6 Essential Canned Foods and Staples You Should Always Keep in Your Pantry

With these staples in your kitchen, you’ll never have to worry about whipping up a last-minute meal.

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Can’t make it to the grocery store? Can’t find much at the grocery store? Turn to canned foods! If the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that it’s important to have a well-stocked pantry that’s filled with nonperishable foods you can turn to when you don’t have fresh options available. So, take stock of your pantry – we’re sharing staple canned foods that can help you make a nutritious, satisfying meal even when your fridge is pretty empty.

Keep your pantry stocked with long-lasting, shelf-stable canned foods that are as versatile as they are satisfying, and you’ll always have healthy ingredients to cook with. The following seven canned foods give you the most bang for your buck, both nutritionally and in their versatility. Make sure to add them to your grocery list.

1. Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are one of the ultimate pantry staples. They’re a go-to ingredient whether you’re whipping up a comforting soup or a saucy pasta, and they can be added into everything from chilis to sauces to casseroles. 

This versatile canned fruit offers endless options. And, even more important, canned diced tomatoes are also impressively nutrient-rich. Popping open a can of tomatoes gives you lycopene, an antioxidant that’s been linked to better heart health, as well as vitamin C, fiber, iron and potassium.

Of course, if you’re stocking up, you might want to grab other varieties of canned tomatoes too. Diced tomatoes are our top pick – but you also can’t go wrong with crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, fire-roasted tomatoes, or even tomato sauce. Just make sure you’re opting for the most natural canned varieties you can find, with few to no additives, low sodium and no added sugars.

2. Canned beans

When it comes to versatility, it’s pretty hard to top canned beans. From black beans to kidney beans, cannellini beans to navy beans, every kind of canned bean is protein-rich, nutrient-dense and able to be used in a variety of ways. You can turn a blend of different beans into a bean salad, add beans into chilis and soups, use them for a pop of protein in salads, pastas, quesadillas or bowls – there are so many options.

While the nutrients in each variety of bean differ somewhat, no matter which kind you choose you’ll be getting fiber, plant-based protein, iron and other essential vitamins and minerals.

What about dried beans? These can also be a great pantry addition – but unlike canned beans, dried beans need to be soaked overnight before they can be used. So, in a pinch, canned is extra convenient and low-effort. Just make sure that as you’re picking out your canned beans you’re choosing products that are low in sodium and other potential additives. 

While canned black beans are particularly nutritious and versatile, they aren’t your only option. In fact, you can stock your pantry with an array of different kinds of canned beans to make sure you have options for every meal you might make.

3. Canned chickpeas

A subset of our canned beans call-out above, let’s show some special love to canned chickpeas. With almost identical nutritional value as the non-canned variety, canned chickpeas are a serious workhorse in the kitchen. They can transform into just about anything, from a crispy flatbread to a crunchy, flavorful snack to a bowl of creamy hummus. But chickpeas can also become a salad topper, a filling ingredient in bowls and a delicious spread.

Along with their almost-endless versatility, canned chickpeas also offer some pretty solid nutritional value. Though they’re plant-based, chickpeas can provide an awful lot of protein; they’re also rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Plus, as an added bonus, the pairing of protein and fiber in these legumes helps to slow your digestion and keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. 

4. Coconut milk

Coconut milk might not be an ingredient you’re reaching for every day, but it’s a great nutrient-dense choice if you want to make sure you have healthy staples on hand. It’s not just a luscious addition to smoothies or at-home ice creams. This rich and silky canned milk is a creamy, delicious ingredient you can use in everything from lattes to sauces to curries (and so much more!).

Plus, you can’t overlook the perks of using coconut milk. It is high in calories, but it’s packed with healthy fats. And this plant-based milk also offers fiber, vitamin C, folate and potassium. It’s particularly great for getting your daily recommended amount of manganese – you’ll get 110 percent of your RDI! This milk is also rich in iron, magnesium, selenium and copper.

5. Canned corn

Corn might have something of a bad reputation, but it’s well worth adding to your pantry’s shelves. Sure, it’s a starchy vegetable and includes a lot of carbs (which can spike your blood sugar) – but it’s really only high carbs when you’re comparing corn to leafy green veggies. Corn actually packs some surprisingly great nutrients, like fiber and nutrients that can benefit your eye health.

And canned corn is super versatile. It’s so easy to open up a can, drain the liquid and toss those bright yellow kernels onto salads and bowls. You can also use canned corn in soups, turn it into fritters or even add it to casseroles, tacos (like our Smoky Cauliflower Tacos) and quesadillas. If you’re worried about excess sugar, just make sure you aren’t adding corn to, well, everything.

5. Dried pasta and rice

Okay, we cheated a little here. Dried pasta, rice, and other grains like quinoa aren’t technically canned foods. But these dry goods absolutely belong in your pantry. With a variety of grains on hand, you can use your canned foods and create an entire healthy meal without even opening your fridge.

With dried pasta in your pantry, you can easily boil noodles to create pasta dishes and casseroles. You can use it for dishes served hot or cold, too. And if you keep rice and whole grains like quinoa, farro, or bulgur on hand, you’ll be able to accomplish even more. You can use them with canned veggies, fresh produce, a variety of different proteins and jarred sauces from your pantry. And they can feed you for every meal of the day.

Plus, these foods can last a very long time in storage. Rice and whole grains, when stashed in airtight containers, can last anywhere from six months to a year. Dry pasta, on a similar note, will stay fresh for up to two years. 


Should you be worried about BPA in canned foods?

If you’re a bit hesitant to stock up on canned foods because you’ve heard they can be packaged in containers that include toxic chemicals like BPA in their interior linings, you aren’t alone. There’s been plenty of news about finding BPA in canned goods – but it’s actually pretty easy to find products that are BPA-free.

Since more consumers have become aware of BPA and its negative health effects, increasingly more food manufacturers have stopped using it. In fact, Packaging Digest reports that 90 percent of the canned foods that previously had BPA in their cans are now perfectly safe and BPA-free. 

If you want to be extra cautious, you can check the labels on canned goods before buying them. Most will specifically state that they use BPA-free packaging. Not 100 percent certain if a particular canned food is BPA-free? Just find another that is clearly labeled!

What about expiration dates?

A fully-stocked pantry isn’t just a huge help when you’re reaching for items that’ll help you pull together a last-minute dinner. When you can’t get what you need from the grocery store or need a meal in a pinch, these shelf-stable goods really come in handy. And they’re pretty great as “buy it and forget it” staples.

Typically, canned foods, grains and other non-perishable items will last you at least six months. Many will last up to one full years – or even two. Make it a habit to check the expiration dates on your canned foods twice a year, and you’ll be able to catch anything you’ve forgotten to use before it goes bad.


RELATED: What Do Food Expiration Dates Really Mean? (And Is it OK to Eat Something After the ‘Best By’ Date?)

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