6 Versatile Healthy Ingredients to Keep in Your Kitchen
What’s the key to eating healthy foods? Keeping healthy foods in the house for you to eat! Going to the grocery store regularly to stock up on ingredients is one of the healthiest habits we can develop. When we neglect grocery shopping, we resort to eating out, ordering in, and snacking on whatever we can find. These indulgences are fine on occasion, but we want the bulk of our diets to be filled with actual FUEL for our bodies.
Plenty of people think ‘being healthy is hard,’ or ‘being healthy is too expensive,’ but we can make it so much easier on ourselves—and our budgets! That’s part of what I hope to share through Mind Over Munch: healthy cooking CAN fit into our schedules, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are tons of convenient, wholesome foods that make healthy cooking and meal prep more doable and more affordable. And, we can make SO many different meals with just a few, simple ingredients.
If you’re skeptical, check out some of my meal prep videos, like my $30 Trader Joe’s Meal Prep or my 10 Ingredient Meal Prep! Healthy cooking and grocery shopping can take some extra effort and planning, but it becomes more natural as we get into a groove. Which ingredients do you enjoy cooking with, and what do you enjoy eating? Of course, we all have different tastes and preferences. But, as you try different healthy meals and recipes, you’ll start to figure out which ingredients are must-haves in your kitchen.
For some inspiration, check out 6 of my favorite versatile healthy ingredients. I pretty much always keep these foods in my kitchen because they’re so versatile—I can whip up a healthy meal at any time, and I never get bored with my options!
Eggs are a staple in my kitchen because they are one of THE MOST VERSATILE ingredients out there. There are endless ways to prepare eggs, and you don’t even need a recipe! Try them scrambled, fried, sunny-side-up, poached, soft- or hard-boiled. Breakfast, lunch, dinner—doesn’t matter—you really can have eggs anytime!
I use eggs in tons of recipes, too, because they act as a binder in baked goods or meat dishes, like burgers and meatloaf. Eggs are also a great accompaniment to tons of meals (I love a fried egg over-easy on just about everything), and hard-boiled eggs make a great salad topping or a healthy, on-the-go snack. Best of all, eggs are cost-friendly and pack a serious nutritional punch.
Eggs Nutrition & Health Benefits
One egg only contains around 70-80 calories, but is packed with 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of healthy fats!
Rich in vitamin D, B vitamins, and selenium—a mineral that works as a powerful anti-oxidant in the body.
One of the best sources of choline, an essential nutrient that helps to keep our cells and our brains healthy. Choline helps our brains to produce signals (which is pretty dang important to everyday life), and one egg contains over 100 mg of choline!
Eggs do contain cholesterol, but new studies show that cholesterol in the diet doesn’t necessarily affect our blood cholesterol. In fact, eggs actually raise our levels of “good” cholesterol, which can reduce our risk of heart disease!
Baked goods—the chemistry of eggs makes them perfect for moist baked goods that hold together well. One of my favorites is my gluten-free Blender Banana Bread!
2. Canned Beans
I’m a huge fan of canned beans because they’re convenient and cost-friendly. They save me time in the kitchen because I don’t have to cook them, like I would dry beans, and a can usually costs between $0.50 and $1.00. Plus, I can keep them in my pantry, which means I always have a healthy ingredient on-hand and I don’t have to worry about them going bad (which also saves me money)! Just be sure to look for no-salt-added or low-sodium varieties, and drain and rinse your beans to remove excess sodium.
There’s a wide variety of beans—black, pinto, kidney, cannellini, garbanzo/chickpeas—and each has tons of possibilities when it comes to recipes. They’re great in burrito bowls and tacos, tossed into salads or dips, added into pasta dishes, or even used in smoothies! Beans also make a great meat substitute in tons of recipes (like garbanzo beans/chickpeas in chicken or tuna salad), whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or trying to eat less meat. They’re a fiber-filled plant-based protein, and you really can’t go wrong tossing them into a recipe!
Beans Nutrition & Health Benefits
A great source of soluble fiber (10-15 grams per cup), which can help us feel full longer, maintain our digestive health, and and promote heart health.
They’re loaded with protein—around 15 grams per cup, which is the same amount as 2 ounces of chicken, meat, or fish—and they contain almost no fat.
Beans are complex carbs with a low glycemic index, which means they are digested slowly and can help keep blood sugar levels stable.
They’re a gold mine of healthy nutrients, like copper, folate, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Baked goods—yes, you CAN use beans in baked goods…They create a deliciously fudgy texture, and pack more fuel into your sweet treats. Try out my Ooey-Gooey Cookie Bars that use chickpeas, or my vegan Black Bean Brownies!
There are a million ways to use oats. I don’t think I can even list all of the ways—but let me try. First and foremost, there’s warm oatmeal and cold overnight oats, both with tons of flavors to explore. Oats are a wholesome substitute for breadcrumbs, or you can blend them up and you’ve got a gluten-free flour! Of course, oats and oat flour are perfect in baking recipes, and you can even use oats in smoothies!
Oatmeal and overnight oats can make a great, filling breakfast, just be sure to avoid pre-packaged, flavored kinds—they’re typically packed with sugar. Best to sweeten your oatmeal yourself! Even when I’m not eating oats for breakfast, they’re absolutely a must-have in my kitchen. They’re a healthy whole grain that offers my body quality fuel, and they’re so cheap! Steel cut, old-fashioned, or quick cooking—they’re all deliciously nutritious.
Oats Nutrition & Health Benefits
Source of healthy carbs with 8 grams of fiber in just half a cup of dry oats.
In particular, oats contain a type of fiber called beta-glucan, which slows the rate at which carbs are absorbed by the body and keeps us feeling full! It’s helpful for blood sugar regulation, and lowering cholesterol.
Also rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and has more protein than most grains (13 grams of protein in half a cup).
Loaded with manganese, for healthy bones and metabolism, as well as antioxidants called avenanthramides. These can help lower blood pressure and lead to better blood flow, but they’re almost only found in oats!
If you’re familiar with my recipes, you know that I’m nuts for nuts. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts—I love them all dearly. They’re a quick and easy on-the-go snack that’s crunchy and satisfying! (Although, it is easy for me to get carried away munching on them, so it helps if I pre-portion my nuts for snacking.)
Plus, it’s SO easy to blend any nut up into a nut butter! You can use that nut butter as a spread on sandwiches or fruit, in tasty baked goods and smoothies, or just eat it plain like I love to do… Beyond nut butters, nuts are extremely versatile. You can make your own almond flour as a denser, gluten-free alternative to traditional flour, and nuts can be a great base for dairy-free alternatives, like cashew or almond milk.
Nuts Nutrition & Health Benefits
Nuts are calorie dense, but those calories are extremely fuel-filled. The nutrients in different kinds of nuts varies, but most nuts contain around 5 grams of protein and 16 grams of healthy fats!
Those fats can help lower “bad” cholesterol, raise “good” cholesterol, decrease heart disease risk, and keep us feeling full longer!
Nuts can promote weight loss because they can help control appetite, and our body actually doesn’t absorb all of the calories listed on a package of nuts! Almonds have around 160-170 calories per ounce, but our body can only absorb around 129 of those calories because some of the fat stays trapped in the nut’s fibrous wall during digestion.
Like eggs, nuts are a great source of selenium.
Nuts are full of antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals so they can’t harm our cells.
Recipes With Nuts
Flavored nuts—flavored nuts are SO yummy, but store-bought varieties can be loaded with added sugars and sodium. Try making your own, like my Cinnamon Toasted Almonds!
Salad crunch—lightly chop some of your favorite nuts for a salad topping, or mix nuts into a creamy chicken salad!
If you’re not a fan of spinach, you may be wondering how this made the cut. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be Popeye to start fitting spinach into your diet. Believe it or not, spinach can be used in SO many unexpected ways—and I’m not just talking about different salad combos. Sure, spinach makes a great, healthy base for fresh salads or you can layer it onto your sandwich, but spinach can go far beyond its raw leafy greens form!
Spinach is LOADED with healthy nutrients, many of which are hard to find in other foods, and it has a fairly neutral taste. When it’s cooked, spinach can absorb whichever flavors you’re cooking with. And, spinach can be blended into most anything and you won’t taste it. You get all of the leafy green nutrients, without eating the leaves!
Spinach Nutrition & Health Benefits
Great source of vitamin K, which helps us absorb calcium from our foods, vitamin A, for healthy hair and skin, and vitamin C, for an immune system boost!
High in iron, which helps our bodies stay energized.
Spinach is an excellent source of folate (vitamin B9), which is needed for the formation of red and white blood cells in our bone marrow and is especially important in pregnant women.
Eating spinach has been associated with the prevention of some cancers because of its high content of antioxidants and chlorophyll!
Recipes With Spinach
Sautéed—one of the simplest and most delicious ways to enjoy spinach. Just sauté a heaping handful (or a few) in a pan with oil or butter, along with your favorite seasonings or flavors (my go-to is minced garlic) and watch it wilt down. You can enjoy it as a side dish, scramble it into some eggs, or bake it into a healthy spinach artichoke dip!
Bulk up pastas—toss wilted spinach in with cooked noodles, your pasta sauce, or cook it all together in a one-pot pasta dish!
Blended into anything—one of my favorite thing to do is blend spinach into green smoothies. (Frozen spinach can be a great budget buy, and works PERFECT in smoothies.) And, you can just as easily blend spinach into green popsicles, or even green pancake or waffle batter!
Sauces, soups, & broths—spinach can also blend into delicious pasta sauces, soups or broths. You can then use that nutritious broth to cook some creamy green rice!
Don’t be deceived by avocado’s placement at the bottom of this list— it’s one of my favorite foods! Although I’m not a huge fan of the term “superfood,” avocado really is a SUPER food, in more ways than one. First things first: avocado is downright delicious. Personally, I could just eat avocado plain, but it’s also the perfect, creamy addition to any savory dish.
Try it sliced on tacos or a Buddha bowl, layer it on a sandwich, or mash it up and make avocado toast with a fried egg on top! Avocado is also a great dairy-free substitute for creaminess in sauces, dressings, and dips. Plus, you can use it as a fat substitute for butter in some baking recipes! The more ways you venture to use avocado, the better, because it’s loaded with healthy fats that our bodies appreciate.
Those healthy fats are a crucial fuel source, and they also help us to absorb important nutrients and fat-soluble vitamins from other food sources. Without those fats, our body can’t make use of those nutrients!
A serving of avocado contains around 9 grams of carbs but 7 grams of fiber, which means it’s a great choice for a low-carb diet with only 2 grams of net carbs per serving.
Potassium is often associated with bananas, avocados actually have far more potassium than bananas! Potassium is an important mineral that can help lower high blood pressure.
Recipes With Avocado
Stuffed avocados—this is SUCH an easy healthy snack or side dish. Just cut an avocado in half, remove the pit, and stuff it with your favorite fillings, like a baked egg or bean salad!
Dips & spreads—avocado is best known for the ever-delicious dip: guacamole. But, you could also mash it or blend it into tons of other dips, like hummus! Plus, it makes a great spread on sandwiches or quesadillas.
Smoothies—try blending avocado into a smoothie to add a thicker, creamier texture. Better yet, use ripe avocados to make a fuel-filled, GREEN frozen yogurt!
Baked goods—it may turn your baked goods a bit green, but avocado can be an amazing fat substitute. Try it in a microwave mug cake, or a lusciously healthy chocolate pudding!
What Are Some of Your Must-Have Ingredients?
The best way to encourage healthy eating is to choose foods that you actually enjoy. Find those foods that you love to cook with and embrace them! With your own list of must-have ingredients, you can guide your grocery shopping and be sure that you always have healthy options on-hand. There are so many ways to transform simple ingredients into new meals—so get creative! You really only need a few, staple items to make tasty, healthy food every day. And, keeping it simple makes grocery shopping easier AND more budget-friendly!