Six Pantry Staples to Make Your Winter Healthier

To keep winter cooking and eating on track, do as animals do and “squirrel away” the right foods.
Bowls of curried chickpeas, jasmine rice and naan.

When our stomach’s growling and we haven’t thought about dinner, we’re likely to grab (or order in) the first thing available, which we know won’t be the healthiest and will likely be more expensive than cooking in.

But when you’re hungry, you’re willing to pay more, and compromise quality, for instant gratification, says Mary Rubiano, MS, RD, CD, CNSC, a dietitian at UVM Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center.

Rubiano acknowledges that preparing healthy meals is even harder in the winter, when nobody wants to make a weeknight grocery stop in the dark or venture out when it’s snowing. “Hibernation is a real thing,” she jokes.

So, we just need to do like the animals do, and squirrel away the right foods ahead of time.

Pantry Staples 

Rubiano recommends these six pantry staples – and some easy recipes to go with them.

1. Stock, Broth or Bouillon

Soups, stews and chilis are ideal: They make great comfort meals, they’re easy to make ahead and they freeze well. Since they all require some sort of a base, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of chicken, beef or vegetable broth (or stock) on hand. Rubiano says that some of the jarred bases allow you to add as much, or as little, flavoring to hot water. These can be stored for much longer periods in the refrigerator after opening – so you’re never stuck with that annoying half-can of leftover broth. And they have reduced sodium options available.

(What’s the difference between broth and stock, you ask? Stock is a thicker liquid, since it’s made from bones, while broth is made from meat or vegetables.)

2. Beans

They’re shelf-stable, provide an excellent source of fiber and help bulk up those soups mentioned above. So stock your pantry with chickpeas, kidney beans, white beans or northern beans. You can get them dry or canned.

3. Frozen Vegetables

“I personally like to eat seasonally,” Rubiano says. “But in the winter, we’re obviously not harvesting, and the ‘fresh’ ones we see in the stores will have traveled a long way to get here – and they lose nutrients along the way. They’ll also be more costly. So I keep mixed frozen vegetables in the freezer. They’re cost-effective and will taste a lot better.”

4. Tomato Products

These are great go-tos, whether it’s a prepared sauce from your favorite brand, or a can of diced or crushed tomatoes to make a pasta sauce, soup or chili of your own. On the jarred sauce side, we have lots of specialty food producers here in Vermont and northern New York, so you might want to explore your grocery store’s local-foods area.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Rubiano likes the surprising versatility of the sweet potato. If you peel, cut and roast them ahead of time, you can keep them in the fridge and do a lot of different things with them throughout the week – which is especially helpful if different family members have different preferences. “Maybe you use most of them for a rice-and-beans dish to start. Then if you have some left over, one person could put them in an egg scramble, someone else could use them as a pizza topping, and someone else might put them on a salad,” Rubiano suggests.

6. Nuts and Dried Fruits

These are great to have, whether you’re specifically trying to increase your fiber intake, or you just want some healthy snacks or easy toppings for salad, cereal or oatmeal.

Finally, Rubiano points out that all of these ingredients can easily be bought in bulk when they go on sale – a helpful strategy as food prices have skyrocketed.

With a little advance planning, we can get through winter a lot healthier, for both our bodies and our wallets.


Crockpot Coconut Chickpea Curry

Yield: 8-10 Servings


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper diced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced (can substitute white potato)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans chickpeas (28 ounces), rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 1 can coconut milk (14 ounces)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • rice, cooked
  • cilantro (optional)
  • lime (optional)


  1. Coat crockpot with oil. Add onion, pepper, potato, garlic and chickpeas. Top with curry powder and stir to coat ingredients.
  2. Add water, diced tomatoes and coconut milk. Stir to combine.
  3. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 4 to 5 hours.
  4. Serve over rice or with toasted Naan bread. Top with cilantro and lime, if desired.


  • For a spicier dish, add a serrano or jalapeno pepper.
  • For an extra serving of vegetables, add a 10oz. bag of frozen spinach to the crockpot in the last hour of cooking.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the refrigerator or 4 months in the freezer.

Honey Almond Granola

Yield: About 3 cups, or 12 servings


  • 3 tablespoons almond butter (or peanut butter, cashew butter or tahini)
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted (or canola oil)
  • ½ cup of honey or maple syrup
  • 3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds (or other nut)
  • ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut or coconut flakes

Optional: Add ½ cup of dried fruit (raisins, Craisins, apricots) to granola after it’s baked and cooled.


  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Combine wet ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Pour over wet ingredients and mix. Spread onto baking sheet.
  5. Cook granola in oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven when edges are turning a golden brown.
  6. Allow granola to cool completely on baking sheet before breaking into pieces and storing in an airtight containing.

Pizza Sauce: Pureed Black Bean


  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 cup salsa
  • roasted sweet potato, optional
  • red onion, optional
  • cilantro, optional
  • corn, optional
  • jalapenos, optional
  • cheese, optional (pepper jack, cheddar, cotija)


  1. Puree black beans with salsa to desired texture and serve.

Pizza Sauce: Smoky Marinara


  • marinara
  • barbecue sauce
  • mozzarella, optional
  • gorgonzola, optional
  • pineapple, optional
  • red bell pepper, optional
  • scallions, optional
  • dice ham, optional


  1. Combine equal parts of marinara and barbecue sauce and serve.

Crockpot Sweet Potato Chili

Yield: 6-8 Servings


  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef or turkey*
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (14 ounces)
  • 2 small or 1 large can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 cups low sodium beef, chicken or vegetable broth

*For vegetarian option, use 2 cans (28 ounces) of black beans or red kidney beans, rinsed and drained in place of ground meat


  1. Brown ground meat (or beans if opting for vegetarian option) in a sauté pan until cooked. Drain liquid.
  2. Transfer meat (or beans) to crockpot and add remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours.


  • Optional toppings: shredded cheddar, cilantro or scallions
  • Serve with tortilla chips or on top of eggs for a savory, hearty breakfast

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