Pantry staples such as grains, legumes and nuts & seeds can be the answer to your meal planning dilemmas and rising food costs.
These pantry staples are key ingredients for easy meal planning and offer versatility because they can be stored in the fridge, freezer and pantry for extended periods of time.
If you like to buy in bulk, then all you need are glass or BPA free containers to store all these goodies. A well-organized pantry can help reduce food waste. Not to mention, a stocked pantry of dry goods, clearly visible in glass jars invites creativity at mealtime!
This is a quick reference guide to how grains, legumes and nuts and seeds can be stored as pantry staples, cooked and used in meals. Proper storage of these staple ingredients is key to keeping them fresh.
Whole grain flours offer a variety of nutrients and health benefits because of the kernel that contains the bran, germ and endosperm. They offer nutrients such as protein, carbohydrate, fiber, B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, selenium and zinc. They are great as side dishes, can easily be added to salads and make delicious pancakes, breads and muffins.
To keep your whole grain flours fresh, freeze them for 48 hours before you transfer it to an airtight glass container. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months or in the freezer for up to a year. The higher levels of natural oils found in whole grain flours can cause them to go rancid quickly at room temperature.
Buckwheat has a nutty flavor and is wonderful served as a pilaf, hot porridge or used to make delicious homemade pancakes. It can be stored in the freezer preferably in airtight containers for easy meal planning. As a side-dish, it only takes about 25 minutes to prepare, fluff it up and add your choice of seasonings. To maximize the shelf life, store in a cool, dry area.
Bulgar is used to make tabbouleh, a Middle Eastern dish that is easy to prepare. Bulgar only needs 30 minutes to soak and it’s ready to use in salads, pilafs, stews, soups and baked goods. If you prepare it the night before, it will stay fresh for about four more days and if you can’t use it right away, store it in the freezer for about a month.
Oats are a great source of complex carbs and protein both of which will keep you full for longer. Oats come in a variety of forms including steel-cut, rolled, flakes, flour and instant. Oat flour can be used in baking. Oats also can be used as a thickener for stews, soups, pancakes and can be added to smoothies. If steel-cut oats are your cup of tea, store cooked oatmeal in the fridge for 4 to 6 days in the refrigerator. Or start your day with a delicious breakfast of overnight rolled oats in a jar. You can extend the shelf life of cooked oatmeal, by freezing it in a covered airtight container for up to three months.
Quinoa is somewhat different than the other grains as it isn’t a true grain but rather the seed of a leafy vegetable. It’s gluten free, which makes this appealing for those with gluten intolerance. Quinoa is easy to prepare as it cooks like rice and it can be prepared the night before, kept in the fridge for up to 5 days for future meals. If you happen to make more quinoa than needed, it can be easily stored in the freezer for 2 to 3 months and once defrosted, it can be thawed in the fridge for 3 to 4 days before using it in a soup, sprinkled on a salad or served as a warm side dish. For your pantry, store tightly in a glass container.
Rice starts brown but when it is milled, it becomes white. Brown rice can be easily prepared within about 20 minutes and is great as a side dish, prepared as a stir-fry, added to soaps or added to fresh chopped vegetables as a healthy salad. It should be properly stored in a tightly sealed container (glass is best) and maintains its’ quality for about 3 to 5 months. However, keep in mind that due to its’ high oil content, it can spoil relatively quickly compared to white rice. This pantry essential can last in the fridge for 12 months uncooked and up to 18 months in the freezer. If you have left over brown rice from your meal, it can last in the freezer for 6 months.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind with cooking, buying and storing legumes:
– They can last up to a year when stored in a cool dry place and in a tightly sealed BPA free plastic container which helps to keep out moisture.
– Ensure that your pantry does not have exposure to sunlight.
– As leftovers, legumes can be stored in a sealed glass container in the fridge and last for a few days.
– Before cooking them, rinse thoroughly in order to avoid flatulence.
– You can also add 1 teaspoon of fennel seed or ½ cup of brown rice to the beans while cooking to reduce the flatulence.
– Always use quality water and do not boil for more than 10 minutes. Simmering the beans brings the best results. Use 3 cups of water for each 1 cup of beans.
– Some canned legumes are available in BPA free cans which make them more appealing since Bisphenol A is a synthetic compound that can disrupt the function of our cells.
– Discard all beans from cans or packages that are leaking, rusting, bulging or severely dented
Black beans have an interesting fun fact – the canned version maintain their nutritional values such as protein, fiber calcium, iron, zinc and B vitamins so this is a great option when in a pinch. To maximize the shelf life of canned black beans, store in a cool, dry area and they can last for up to 5 years. To extend the shelf life of cooked black beans, freeze them in an airtight container for up to 6 months and defrost to add to a salad, add to a chili or use to make chocolate brownies by mashing them and add to the rest of your recipe.
Chickpeas can be added to salads, to vegetable burgers, mix them with pasta or roast them as a mid-afternoon snack. Even though they take extra time to cook, you can make a large batch of falafels and hummus for easy meals and snacks. To maximize the shelf life of cooked chickpeas for safety and quality, refrigerate the chickpeas in an airtight container for up to 5 days. They can freeze for about 6 months and when defrosted, kept in the fridge for an additional 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator before cooking.
Lentils do not need presoaking and cook easily so this makes them quite appealing. They make excellent bases for soups and can be eaten cold in a salad. When stored tightly in a glass container, dried lentils can last up to 3 years and can be stored in the freezer for 2 months. Lentils will be softer after freezing and can be left in the fridge for 4 additional days which make them ideal for making a quick warm soup or added on a top of brown rice pilaf.
Black-Eyed Peas are red in colour and are often added to brown rice dishes as the combined tastes are exquisite. They have a sweet flavour and go well with sups, casseroles, salads and stir-fry and pasta dishes. They make for an instant healthy meal without too much fuss and mess in the kitchen. You can prepare them ahead of time, store in the fridge for up to 3 days to make a variety of meals such as adding them to your chili, toppled on brown rice or spiced up with your favourite seasonings, a splash of avocado oil and voilà, a hearty nutritious meal. You can extend the shelf life of cooked black-eyed peas, by freezing them for up to 6 months, thaw when necessary and ensure that they are used within 4 days.
Split Peas are available in green and yellow, used to make hearty soups or puréed as a side dish to accompany a meal. They can be prepared as you would lentils. They will maintain their nutrients even if stored in your pantry for up to 3 years if they are tightly stored in a glass container. Cooked split peas can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months to make quick weeknight easy meals. Like all the other legumes, they can be thawed and used within 3 days.
Nuts & Seeds
Almonds are familiar and versatile. They can be enjoyed as a snack, warmed up in the oven and coated with some of your favourite spices or prepared as a flour to make delicious cookies, muffins and pancakes. Almonds make a great nut butter and a nutritious addition to your snack repertoire. Unshelled almonds stored in a glass container can last for 2 to 4 weeks or in the freezer for 2 years saves money since these can be quite pricey.
Chia Seeds are so delicious and versatile. They can be added to cottage cheese, soups, salads, your morning smoothie or overnight oats. They offer healthy and are best stored in a glass container and have a fridge life of up to a year.
Flaxseeds are so versatile as they can be sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, in soups and salads. Flaxseed flour and ground flaxseed can be added to breads, muffins, cookies and other baked goods. Add flaxseed oil to your diet to your salads and cooked vegetables for an extra dose of healthy fats. You may not be aware that they can be brewed into a tea or applied as a poultice to treat boils and other skin swellings. Refrigeration of whole flaxseeds can extend the shelf life by 3 months and in the fridge for 6 months. Ground flaxseed lasts up to 3 months and in the fridge.
Pumpkin Seeds are the highest source of iron and an excellent source of essential fatty acids. They can be sprinkled on yogurt, added to cereal, salads or a trail mix. Store in a glass container in your pantry or in your fridge for up to 12 months.
Sunflower Seeds dates back as far as 1774 and were thought to be a delicacy for the wealthy. They are great when added to salads, breakfast cereals and baked goods. Sunflower seeds are high in antioxidants. Store in a glass container for up to 3 months and 12 months in the fridge.
Walnuts are delicious in baked goods, sprinkled on salads and as a topping for desserts. Shelled walnuts can last for up to 4 weeks before rancidity starts, however they last for 12 months when kept in the freezer which is great since nuts can be quite pricey.
Meal planning, proper food storage and buying in bulk can be the answer to lowering your grocery bill. For more information on how long whole foods, and cooked foods, stay fresh in storage or in the fridge, our favourite resource is www.stilltasty.com