Tips to help you stock a healthier pantry this year

Jan 6, 2015 at 10:09 a.m. ET

I try to plan my menu and go grocery shopping every weekend, but sometimes life gets in the way and that doesn't happen. Having an organized and well-stocked pantry means that I always have easy and healthy options, even if I miss a shopping trip.

I like to keep a mix of staple items as well as a few "fun" options that keep things interesting; I don't like feeling like I'm eating the same thing all the time and something as simple as swapping out one starch for another can completely transform a basic meal.

In addition to whole ingredients, I always make sure to keep healthy grab-and-go snacks and desserts on hand. Being able to grab a cereal bar, a pre-portioned serving of nuts or some fruit can sometimes mean that difference between having the energy to come up with a dinner idea or giving up and ordering take-out.

Here's what you'll typically find in my pantry.

  • A variety of whole grains and pasta. I try to keep quinoa, farro, barley, polenta, lentils, rice, and high fiber pasta on hand. These can be used as the base of a meal or can be made into pasta or grain salads, like this kale and quinoa tabbouleh. I also love mixing grains in with ground meat when I make things like meatballs. I love shopping in the bulk section and trying new things, so I usually have a few fun options as well as the staples listed above.
  • Tomatoes: Whole, diced, and crushed. I also like to keep a can or two of fire roasted tomatoes on hand; they add great flavor to soups and chili.
  • Beans: Chickpeas, black beans, and small white beans. Beans are a great protein source and make great additions to pasta, casseroles and salads. They can also be pureed into dips.
  • Broth/stock: With a selection of chicken, beef and vegetable stock on hand, a pot of homemade soup is never far away. I also use it to braise chicken thighs and add flavor to polenta.
  • Miscellaneous canned items like coconut milk, pumpkin puree and bamboo shootsthat can be used in curries and stews.
  • Spices. This is the easiest way to add flavor to your recipes without adding fat or calories! In addition to basics like oregano and garlic powder, I like to keep crushed red peppers, curry powder, cumin and coriander. I also like keep a jar of Thai red curry and a can of chipotle peppers. With these options around, I always have what I need to make something Italian, Mexican or Indian. Double check the expiration dates on your dry spices; they lose flavor as they get older.
  • Dried fruit and nuts that can be eaten as a snack or added to salads.
  • Condiments like olive oil, honey, soy sauce, hot sauce and flavored vinegars. These can be used to make dressings, sauces and marinades or to brighten up soups and stews.

With a supply of ingredients like this on hand, and a few items from the refrigerator or freezer, you'll be able to make just about anything! Of course, an disorganized pantry is a disaster waiting to happen: You can't cook if you can't find the ingredients that you need!

I always transfer my bulk grains to clear, airtight containers or jars. This helps them stay fresh, but it also makes it easier for me to see exactly what I have. I bought chalkboard labels from the office supply store to give everything a uniform look and so I can keep track of what's what; no more confusing whole wheat couscous for turbinado sugar! I also like to add cooking directions to each label.

When it comes to actually putting things away, I have a section for starches, a section for canned items and a section for preserves, condiments, etc. Another option is to keep ingredients that go together near each other: peanut butter next to jelly, pasta next to sauce, etc. Find a method that works for you and stick with it!

Disclosure: This post is part of a collaboration between Fiber One and SheKnows.