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November 21, 2018

A Peek Inside a Dietitian’s Pantry — Christopher Thompson, MS, RDN, LDN

By Christopher Thompson, MS, RDN, LDN


Items we have in our pantry help set the stage for meals, snacks, and how much we enjoy eating the foods we cook. Ever wonder what’s in a dietitian’s pantry? Look no further. In this blog I talk about my everyday essentials and personal favorites.

The Magical Bean (& Whole Grain)

Canned beans are a savior! Especially when all the chicken or fish is frozen, and we need a quick protein for dinner. In these situations, I’ve been known to whip up a quick bean salad to throw on top of leftover greens.

Drain and rinse your bean of choice then mix with olive oil and apple cider vinegar for a quick, easy, and nutritious bean salad. Add herbs, spices, or veggies to take it to the next level (cilantro, bell pepper, and onion are great additions). 1 cup of bean salad contains about 35g of carbohydrates, 14g of protein, and 14g of fiber.

Whole grains like steel cut oats, quinoa, brown rice, and mixed lentils are great items to prepare in bulk ahead of time. This saves us from scrambling when we get home late after work. I always keep at least one cooked whole grain on stock in my refrigerator. Having a back-up like Minute Brown Rice is another way to fool-proof your pantry and prepare for the unexpected – it literally takes 60 seconds.

Top 3:

1) Steel cut oats

2) Black beans/pinto beans/chickpeas

3) Popcorn kernels, loose
*Using a saucepan over medium heat, add 2 tbsp. of olive oil with 2-3 kernels and cover. Once popped, add 1/3 cup of kernels and cover. Kernels will start popping after a few minutes. Take off of heat once popping slows down. Enjoy!

They’re Not Only for Squirrels – Nuts & Seeds

Almonds, walnuts, peanut butter, pine nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, trail mix, pine nuts… the list goes on. Nuts and seeds pack a nutritious punch and are great last-minute additions to oatmeal, smoothies, or salads. Plus, they’re excellent on-the-go snacks. Whip up a quick snack by adding 2 tablespoons of nut butter (an excellent source of healthy fats and protein) to two rice cakes, two graham crackers, or one piece of fruit.

I find that nuts can be expensive in certain areas of the grocery store. When shopping for nuts, buy in bulk. Look for large bags and containers in the produce section and compare the price per ounce listed on the shelf’s price tag. Psssst… nuts in the bakery aisle tend to be more expensive than in the produce section.

Top 3:

1) Flax and chia seed blend
*Excellent topping for salads or addition to smoothies for healthy fats.

2) Walnuts

3) Powdered peanut butter
*45 calories and 5g of protein in just 2 tablespoons! Try adding this to smoothies or oatmeal for an extra boost of protein and flavor.

Oil & Vinegar

Olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and white vinegar are regulars in my pantry. These ingredients not only provide us with the ingredients for an impromptu heart healthy salad dressing but add flavor to otherwise boring foods.

Tired of the same old vegetable dish or stir fry? Add sesame oil near the end of cooking. It’s more of a seasoning than an oil, with a nutty flavor that brings new life to everyday favorites. A little goes a long way, so start sparingly and increase to taste.

Top 3:

1) Olive oil

2) Apple cider vinegar
*Mix 2 parts olive oil, 2 parts apple cider vinegar, and 1 part honey with salt and pepper, to taste, for a quick vinaigrette.

3) Sesame oil

Zest it Up

Being creative with flavors is an easy way to rejuvenate stale recipes and jazz up boring side dishes – I’m talking to you quinoa. Some of my favorite additions to spruce up recipes include nutritional yeast, sundried tomatoes, capers (drain and rinse to remove excess salt), honey, maple syrup, crushed red pepper, Everything but the Bagel seasoning, and other dried spices.

New to nutritional yeast? This versatile ingredient is a deactivated yeast with a savory, nutty, and cheesy flavor profile. It can be sprinkled on salads, soups, or even popcorn for another layer of flavor. Nutritional yeast boasts an impressive nutrient profile with 3g of protein in just ONE tablespoon. Give this superfood a spin by adding 1 tablespoon to your next salad, soup, or bowl of popcorn.

Top 3:

1) Everything but the Bagel Seasoning
*Great on all vegetables!

2) Crushed red pepper flakes

3) Nutritional yeast
*Sprinkle on top of fresh popcorn for a cheesy spin and extra protein!

5. Ready When You Are 

In a pinch for time? Need a snack on the go? Life can get in the way and it’s important to set ourselves up for success when we have limited time to prepare balanced meals. For these instances, I keep a variety of ready-to-eat items on hand, such as Rx Bars or Nature Valley Protein Bars.

Pre-portion nuts, seeds, and trail mix into individual plastic bags. This way they’ll be ready to go when you are on the move. Pair one of these baggies with a piece of fruit or yogurt for an even more balanced and filling snack.

Bag 12-18 whole almonds, 20-30 whole peanuts, or 8-12 pecan halves for a snack containing 10-15g of healthy fats.

Top 3:

1) Rx Bars

2) Nature Valley Protein Bars

3) Trail mix (variety of flavors)
Stocking our pantries with a variety of nutritious foods that we enjoy is helpful, regardless if our goal is reducing blood sugar levels, losing weight, or lowering blood pressure. Having a well-stocked pantry provides mealtime flexibility during the 9-to-5 workweek and serves as “plan B” when we forget something at the store, have a spur of the moment guest, or are in a pinch for time.


“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra
Chris is a Registered Dietitian at Avance Care’s Apex and Holly Springs locations. He loves to experiment in the kitchen, stay active, play and watch sports, spend quality time with his two dogs, and read Yogi Berra quotes.

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