A well-stocked kitchen is essential for a healthy heart. But you don’t need to run out and buy expensive gadgets and gourmet food to eat in a heart-healthy way. The best way to achieve hassle-free meal prep is to ensure you’ve got a fridge and pantry filled with simple, healthy staples. This way, you can whip up a delicious but good-for-your-ticker meal even when it’s a busy weeknight and you’re looking to make a quick and easy dinner.
In the Cabinets and Pantry
Proteins. Look for sources of protein that you can build a whole entrée or salad around: think canned or dried beans, such as kidney, pinto, black, or garbanzo (choose low or reduced sodium if you have high blood pressure); canned or pouched tuna, salmon and chicken, unsalted nuts and seeds, and nut butters, like almond or peanut.
Canned veggies. These are a good option for easy side dishes, plus you can always add them to soups or sauces for some additional heart-healthy fiber. Keep a variety of tomatoes on hand for almost any dish: reduced-sodium canned diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.
Whole grains. Stock up on whole grains rather than refined grains. Whole grains are higher in fiber, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. It also lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Think brown rice, oats, couscous, bulgur, and quinoa, as well as whole-grain pastas, breads, and tortillas, and, of course, whole-grain flour for baking.
Cooking oils. Use these instead of butter or margarine for cooking. The healthiest ones are any of the non-tropical vegetable oils, like olive, canola, corn, safflower, soybean, or sunflower. Stay away from coconut oil: It may be trendy, but it’s high in saturated fat.
Broths. Fat-free and low-sodium chicken, vegetable, and beef broths to make soups.
Herbs, seasonings and spices. These are a healthier alternative to salt. It’s a good idea to keep a variety on hand. Some top choices include:
- Basil for pasta sauces and stir-fries
- Curry powder to add to brown rice, quinoa, or eggs
- Cumin for Mexican dishes or fish
- Rosemary for roasted meats like chicken, pork, lamb, or salmon, or for veggies like butternut squash
- Smoked paprika to add to egg dishes, spice rubs for meats or tofu, fruit salsas, and tomato sauce
- Thyme for bean dishes or roasted veggies
- Cinnamon for whole grain muffins, waffles, pancakes, or breads
Oatmeal and whole-grain cold cereals. Stick to those that contain at least 5 grams of dietary fiber and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving.
Snack foods. Stock up on whole-grain crackers and tortilla chips, brown rice cakes, whole-grain pretzels, and plain popcorn.
Assorted vinegars. Think rice, red wine, apple cider, or raspberry. These are ideal to mix with a veggie oil for a salad dressing.
Dried fruits. Look for raisins, cranberries, dates, figs, berries, bananas, mango, papaya, apples, and apricots.
On the Counters
The American Heart Association recommends four servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables per day, so you should have plenty of options in your kitchen. But it’s also important to store them properly, so they stay fresh as long as possible. Here’s where to put them:
In the Pantry or Cellar
Onions, garlic, hard squash, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and yams.
On Your Countertop
Non-refrigerated fruits and veggies. This includes bananas, citrus fruit, tomatoes, and stone fruits like avocado, apricots, and nectarines. Keep them away from sunlight, heat, and moisture. Keep bananas separate since they give off ethylene gas that may make other produce ripen and rot faster.
In the Fridge
Keep most other fruits and veggies here in plastic bags with holes. Keep fruits and veggies separate from each other in different bins.
Your fresh protein sources go here, including:
- Skinless, boneless chicken or turkey breasts and tenders
- Skinless, white breast meat ground chicken or turkey
- Pork tenderloin
- Lean ground beef such as ground round or ground sirloin
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Egg substitutes and egg whites
- Soft margarine made with nonhydrogenated vegetable oil
In the Freezer
- Frozen vegetables and fruits: Go for a wide variety — the more colors, the better. Buy those without added sauces, gravies, sugary syrups, or salt.
- Frozen soybeans (edamame)
- Frozen meatless burgers, ground meat, sausage patties, or links
- Reduced-fat and sodium frozen entrees (These are highly processed, so use them only in a pinch.)
- Whole-grain breads, tortillas, and pitas
- Fish, skinless chicken breasts, and lean meats