One of the first steps in planning quick and easy meals to manage diabetes is obtaining the ingredients! Keeping healthy staples in stock in your pantry can help encourage preparation of nutritious meals that fit into your meal plan. Below are a few key pantry staples to have on hand for quick and easy meals and snacks.
1. Nuts/nut butter
Keeping a few jars of peanut or almond butter in your pantry helps provide protein, fiber, along with healthy unsaturated fat, when added to meals. Spread it on sandwiches, toast, sliced apples or celery. You can even experiment and try new nut butters such as cashew, sunflower or mixed nut types to add variety. Choose unsalted or lightly salted nuts like almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashews and walnuts for snacks, sprinkled on salads or cereal and in baked goods.
Buy un-popped popcorn kernels and pop in an air popper or small boxes of “light” style microwave packets for convenience. Popcorn a healthy whole grain snack that is high in fiber and low in calories by itself. Making it at home helps control what you add to it, and you can try fun seasonings like parmesan cheese or a dash of garlic salt.
3. Brown Rice
A bag of brown rice can go a long way and be used in a variety of dishes. Brown rice has more fiber and a lower glycemic index than white rice, which helps keep you feeling fuller longer and a leads to a slower rise and fall of the blood sugar. However, it is important to watch your portions, 1/3 cup cooked brown rice is considered a serving, and will provide 15 grams of carbohydrate. Try brown rice as a fiber filled side, or in main dishes like soup, stew and stir fry.
4. Canned or dried beans
Beans are an inexpensive and healthy source of low-fat vegetarian protein that are a good source of fiber. Dried beans take longer to cook and should be soaked beforehand whereas canned beans are ready to serve once opened. Soaking dried beans and rinsing canned beans prior to using helps make them easier to digest. Rinsing canned beans also helps remove excess sodium. Add beans to salads, soups, stews, burritos and dips for a delicious plant protein-based meal.
Oats are a great staple and very versatile beyond just hot cereal. They it can be used in baked goods, served cold in over night oats recipes, and even in savory dishes like meatloaf. Rolled oats contain plenty of fiber, namely soluble fiber, that helps bind excess cholesterol and remove it from the body.
6. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a good plant-based fat source to have on hand as a pantry staple. It is an unsaturated fat that will not increase cholesterol, adds flavor to food and will keep in the pantry for awhile if stored in a cool dark place. A tablespoon of olive oil does provide 100 calories, so use it sparingly if you are watching your weight. Just a small drizzle works for cooking, on salads, and in homemade dressings and marinades.
7. Low sodium broth
Lower sodium vegetable, beef, or chicken broth is a great staple to keep on hand for soups and other recipes. It is low and calories and carbohydrates and helps add flavor to cooked foods like veggies or brown rice in place or oil or butter. Broth is also helpful to have on hand in case of sick days to provide fluid and electrolytes without elevating blood sugars.
Vinegars are a terrific staple to have around – they are low in calories and carbohydrates, and help add a healthy flavor boost to salads, sauces and marinades. Some research has indicated that vinegar may even have a modest blood sugar lowering effect as well. There are a variety of vinegars to choose. Apple cider, red wine and white vinegar are lowest in calories and have the most sharp, acidic, and intense flavor. Champagne, balsamic and rice vinegars are more fruity and floral.
9. Canned tomatoes/canned sauce
Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce are an inexpensive way to keep a non-perishable vegetable choice on hand for quick and easy meal prep. To keep sodium content low, look for no salt added varieties. Tomatoes are a great source of a plant chemical called lycopene, which is an antioxidant that can help with chronic disease prevention and may help provide protection against diabetes, according to research. Canned tomatoes/sauce are useful in soups, stews, casseroles, chicken/fish dishes with pasta and to help flavor veggies.
10. Dried Spices and Seasonings
One of the best items to keep in your pantry is a collection of dried spices and seasonings. They last, on average, 1-2 years and can help add flavor to your meals. Keeping spices such as chili power, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, curry, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon and nutmeg can be used in a wide variety of recipes to liven things up without adding calories. In fact, certain spices like cinnamon may actually provide modest benefits with respect to improving blood sugar control. Look for seasoning blends to add to your pantry too, such as Italian, barbeque rub, lemon pepper, but keep an eye on the labels if you are watching sodium because some may have added salt.