Shop Savvier: Strategies to a Healthier Pantry

Stock your shelves nutritiously for less

Photo: Woman biting into a cracker

For some of us, a trip to the grocery store inevitably ends with caving into our cravings in the cookie aisle. Instead of stressing out about those cream-filled sandwiches, focus on making wholesome foods a part of your life. “The key to avoiding poor food choices is to have better selections handy,” says Laura Lagano, RD, an integrative clinical nutritionist in Hoboken, NJ. “Planning is vital to staying on the road to wellness.” 
To stay on track with your health goals and save money on groceries, use these tips from Lagano.
The Occasion: Snacking
“Because of our busy lifestyles, we often do not stop to enjoy real, whole foods,” Lagano says. Many of us reach for packaged, processed foods that are high in sugar and carbs, which can cause irregular blood sugar levels and weight gain. 
The Pantry Solution: Go for nuts and seeds. “Keep your cupboard stocked with satisfying, ready-to-eat snacks such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, which contain both protein and fat,” Lagano says. Almonds and walnuts also contain good fats and lean protein, and they help regulate blood sugar levels. Plus, they store well. Add sunflower or almond butters and flaxseed crackers to your grocery list, too. Nut butters may seem pricey, but they’re around 63 cents per serving if you follow the recommended serving size.
The Occasion: Quick Lunch
To speed up your search for the healthiest lunch, choose a combination of lean proteins and complex carbs. Eggs and canned fish are wallet-friendly options and pair well with any whole grains. Think: a quinoa Cobb-style salad or a tuna sandwich made with mashed avocado instead of mayo.
The Pantry Solution: “Have a supply of hard-cooked eggs in your refrigerator on hand for immediate enjoyment,” Lagano says. When buying canned fish, look for products that are free of BPA lining, she suggests. 
The Occasion: Pre-Dinner Cravings
If you don’t eat a satisfying lunch, the time before dinner drags. Don’t spoil your meal by snacking on empty calories to calm your cravings. 
The Pantry Solution: Stock up on pre-cut raw vegetables like bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, radishes, fennel, and celery. Store radishes, fennel, and celery in a bowl of water to preserve freshness, Lagano suggests. These colorful veggies pack fiber, hydrating electrolytes, and crunch. Try fresh veggies with some dipping oil and herbs.
The Next Step: Cleaning House
Now that you’ve added flax crackers, canned fish, and nut butters to your pantry, it’s time to mentally and physically clean things out. “Start by making one change at a time,” Lagano says.
The Pantry Solution: “First, eliminate artificial ingredients—colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners—from your diet,” she says. Shop for foods closest to their natural form. Look for terms such as “no sugar added” or “100% whole grain.”
The Bottom Line
Remember, your diet isn’t just about your waistline. “Not eating healthfully now will cost you in the future—physically and in your wallet,” Lagano says. A kitchen stocked with processed foods instead of vegetables, fruits, and lean protein won’t save you calories or cash. “Study after study has shown that foods with better nutrient profiles are less expensive than high-carb junk foods,” she says.