32 Pantry Staples That Make Cooking Quick and Healthy Meals a Breeze

March 7, 2016
by Thrive Market

We created the Health Hacks on a Budget video course series to make it as easy as possible for everyone to save time and money while living a healthy life. In this series, we share simple recipes, easy tips, and educational information to help you and your family thrive.

A well-stocked pantry means throwing together a last-minute meal will be a breeze. Our host Sara Snow chose all the essential ingredients to keep in the kitchen to inspire quick, easy, and healthy recipes. Watch the video to learn more about how to make the right choices when it comes to choosing the healthiest oils, sweeteners, grains, and more—plus tips for how to use them.

Shop all of these staples right here on Thrive Market for 25 to 50 percent less than supermarket prices.

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This is one video in a series that's free for all Thrive Gives recipients. See the rest of the videos here. Applying for a free membership through our Giving program is easy—just click here.

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Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

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Our Price:$7.95(Save 47%)

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Balsamic Vinegar
8.45 oz bottle

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Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

Retail Price:$4.49


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Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
25.4 oz bottle

Retail Price:$15.15


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Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

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Sea Salt
26 oz container

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Black Medium Grind Pepper
2.31 oz container

Retail Price:$6.99


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Unstrained Honey
16 oz jar

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Organic Amber Maple Syrup Grade A

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Lush Medium Dark Roast Coffee, Whole Bean

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Kava Stress Relief Tea
BACK SOON
16 bags per box

Retail Price:$5.05


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Baking Soda
16 oz bag

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Baking Powder
8.1 oz container

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Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour

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Organic Cacao Powder
16 oz bag

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Organic California Brown Basmati Rice

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Organic Whole Grain Quinoa

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Organic Ancient Grain Gluten-Free Pasta - Fusilli

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Organic Medium Grind Cornmeal

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Organic Kalamata Olives Pitted

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Organic Tomato Paste, 2-Pack

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Wild Capers - Non-Pareil
3.5 oz jar

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Vegetable Broth - Pareve
32 oz carton

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Whole Thyme Leaf
0.78 oz container

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Ground Cinnamon
2.45 oz container

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Ground Ginger Root
1.64 oz container

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Organic Ground Nutmeg
2.3 oz container

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Organic Ground Cloves
2.82 oz container

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Multi Grain Crispbread
9.7 oz package

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Raw Almond Slices, Thick

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Dried Organic Apples
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This article is related to: Diet, Health, Nutrition, Video, Cooking Tips, Healthy Meals

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  • Helen

    Nice try, but people trying to eat healthy on a budget are best advised to stick to readily available and affordable basics:
    *starchy foods (e.g. grains [e.g. oats, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, whole grain pasta, rice, quinoa], root vegetables [sweet potatoes, parsnips], beans, lentils, winter squashes [e.g. acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin])
    *vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, peas, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, summer squash [e.g zucchini, crookneck], leafy greens)
    *fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, cantaloupe, peaches, cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
    *protein (e.g. beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, milk, eggs, chicken, fish)
    *fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, cooking oils [e.g. canola oil, olive oil, avocado oil])

    Ideally, one should eat at least three servings of vegetables (one serving = 1/2 cup unless it is a leafy vegetable, in which case one serving = 1 cup) and two servings of fruit per day (one serving = 1 medium [i.e. baseball-sized] fruit or 1/2 cup of chopped fruit), plus two servings of protein-rich foods (one serving = 1/2 cup cooked beans, 1/4 cup nuts, 1 cup of milk, or 4 ounces of chicken or fish, which is about the size of a deck of cards) daily. Starchy foods can be used to provide the remainder of your calories. (Adding a touch of healthy fat can help increase satiety, too.) As your budget allows, you can supplement more fruits and veggies or more expensive ingredients (e.g. berries, salad greens).

    Put into practice, a day's menu could consist, for example, of oats with a sliced banana and a glass of milk for breakfast; pasta with broccoli and tomatoes and an apple for lunch; and rice and beans with corn, green bell pepper, and onion for dinner.

    Tips to keep costs down:
    *Start with staples. These are basic goods that are most commonly consumed, most widely available, and thus lowest cost.
    *Buy minimally processed foods. Every extra processing step adds costs (and provides and opportunity for Big Food to screw with your food's nutritional content).
    *Buy in-season and domestic produce to cut out the cost of expensive greenhouse-grown foods or transportation costs from foreign countries. (This food will be more nutritious than out-of-season foods shipped from across the globe, too.)
    *Avoid wasting money on beverages that aren't tap water and perhaps milk, if you drink it. These are typically high cost for minimal nutrients.
    *Reduce the amount of animal products you consume (if any).
    *Buy in bulk if you have the funds to do so, but don't buy more than you can reasonably consume before it will expire! (If you don't have the buffer funds to buy in bulk, try commiting to a no-frills healthy diet while you save up funds or supplement your groceries with a home garden or items from a local food bank. Bulk food merchants like Costco offer great discounts, but they do typically require a car unless you have access to a vehicle-sharing service [e.g. Zip Car] or live reasonably close by and bring a folding shopping cart to help you tote goods home. If you don't have wheels or buffer funds to take advantage of bulk deals, Thrive Market may be a more useful resource for you, but ignore their processed, gimmicky "health foods" like coconut sugar or protein powders or anything referred to as a "superfood" and stick to pantry basics like whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, cooking oils, and dried fruit. Regardless of whether Thrive Market tries to convince you otherwise, items like lucuma, goji berries, spirulina, and maca are not basic pantry staples.)
    *Plan meals based around which groceries on hand will perish first, and don't waste food!

    All of this being said, I realize the above advice for eating healthy on a budget centers mainly on buying minimally processed foods that are local and in season and cooking at home, and not everyone has time to so much as even batch cook all their meals once a week. If you haven't the time to cook for yourself, it's a lot harder to eat healthy on a budget--although I did once have an oddball roommate who ate pretty healthy and on the cheap literally without EVER cooking (he shopped at Costco and ate things like plain yogurt with nuts and frozen fruit; fresh veggies with premade hummus; pre-washed salad greens with goat cheese and packaged precooked beets; whole fruit; Beanitos chips; Mary's Gone Crackers with Wholly Guacamole). I think it's possible; more expensive than cooking at home, but still pretty low-budget. It's probably a lot easier though to have to some ready-to-eat foods, like granola, Mary's Gone Crackers, Beanitos chips, Mrs. May's Crispy Veggie Chips, and Exo Bars on hand, in which case Thrive Market can be useful. I will give them that. However, if you're too busy to cook because, for example, you work three minimum wage jobs and are always either sleeping, working, or commuting, you probably aren't reading this blog anyway. So maybe Thrive Market can instead continue working on outreach.

  • Helen

    P.S.

    1. Stop telling people that coconut oil has a high smoke point and is thus suitable for high-temperature cooking. Coconut oil has a smoke point of 350F. Avocado and soybean; 500F. Sunflower and corn; 450F. Grapeseed, canola, sesame, and even extra virgin olive oil have a higher smoke point at 400F compared to coconut oil's 350F.
    2. Agave is not a healthy sugar substitute. Agave nectar contains more fructose than high fructose corn syrup or table sugar (90% versus 55% versus 50%, respectively), which causes insulin resistance and raises trigylcerides. Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatrics professor at UCSF who has written many articles and given many presentations about fructose, even goes so far as to claim that fructose is a poison, likening its metabolic pathway to that of ethanol.
    3. BPA-free cans probably have BPS or another BPA analog in the lining. Therefore, cooking dry beans at home is a healthier (and less expensive) option.
    4. Companies are not switching to aseptic packaging, which is made of sandwiched layers of paper, aluminum, and plastic, to provide healthier packaging options to consumers. They are doing it so save weight and reduce transportation costs. Those packages are still lined with plastic that leaches "trade secret" chemicals into your food, and, though widely and misleadingly advertised a recyclable, almost no recycling facilities accept them. As with canned food, it is healthier and cheaper to cook your own than it is to buy food packaged in aseptic packaging.

  • Helen

    Look at me writing for Thrive Market for free all while data brokers make money collecting and selling information on me!

    I browsed Thrive Market's food categories to put together the below list of staples. I don't buy any of these at Thrive Market because I buy cheaper staples at Costco or elsewhere, but, if you don't have better local options, maybe this is helpful for you.

    3.95 Bob's Red Mill organic old-fashioned rolled oats, 32 oz
    2.95 Bob's Red Mill organic whole grain kamut, 24 oz
    3.45 Arrowhead Mills organic pearled barley, 28 oz
    2.25 Eden Organic whole grain millet, 16 oz
    3.95 Lundberg Family Farms organic short-grain brown rice, 32 oz

    3.65 Edison Grainery organic black beans, 16 oz
    3.65 Edison Grainery organic red kidney beans, 16 oz

    3.65 Edison Grainery organic green split peas, 16 oz
    3.95 Edison Grainery organic green lentils, 16 oz

    3.65 Now Foods organic unsalted sunflower seeds, 16 oz
    4.95 Spectrum Essentials ground flaxseed, 14 oz

    (These nuts are expensive, so perhaps just pick one and use sparingly [or just stick with the sunflower seeds above])
    6.95 Now Foods organic brazil nuts, 10 oz
    8.65 Now Foods raw pecans, 12 oz
    5.45 Woodstock raw almond slices, 7.5 oz

    9.95 Spectrum Naturals organic refined canola oil, 32 oz
    (Canola is fine for cooking and dressing. Extra virgin olive oil would be better for drizzling and dressing, but unfortunately an estimated 75-80% of extra virgin olive oil sold in the United States doesn't actually meet the standards to be called extra virgin olive oil; it seems to me to be bad odds to pay a premium for an oil that more likely than not isn't what the label says it is.)

    2.95 Bragg organic apple cider vinegar, 16 oz

    3.65 Simply Organic ground cinnamon, 2.45 oz
    3.95 Simply Organic black whole peppercorns, 2.65 oz

    I'm not going to go through the added effort of building sample menus, calculating how long these items would last on an average 2000-calorie diet, or estimating price ranges for produce people would buy in-store to turn these pantry basics in well-balanced meals (plus a budgeted weekly or monthly grand total with Thrive Market's products added in). However, that would be a really comprehensive tool for people to be able to judge at a glance whether they could shift to proposed healthier eating options and do it through Thrive Market.
    Okay! I'm done!