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How to always have ingredients for a healthy meal

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

On hand and healthful

Look, I get it. I gave my 2-year-old a bowl of cheesy goldfish for breakfast the other morning. But like most moms, I want to give my daughter (and myself) long-lasting energy from healthy foods — I just don't want to agonize over how to make that happen.

Here are a few of the simple ways I've discovered to keep healthy options on hand for mealtime.

Mix in frozen goodies

Frozen vegetables are every bit as healthy as fresh varieties, but as a side dish or even main course, the flavor of frozen veggies can prove lacking. Instead of standard frozen veggies, stock your freezer with frozen recipe builders. For instance, I add a three-pepper-and-onion blend to almost every recipe — spaghetti and meat sauce, tacos and anything in the slow cooker. That's a whole serving of veggies and a ton of flavor in every main dish, without even having to think about it.

Know your produce shelf life

I regularly load up on fresh produce that lasts the longest so I don't have to fear rapid spoilage. As a general rule, root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots and beets last for weeks and even months in the fridge. Veggies and fruits with a sturdy skin, like apples and winter squash, also tend to last a long time.

If I purchase rapidly spoiling produce, like spinach, fresh berries or anything with a high water content, I make sure to know when and how I'll use it so it won't go bad.

Cook and freeze recipe building blocks

white chicken chili

I don't have the time to thaw and cook meat every single day. Instead, I cook whole batches of high-quality protein one or two times a week, chop it up if necessary and then return it to the freezer for use in multiple recipes. For instance, I'll cook several pounds of chicken breast one time per week for recipes like white chicken chili, fajitas and creamy chicken casserole.

Check out freeze-dried items

This might sound crazy, but I'm totally a believer in freeze-dried foods. They're super nutritious, and they have a shelf life of up to 25 years. You can purchase a few cans of your favorite fruits, vegetables and whole grains to have on hand for building your recipes without worrying about it going bad. It just takes a few minutes to re-hydrate the freeze-dried items. For instance, freeze-dried spinach tastes a lot better than frozen, and you can include it in omelets, casseroles and even enchiladas.

Compare your canned goods

Some canned fruits and veggies are lacking in nutrition as a result of the packaging process. That said, I still keep my pantry stocked with the canned goods that work well in multiple recipes and pack a big punch of nutrition. For instance, canned beans and tomatoes hold onto a lot of their nutritional value, so I always keep them available for meal planning.

Build a brilliant pantry

Finally, I keep a large stash of healthy staples in my pantry for easy access on short notice. If you were to peek in my pantry right now, you'd see multiple boxes of 100 percent whole grain pasta, brown rice, dry beans, oatmeal and nuts.

Now that you have all the best insider secrets for a killer Fourth of July cookout, don't forget to pick up some Open Nature Meat from Safeway to finish off your perfect Independence Day.

This post was sponsored by Safeway.

More about healthy eating

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Yacon syrup: Not enough evidence to call it a weight-loss wonder
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