17 Healthy Items to Keep on Hand

17 Healthy Items to Keep on Hand

Smartly stocking your refrigerator means a nourishing meal is never far away.

Plus, creating meals from a well-stocked refrigerator is easy. Pick a few foods from each category below — condiments, proteins, dairy, produce, and grains — and you’ll be well on your way to a nourishing meal.

Here are 17 excellent foods to stock your refrigerator with.

1. Dijon mustard

If you ever need to make your own salad dressing, you’ll need an emulsifier to keep it all together. Dijon is a great choice because it not only helps dressings stay together, but it also provides a punchy, vinegary flavor (1).

While Dijon is the classic choice for dressings, you can use other mustards in its place. While yellow mustard is bright and mild — excellent for a coleslaw dressing — stone-ground mustard is slightly spicy and makes a great base for German-style potato salad.

To make your own dressing with Dijon, mix the following ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of your favorite vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of extra virgin olive oil
  • a dash of salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Dijon also makes for an excellent low calorie add-in to marinades and sauces.

2. Pure maple syrup

Many dishes benefit from a dash of sweetness.

Maple syrup is a versatile sweetener, as golden varieties — labeled “Grade A, Golden” — are mild and not overly sweet, while “very dark” maple syrup provides a robust maple flavor.

Use it to sweeten oatmeal, smoothies, breakfast parfaits, and salad dressings, or drizzle it atop pancakes, waffles, and other breakfast goodies.

If possible, choose pure maple syrup, which doesn’t contain any artificial sweeteners or other syrups like high fructose corn syrup.

Pure maple syrup also supplies several antioxidants that help protect your body from inflammation, which may lower disease risk (2, 3).

3. Tahini

You can use this rich paste made of sesame seeds in the following ways:

  • Mix it into soups.
  • Thin it with lemon juice for a salad dressing.
  • Add it to cookie dough or cake batter for a nutty flavor and creamy texture.
  • Drizzle it over grilled chicken or sautéed fish.

Tahini’s versatility and unique flavor make it one of my favorite staples.

Plus, it’s incredibly nutritious, as just 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of tahini provides 3 grams of plant-based protein and 2 grams of filling fiber. Sesame seeds also boast a high concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids that may benefit heart health (4, 5).

4. Soy sauce (reduced sodium)

Soy sauce adds a savory, salty pop to satays, noodle dishes, ramen, and sushi.

It’s also a great way to season vegetarian dishes for a touch of umami — that delicious meaty flavor often associated with cheese, meat, and mushrooms — making it a staple for vegetarian kitchens in particular (6).

Regular soy sauce has nearly 900 mg per tablespoon (15 mL), which is about 40% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily intake. Manage your intake by choosing low sodium soy sauce, which contains 45% less sodium (7, 8).

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Condiments add flavor to simple dishes while also offering some nutrients. Keep Dijon mustard, pure maple syrup, tahini, and soy sauce in your fridge to create delicious, nourishing meals.

5. Eggs

Eggs are one of the quickest-cooking foods and supply high quality protein. Notably, one large egg contains a little over 6 grams of protein (9).

Eggs also supply lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that support eye health (10).

Add them to a bowl of ramen or breakfast quesadilla, or hard boil them and enjoy in a salad.

Store your eggs on the shelf of your fridge, not in the door, to keep them at a safe temperature. They’ll last about 3 weeks when kept at 40°F (4°C) in their original container (11).

6. Nuts and nut butter

Nuts and nut butters are nutrition powerhouses, as they’re loaded with fiber, protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Although more human studies are needed, this combination of nutrients may protect against illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (12).

Once you open that package of nuts or nut butter, it’s best to store it in the refrigerator since nuts’ high fat content makes them susceptible to rancidity.

I use nut butters in sauces and soups and to smear on my toast. Whole or chopped nuts are fabulous on salads, in dips, as a crust for meat or tofu, and in your morning bowl of cereal.

7. Tofu

This plant-based protein is an essential in my fridge because of its versatility.

Firm tofu can be cubed and used in almost any dish — including broth-based soups, chili, and noodle bowls — or sautéed for tacos or sloppy joes. Add it to smoothies for a boost of high quality protein, iron, and calcium (13).

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Protein is a necessary fuel source. Eggs, nuts, nut butters, and tofu are great to stock in your refrigerator because they keep well and cook quickly (or can be eaten right away).

8. Plain Greek yogurt or plant-based yogurt

Yogurt serves as an amazing substitute for sour cream, which is why my household loves it for topping baked potatoes and tacos.

Unlike many sour cream options, most Greek yogurt contains probiotics — beneficial bacteria that support gut health. It’s also significantly lower in fat than sour cream and offers a similar tangy flavor (14, 15, 16).

Choose plain varieties to minimize your sugar intake. If you choose a plant-based variety like soy or coconut yogurt, look for one that’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

9. Cheese

My favorite dishes to top cheese with are scrambled eggs, salads, and tacos.

Choose a flavorful option, such as goat, blue, Parmesan, sharp cheddar, or feta, since extra flavor means you’ll need to use less. In turn, that means fewer calories and less saturated fat, which may help manage weight.

Harder cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar last longer — 3–4 weeks in the refrigerator after opening — than their soft counterparts, so keep that in mind when making your selection (17).

10. Dairy or plant-based milks

Milk is used in numerous dishes, so it makes sense to keep it in your refrigerator.

I love the flavor of whole milk, but low fat or plant-based options are also perfectly healthy depending on your health goals and preferences.

As for plant-based milks, look for varieties fortified with calcium and vitamin D and be sure to choose the plain variety without any added sugar.

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Stock Greek yogurt to make salad dressings, sauces, or parfaits. Keep a few flavorful cheeses as toppings for salads, tacos, and grain bowls. Cow’s milk or plant-based milk is another essential.

11. Apples

Just 1 medium apple supplies 104 calories and about 5 grams of fiber, making this fruit a low calorie, filling snack (18).

Don’t forget to eat the peel, which contains powerful compounds, including antioxidants that may help fight inflammation and combat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (19).

Apples keep well and can be enjoyed not only as a snack but also as a delicious addition to many other dishes, such as kale salad, pulled pork sandwiches or tacos, and baked apples with cinnamon.

12. Broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables

You can store plenty of veggies in your freezer, but it’s nice to have fresh varieties on hand.

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and bok choy, keep well in the fridge and pack plenty of nutrients.

Test-tube studies even indicate that sulforaphane — a compound found in broccoli — has anticancer properties, although further research is needed (20).

Roast them for a side dish or chop them to add to pasta, chili, or tacos. Some of these veggies are also delicious raw and pair well with dips like hummus and tzatziki.

13. Basil or cilantro

Fresh herbs pack plenty of flavor with very few calories.

Basil and cilantro are my go-tos since they can be used in so many ways. Basil can be puréed into pesto, mixed into salad dressing, or topped on pizza or pasta. Cilantro is great for Mexican dishes like tacos, as well as slaws and scrambled eggs.

14. Lettuce or other greens

Salads make a great meal or side dish, so having lettuce on hand is essential.

Add a few dry paper towels to the container and store it in the vegetable crisper drawer in your fridge to keep lettuce and other greens fresher for longer.

You can add baby lettuce or greens like kale to almost any soup or pasta dish. Plus, if you’re looking for a fun way to stay hydrated, most lettuces are over 90% water (21).

15. Lemons or limes

The acidity in citrus foods adds brightness to any dish. Because it packs so much flavor, I often recommend adding it before you salt your food, then salting to taste.

You can even zest the peel of lemons or limes for salad dressings and for finishing dishes like grilled fish or chicken. Use the juice in marinades, ice water, and dressings and dips.

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Keeping a variety of produce in your fridge makes meals and snacks easy. Plus, citrus and fresh herbs let you flavor your food without needing much salt.

16. Cooked whole grains

If you meal prep, you know the value of having cooked whole grains on hand in your fridge.

Whole grains provide a great base for any lunch or dinner and may even help prevent conditions like heart disease and diabetes (22).

Plus, their fiber content may boost fullness and improve cholesterol levels (24).

Cook them up to 2 days in advance and let them cool, then store them in a sealed, labeled container to use throughout the week.

I love wheat berries for a hearty salad, quinoa as a side for BBQ chicken, and bulgur wheat as the base for a parsley-heavy tabbouleh.

17. Tortillas

To keep them fresh for longer, store tortillas in the refrigerator. If you don’t use them up in time, transfer them to a freezer-safe bag and freeze for up to 6 months.

I love corn tortillas for a boost of whole grains, but whole grain flour tortillas are a great option, too.

Use this staple for tacos or quesadillas. You can also bake them to make tostadas or homemade chips.

summary

Grains are a fridge necessity because they often serve as a base for meals. Stock a variety of cooked whole grains and tortillas.

A smartly stocked refrigerator makes meal planning easy and ensures that you’re eating a variety of foods.

Use the items above as a guide, but fill in with other foods that your family enjoys. If it helps, keep a running grocery list with these staples so that you don’t forget them at the store.