your diet and can remain a ‘better for you’ option.” If you are unable to avoid those packed with high sodium levels and in syrups, an easy solve is to drain, rinse, repeat to help reduce it. And be on the lookout for beans. According to Kyriakopoulos , they’re a three-in-one source of carbs, protein, and fiber and are a great low-cost option.

Boxed Mac n’ Cheese

You can take a standard box of mac n’ cheese and add frozen vegetables to it to boost its nutritional value—peas, carrots, mushrooms, and broccoli are all great options. “Another great add is drained canned chicken or tuna to increase protein levels,” says Kyriakopoulos. As mentioned above, the important thing here is to match your pasta and vegetable cup for cup. This is a simple trick to make sure your meal has added nutrients and fiber. 

Cereal and Pop Tarts

You may be thinking there’s no way to incorporate these into better options. “Not true: we can do this by utilizing the healthier at-home items your kids normally wouldn’t eat alone, such as plain Greek yogurt,” says Kyriakopoulos. You can add a quarter-cup of their favorite cereal as granola or take a half of one Pop Tart and crumble that in the yogurt. “By doing this, you’re actually helping limit the sugar intake from eating those items as a whole and getting a good amount of protein and calcium from the yogurt.”