It is always good to have a reasonable supply of foods with a long shelf-life on-hand for the times you want to whip up something quickly at home or when it’s difficult to get to the supermarket. Most foods with a long shelf-life contain multiple servings, so having a few items ready in your pantry will provide you with plenty of food for at least a couple of days. Typically, pantry, canned, or dried foods are also very budget-friendly and can help create a nutrient-rich meal in no time!
When filling up your pantry, people tend to buy a lot of the same type of foods. In order to have a well-balanced diet, aim for having a variety of foods that can be stored at room temperature at home in order to get all macros (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) in each meal.
Canning is a centuries-old process and was originally invented to preserve food for the military. Today, canning food requires food to be placed in an airtight, vacuum-sealed container and then heat-processed. This destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes and creates a vacuum seal that prevents any new bacteria from getting in. Additionally, food can be preserved in flexible packaging, like a retort pouch. Since it’s pliable and takes up less space, it can be a more convenient option if you have limited space (1). Just as with all foods, there are more and less healthy options out there.
Canned foods can be a great source of nutrients, but unfortunately, many products today contain added sodium and sugar. Therefore, it’s important to read the nutrition labels of different brands and choose options without added sodium and sugars. It’s also important to find options that have low saturated fats. Another good benchmark is to look at the food’s ingredients list- the shorter the better!
Canned legumes: Beans (i.e. chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and others), lentils and peas, all a part of the legume family are great sources of plant-based protein as well as fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Eat them as they are, blend them in a stew, make plant-based patties, or make some hummus or spread for a sandwich.
Canned fish. Tuna, mackerel or sardines are great sources of protein, nutrients as well as heart-healthy fats (particularly found in fatty fish). Having some canned fish at home is an easy way to ensure you reach the weekly recommendation of at least two servings of fish per week (2).
Tomatoes: Crushed, diced or whole tomatoes are very nutrient-rich and have the ability to transform any dry pasta dish into a five-star meal. Although processing foods can sometimes have a negative impact on some nutrients, heating tomatoes actually increases the absorption of some. Canned tomatoes are an example in which the powerful antioxidant lycopene is better absorbed than raw ones (3).
Other nutrient-packed options in a can: Spinach, corn, artichoke, pumpkin, green beans, beets, olives, fruit with no added sugars, and more.
Avoid using cans that are damaged or deeply dented. Don’t store food in an opened can and always put your leftovers in a clean container before storing in the fridge. As with all foods, you shouldn’t eat it if it has a foul odor or shows any other signs of foods going bad (1).
Drying is the world’s oldest and most common method of food preservation (1). Dried fruit and dried meat are two examples of nutrient-rich snack options, but just as with canned food, opt for the ones with as little added sugar and sodium as possible.
You can also buy dried beans and lentils, which are typically cost-effective, have great flavor, and take up very little space in relation to the large volume of food they provide when being cooked. They require more time for prepping since they need to be soaked and boiled, but if you are meal prepping, you have extra servings you can either refrigerate or freeze for later.
Staple foods are common foods that can be easily stored and eaten throughout the year. Examples of some staple foods lasting a long time are rice, wheat, oats, millet, and quinoa. Other long-lasting shelf-stable foods are pasta, crispbread, cereals, crackers, nuts, and seeds. When choosing your carbohydrates, try to select whole wheat, whole/ multi-grain or brown options since they have a higher amount of fiber.
Beans and lentils (canned or dried)
Canned vegetables (choose your favourites)
Whole wheat pasta
Whole grain cereals
Crispbread or rice/ corn-cakes
Olive and canola oil
United States Department of Agriculture. Shelf-Staple Food Safety. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/77ffde83-dc51-4fdf-93be-048110fe47d6/Shelf_Stable_Food_Safety.pdf?MOD=AJPERES
American Heart Association. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. 2017. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/fats/fish-and-omega-3-fatty-acids
Livsmedelsverket. Hälsosam helhet.2016. https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/globalassets/publikationsdatabas/broschyrer/livsmedelsverket_halsosam-helhet_20160408-april-2016.pdf
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