Stock Your Pantry and Refrigerator for Healthy Eating

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on March 04, 2024
3 min read

We all know what it’s like to peer into the refrigerator to find nothing to eat that’s good for you. This isn’t an excuse to order out. Instead, it’s a chance to stock up.

Stock your pantry and fridge with smart staples so you’ll always have healthy options on hand. Here’s what you might put on your shopping list and the best ways to store your food.

Aim to have lots of fresh veggies, lean meats, fruit, and other foods that come without packaging. Tip: Keep your fridge between 32-40 degrees F. Move the food that spoils quickly to the front where you can easily see it.

Vegetables. When you eat fresh vegetables, you get the full benefits of their vitamins and minerals. Green beans, kale, bell peppers, and many other vegetables pack fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients. Precut choices like baby carrots and cauliflower florets are healthy, too.

Tip: Don't store starchy vegetables in the fridge, like potatoes and butternut squash. Don't refrigerate tomatoes, which are actually fruits.

Dairy. Reduced-fat or low-fat yogurt, cheese, sour cream, and milk have fewer calories. Watch for sugar in flavored yogurt. Non-dairy milk from almonds, oats, soy, and other sources often are lower in sugar, fats, and carbs than cow’s milk. However, they may not be as high in calcium, vitamin D, or protein as cow's milk. 

Meats and seafood. Buy lean cuts of meat like loin, tenderloin, and sirloin. Or trim the fat before cooking. Red meat like beef, pork, and lamb generally have more saturated “bad” fats than poultry and fish.

Remove the skin on chicken and turkey. Tofu makes a good vegetarian and vegan protein alternative. Shrimp is a healthy choice, too.  But fatty fish like salmon have helpful unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.

Fruit. Fresh fruit is good for you and better than the canned versions with added sugars. Just watch for sweet, high-carb choices like mangoes, cherries, and grapes. Buy canned fruits in natural juices, and look for frozen fruit without added sugars.

Lower-sugar fruits include:

  • Avocado (yes, it’s a fruit!)
  • Blackberries
  • Kiwi
  • Raspberries

Tip: You can keep most fruits fresh longer in the fridge. Don’t wash berries until you’re ready to eat them.

Pick shelf-stable staples that have least amount of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.  

Grains and beans. Buy whole grains whenever you can. Eat brown rice instead of white rice. Choose whole wheat and corn tortillas, not flour. Dry beans and grains are cheaper than canned or processed.

Learn quick recipes that feature whole beans and grains such as:

  • Quinoa
  • Black beans
  • Barley
  • Farro
  • Bulgur
  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Wild rice
  • Chickpeas

Tip: Make a batch of slow-cooking grains on the weekend and store in the fridge. Toss it into bowls, salads, and other dishes when you’re short on time.

Canned and jarred fruits and veggies. Look for fruits packed in water or their own juice instead of syrup. Unsweetened applesauce is better than sweetened. Choose canned green beans, corn, and other vegetables that say low sodium or no added sodium. Tip: Rinse canned veggies and beans with water to wash off almost half of the sodium.

Soups. If you make soup, use low-sodium broth, stock, or bouillon. If you buy it canned, broth-based ones are usually lower in calories than cream-based soups. Or try dried soup mixes (but watch the salt).

This is an underused storage space for healthy eating. Frozen veggies and fruits can be just as nutritious as the fresh version, with no added sugars or salt. And you can enjoy frozen produce year-round.

Some good freezer items include:

  • Black bean burgers or soy meat products
  • Steam-in-the-bag whole grains (like brown rice or quinoa) and vegetables
  • Ground beef, turkey, or chicken; stew meat; and chicken breasts. Tip: Protect meat from freezer burn by wrapping it in a freezer bag.
  • Pizza dough (reduced fat)
  • Whole-grain waffles