Eating fresh, organic food is perhaps easiest during the summer, when fruits and vegetables are plentiful. But if you’re in a hurry or haven’t shopped, a well-stocked organic pantry can be a godsend.  

After teaching students about human nutrition all day, Marjorie Fitch-Hilgenberg, an associate professor of dietetics at the University of Arkansas, goes home at night to put her lessons into practice. To make it easy to serve a nutritious meal after a long day at work, Fitch-Hilgenberg keeps her pantry and freezer stocked with some versatile staples.  

“I don’t worry about dinner when I know I can open my cupboard and freezer and find everything I need for a quick, healthy, home-cooked meal,” she says. She keeps on hand a variety of fruits and vegetables, grain products, sources of protein, dairy products, and seasonings and condiments.  

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables—either canned or frozen—make it easy to get one’s daily veggie quota. Fitch-Hilgenberg also keeps canned tomatoes and a good pasta sauce on hand as a basis for hearty stovetop stews and casseroles. A good variety of canned beans can make a quick three-bean salad or baked beans.  

Grains   

Rice and pasta cook quickly and mix well with other staples. In a nod to her Southern farm roots, Fitch-Hilgenberg always has a quick cornbread mix on hand to complete a meal of beans and vegetables.  

Protein    

Canned salmon can make a quick sandwich or round out a salad. The choice of seasonings determines whether the meal is a no-fuss salmon salad sandwich or a more contemporary salmon with dill and yogurt over greens.  

Dairy    

Fitch-Hilgenberg always keeps a hunk of her favorite cheese in the refrigerator. It can make pasta into a main dish or just provide a quick snack to tide her over while she cooks. Low-fat cottage cheese and plain yogurt are versatile, healthy additions to many dishes, from salads to dessert.

Seasonings and Condiments    

With a variety of seasonings on hand, leftover chicken can be chicken curry one night and chicken enchiladas the next. Different kinds of pickles, including pickled beets, hold well in the refrigerator and can complete a meal. Having a variety of mustards and sauces on hand allows Fitch-Hilgenberg to spruce up the plainest ingredients.   

“Although most seasonings and condiments never appear on a food pyramid,” Fitch-Hilgenberg says, “they can be crucial in transforming healthy food into a delicious meal.”