Cooking up healthy food on the reg is easy if you have a kitchen full of all the right ingredients—and rather hard if your fridge is bare and your cupboards are stocked with nothing but sugary cereal and a stale sleeve of Saltines.
The pantry is the easy part: You can stock it with uncooked whole-grains, all the canned beans and veggies, and spices galore. These protein-, fiber-, and flavor-packed items don’t perish easily. One big shopping trip, and you have just about all the dried food you need for the next few months. The refrigerator is another story. Ingredients that belong in the fridge do tend perish quickly. This means that keeping your fridge well-stocked isn’t as one and done as your pantry. Yes, there are a few fridge-friendly condiments you can count on to last, but everything else you’ll want to cycle in and out on a regular basis.
These nine items are affordable and a couple of them will even hold up in your fridge for a few weeks to a few months (which is a pretty long time, all things considered). They’re foods that easily incorporate themselves into tons of different dishes, and can even become meals all by themselves. Keep a running tab on your fridge of each of these ingredients, so you always know what’s stocked, and what needs refilling.
1. Greek yogurt
Shannon Garcia, M.D.S., R.D. with KISS in the Kitchen always keeps this ingredient handy. She likes to sub it into dressings and baked goods as a high-protein, low-fat alternative to mayo or oil. It also makes an excellent addition to smoothies, or a speedy, protein-packed breakfast all on its own (even better with some nuts or fruit on top). Greek yogurt will usually last for one to two weeks, but be sure to keep an eye on your container’s expiration date.
2. Medjool dates
In addition to being a good source of fiber, medjool dates are great natural sweeteners. You can use them in smoothies and salad dressings in place of honey or sugar. Or do as Garcia likes to do and turn them into gooey, tasty snack bites.
3. Carrots, apples, and other produce that lasts
You know all the things that seem to never go bad despite the fact that they’ve been sitting in your crisper for weeks? Yeah, keep plenty of those around. Garcia explains that actually having veggies in your fridge will make you more inclined to eat them. So stock up on carrots, beets, celery, apples, pears, or any other fruits and veggies that are known for their general sturdiness.
4. Baby spinach
“It’s the perfect sneaky ingredient to boost nutrition in smoothies, pasta dishes, or breakfast scrambles,” says Garcia. She likes to stock up on this leafy green because large amounts will cook down a lot. This makes it easy to use quickly (AKA before it starts to wilt). And of course, it’s a great alternative to lettuce in a salad—the young leaves have a milder taste than their more mature counterparts.
Made with chickpeas, hummus is a high-protein dip that makes a great snack, sandwich spread, salad addition—you name it. There’s a reason nutritionists love it. You can make it yourself with the help of a tasty recipe, but a low-sodium store-bought version works fine, too. It should last you a couple weeks, but again keep an eye on that expiration date.
Cara Harbstreet, M.S., R.D., L.D., likes to regularly stock her fridge with mustard (specifically Dijon), because it’s naturally low in calories and can contain beneficial spices like turmeric. Plus, it can add a pop of flavor to anything from sandwiches to salad dressings. When choosing a brand, she recommends looking for those that are lower in sodium.
7. Homemade salad dressing
Once you start making homemade salad dressing, you’ll never want the store-bought stuff again. It’s so easy to master and comes together with three to five ingredients, tops. Harbstreet will keep a simple honey-mustard vinaigrette in her fridge. To make it, she uses 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons honey, and a little salt and pepper. This will last her for about a week.
This low-calorie protein can be a meal all on its own, which is why you should always keep a carton of eggs in your fridge. Hard boil them for a speedy snack or salad topper—scramble or fry them for a satisfying breakfast, lunch, or anytime meal. A carton can last you about two weeks.
9. Miso paste
You haven’t lived until you’ve tried miso paste. The umami-packed flavor-bomb isn’t sold everywhere—you won’t find it at Trader Joe’s, but you will at Whole Foods or stores with a decent-sized Asian foods section (it could also be hiding in the fridge section next to dairy products like sour cream and ricotta cheese). Miso paste is great in stir-frys, salad dressings, and even in pasta. It can also stand practically on its own: Use a tablespoon of the paste and a cup of hot water to turn it into a super-fast miso soup, or try smearing a bit on your next sandwich—you won’t regret it.