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Here’s to healthy pantries on the farm

What’s Cooking in Illinois: Stock your pantry with low-sodium foods and grains, plus protein-enriched pasta, to keep your healthy-eating goals on track.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

January 31, 2024

4 Min Read
 A close-up of soup with tortellini, sausage, and various vegetables
EAT PASTA: Contrary to popular belief, pasta doesn’t make you fat; I’m a big fan of this pantry-friendly Sausage Spinach Tortellini Soup. Charlyn Fargo Ware

For those of us who have set a goal to eat healthier, now is the perfect time to stock your pantry with key staples that will help you reach that goal. Too many times, we grab fast food or go to the nearby restaurant because we haven’t planned a healthy meal or don’t have the right ingredients on hand. Add a snowstorm or two, and we’re reaching for a not-so-healthy frozen pizza.

Just what should you have in your pantry to promote healthy eating? Here are some pantry staples and a recipe or two to put them to use:

Broth. Look for foods that are lower in sodium. (It’s not the saltshaker — it’s hidden sodium in foods to be concerned about.) Stock up on no-salt-added broths or stocks so you can make a healthy vegetable or chicken noodle soup, and use them to flavor grains like rice, quinoa, farro and barley. They don’t cost more, but they’re so much better for your heart health and maintaining a balanced blood pressure.

Beans. Pack your pantry with no-salt-added canned beans such as black, pinto, kidney and cannellini. Beans provide protein, which is good for your immune system and weight management. Add beans to soups, salads, burrito bowls and salsas.

Pasta. Contrary to popular belief, pasta doesn’t make you fat. Pastas are quick, easy and versatile staples to keep on hand. There are so many new and better varieties, so choose whole-wheat or the higher protein and fiber offerings. Fiber in pasta helps prevent spikes in blood sugar. Choose a red sauce over white for an even lower-calorie meal, or toss pasta into a soup or casserole dish.

Nuts. Nuts and seeds are another healthy pantry staple to give a little crunch throughout the day. Choose dry-roasted or raw. They offer heart-healthy fats, fiber and protein. They’re perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up, or add them to salads, oatmeal or yogurt. Keep in mind nuts and seeds are higher in calories. Your cupped hand is a good portion size.

Spices. Seasonings can make the difference between a ho-hum meal and something flavorful. You can add vibrancy and a punch of flavor with low-sodium or no-salt seasonings; choose garlic or onion powder over garlic or onion salt. They are great in bread, soups, sauces and marinades.

Grains. Don’t forget the grains — brown rice, quinoa, farro, barley, teff. Try a new grain every month. Whole grains offer fiber, protein and flavor. Add them to soups, salads, and as a side to fish, chicken or other meat instead of potatoes.

I would like to share a picture of my pantry, but it’s still on my list to organize. It’s important to know what you have in your pantry so you can use it instead of buying more — yes, I’m guilty. I also write the date of purchase on the top of cans with a marker so I can use those I’ve had longer rather than the most recent.

At a recent dinner, my neighbor brought this pantry-friendly recipe for Sausage Spinach Tortellini Soup. It was delicious and full of flavor.

Sausage Spinach Tortellini Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound Italian sausage 
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups no-salt-added chicken broth 
1 can (15-ounce) no-salt-added tomato sauce
1 can (15-ounce) no-salt-added red kidney beans
1 small can black olives
1 tablespoon dried basil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 
1 bag (10-ounce) baby spinach, long stems removed
1 package (9-ounce) cheese tortellini
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven or another soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the Italian sausage, reduce heat to medium, and cook for five to six minutes or until browned and no longer pink, crumbling the sausage as it browns. Transfer the sausage to a paper towel-lined plate to drain off the excess grease.

Refresh the oil with the remaining 1 tablespoon. Add the onion and carrot and cook for five to six minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and cook 10 seconds or until fragrant. Add the chicken broth, tomato sauce, beans, olives, dried basil, crushed red pepper flakes and sausage. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the spinach by the handful until wilted, approximately two to three minutes. Add the tortellini and cook until it’s al dente, according to package directions.

For a healthy snack, try these granola bars:

Granola Bars

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup nuts (pistachio, pecans, walnuts)
1 cup dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, dates, apricots)
1 cup uncooked quinoa
½ cup honey or maple syrup
1 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons coconut or canola oil

Mix the oatmeal, nuts, dried fruits and uncooked quinoa in a large bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix the honey, peanut butter and oil. Mix wet and dry ingredients together, adding more wet or dry as needed. Press firmly into an 8-by-8-inch dish lined with parchment or wax paper. Chill or freeze for 30 minutes to an hour before cutting. Wrap individually for easier snacking.

Read more about:

Healthy Living

About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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