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5 Superb Staple Foods to Have on Hand

Putting together nutritious meals (and meals in general) can become quite challenging, especially with so many health foods that spoil easily and the many activities and events that fill our daily schedules.

Here are some longer-lasting healthful staples you may want to have on hand that can help make meal prep easier and more enjoyable:

1. Legumes (Dry and Canned)

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, legumes consist of beans, lentils and peas, and they are diverse, accessible and affordable. They abound in nutrients, including plant protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, iron and calcium. While legumes are low in fat and calories, they also make you feel full.

Dried and canned beans and lentils especially have a long shelf life. Specifically, canned beans can be stored at room temperature for two to five years. Dried beans can last 10 years or more because they lack the moisture needed to promote microbial growth.

Try incorporating legumes in your next soup, salad, taco, salsa, chip dip or pasta dish.


2. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are jam-packed with nutrients, including healthful fats, protein, fiber, and many vitamins and minerals. Depending on the kind, nuts and seeds can be kept at room temperature for one to four months. Natural nut and seed butter also are long-lasting.

Nuts and seeds can be added to a variety of dishes, such as oatmeal, yogurt, trail mix, salads and stir-fry. Likewise, their butter can be added to smoothies and sauces or be spread onto toast, fruits or vegetables for a quick, nutritious snack.


3. Grains

Grains are great sources of dietary fiber and other nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, manganese, selenium and magnesium.

When stocking up on grains, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encourages the consumption of whole grains. Among the diverse packaging, often including the words “enriched,” “fortified,” “whole wheat” and “whole grain,” understanding the different types of grains and identifying the true whole grains can be tricky.

  • Whole grains have the whole-grain kernel: the bran, germ and endosperm.
  • Refined grains, on the other hand, have undergone a process that removes the bran and germ, which also removes much of the dietary fiber, iron and many B vitamins.

Depending on the type, grains can be stored safely at room temperature for months up to years. Try grain-based foods such as grain bowls, soups, pilafs and salads.


4. Frozen fruit and vegetables

While having fresh fruit and vegetables is desirable, unfortunately it is not always practical because they are highly perishable. Buy fruits and vegetables in frozen form, which allows you to have these tasty, nutrient-dense foods on hand easily. Frozen fruits and vegetables are nutritionally comparable to their fresh forms.

Try adding frozen fruit to your yogurt, cereal, oatmeal or smoothie. Similarly, try adding frozen vegetables to soups, pasta dishes and other entrees.


5. Healthful fats for cooking

For our fifth staple food, we’re featuring healthful fats, which are fantastic for cooking.

Healthful fats can be found in oils such as canola, olive, sesame, sunflower and safflower oil. Not all fats are the same. Limit the amount of saturated fats, such as butter and trans fats, which are found in some margarines, crackers and cookies. Depending on the type, some fats can be safely stored at room temperature for a year or more.

Rather than adding healthful fats to your diet, try substituting more healthful fats in place of saturated and trans fats. For example, you could try cooking with olive oil instead of butter for your next dish.

By having these five staples in your kitchen, many nutritious foods for creating well-balanced meals will be easily accessible.


What can you do in your community to promote good health for adults and children?

  • Promote a healthful food drive for food pantry supplies in your community.
  • Check out this printable handout about home food pantry supplies
  • The “Food Pantry Wish List” was compiled based on comments from food pantry managers.


By Halli Heimbuch, NDSU Extension Program Assistant
Reviewed by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist




Kubala, J. (April 8, 2020). 15 healthy staples you should always have on hand. Healthline.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Grains. MyPlate.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Feb. 26, 2021a). Healthy food trends - beans and legumes. MedlinePlus.,and%20fight%20disease%20and%20aging

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (March 24, 2021b). Dietary fats. MedlinePlus.

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