During this time of uncertainty due to the Coronavirus, you are likely grocery shopping less and opting for foods with a longer shelf life. And while many canned or frozen foods get a bad rep, many are packed with nutrients.
“Shelf stable foods are great because they are safe to keep on your shelves and eat for an extended period of time, and are usually accessibly priced and can still provide great nutritional value,” says Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Once Upon a Pumpkin.
“Healthy shelf-stable foods follow the same pattern as a balanced diet,” says Jonathan Valdez, RDN, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Shelf stable foods should consist of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, low in sodium and low in unsaturated fats.”
How to pick the healthiest shelf-stable foods
It can be overwhelming to stare at the canned food aisle at the grocery store. The choices are endless. But here are a few tips to help you pick the healthiest options:
Be mindful of added sodium and sugar.
“The best tip is to beware of the sodium and sugar content because a lot of shelf stable foods use excess amounts of both to act as a preservative,” says Michalczyk.
Adds Valdez, “Extra sugar and salt can help to extend the shelf life in some products while also adding flavor. Opting for low or no sodium items is best and being mindful of how much sugar is in a shelf stable product will help you avoid consuming them in excess.”
This will help lower sodium.
“When able and it doesn’t infringe on costs, do look for low sodium options, or if not then see if you are able to rinse (like in canned beans) or in foods canned in water versus oil,” says Valdez.
The healthiest foods
Here are the 9 healthiest foods you should stock your pantry or freezer with, according to dietitians.
1. Black beans (dry or canned)
“Black beans have a long shelf life. Dry beans go further for your dollar and provide more food versus canned,” says Valdez. “Plus, they are high in protein and fiber, along with health-supporting minerals, like magnesium, potassium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.”
2. Dried fruit
“Dried fruit is an awesome option for those of us who have a sweet tooth but are looking for a healthier way to satisfy those cravings,” says Michalczyk. “Dried fruit has a good amount of fiber and is packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants and has a long shelf life. It is usually pretty affordable, though it is often packed with additional sugar so aim to buy some that has no sugar added. It is great as a snack on its own but also works nicely in oatmeal or salads.”
3. Quinoa (dry)
“It is a good source of protein, fiber, iron, copper, thiamin and vitamin B6, among others. And of course, it has a long shelf life,” says Valdez.
4. Nuts/nut butter
“Nuts or nut butters are great sources of protein and healthy fats that can be added to so many different meals and used in so many different ways,” says Michalczyk. “Nuts are good for snacking or for tossing into a salad or a nice veggie dish. Nut butters are a great compliment to breakfast on whole grain toast, in a smoothie, or drizzled over some yogurt with granola and fruit.”
5. Roasted artichokes (jarred)
“These are rich in folate, fiber, vitamins (C & K), minerals (magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron) and other antioxidants,” says Valdez. “And they also have a long shelf life (about 2 years depending on the brand).”
6. Canned tuna
“Canned tuna is such a versatile protein source that provides you with lots of protein and omega-3’s,” says Michalczyk. “It can be seasoned to take on almost any flavor and works as a nice add in to jazz up a simple salad, avocado toast, or even a nice casserole. With tuna you should be cautious of the salt content, so aim for low or no sodium here as well.”
7. Frozen mixed berries (the more variety of berries, the better)
“Berries are rich in flavonoids and vitamin C, which help support the immune system,” says Valdez. “They have a longer shelf life than fresh and are a great option if your refrigerator is too full.”
8. Brown rice
“Brown rice is great because it adds a heartiness to almost any meal,” says Michalczyk. “It’s full of fiber and plant-based protein and can be prepared in so many different ways. Brown rice is also pretty easy to prepare, and since a little bit goes a long way, it is great for feeding families or for meal prepping.”
9. Roasted red Bell Peppers (jarred)
“These are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, antioxidants (beta-carotene), which aid in eye health and the immune system,” says Valdez. “They also have a long shelf life (about 2 years depending on the brand).”