Faced with a choice between cooking a healthful meal and ordering out, many weary (or wary) cooks will opt for take-out. But with take-out they can be taking key nutrients out of their diets. If you have your local eateries on speed-dial, you could be under-nourished and overspending. A smart pantry makeover will put nourishing meals and wholesome snacks within your reach.

Open your cupboard. Is it bare as Old Mother Hubbard's? Do you see a castle of untouched cans? A spice rack gathering dust and losing flavour? Individual tastes may vary, but for a robust, useful cupboard, fill up on the following staple items. Mix and match: They can become the fixings of many a quick snack or hearty meal.

Essential elements

These are the go-to items that pull everything together.

  • oils and vinegars that are low in saturated fats
    • olive oil
    • canola oil
    • balsamic vinegar
  • herbs and spices
    • oregano
    • basil
    • dill
    • sage
    • thyme
    • peppermint
    • salt and pepper
    • rosemary
    • garlic
    • ginger
  • sweeteners
    • honey
    • blackstrap molasses
  • grains, nuts, seeds
    • sesame seeds
    • pine nuts
    • oats
    • granola

Meal makers

The meal makers are those items that bulk up or provide the base for lunches and dinners.

  • broths and soup stock
  • rice
  • pasta
  • dried beans

Can do

Canned foods are affordable pantry standbys. Long shelf-lives make them convenient and handy in a pinch. Closely eyeball the labels to monitor salt, fat, and sugar content, and try to choose the ones with the simplest list of ingredients.

  • canned tomato sauce or paste
  • canned beans: garbanzo, black, navy, kidney
  • canned seafood: salmon, tuna, crab

Snack shack

Nutritious snacks are a necessity. For a boost of energy or just to fill in the gaps between meals, stash away some of the following wholesome, bite-sized treats.

  • sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
  • almonds, walnuts, peanuts
  • peanut butter
  • popcorn
  • dried cranberries, apricots, sun-dried tomatoes
  • whole-grain crackers

Ways to wash it all down

The cupboard can be home to a few beneficial beverages.

  • green tea (has antioxidants and may reduce cancer risk)
  • mint tea (may help in digestion and soothe the stomach)
  • hot chocolate (chocolate may protect against heart disease)

Shady foods

Some foods thrive in the shadows. For vegetables, this precaution prevents sprouting. For other food items, it's just a matter of preserving freshness and flavour.

  • potatoes
  • yams and sweet potatoes
  • onions
  • coffee
  • dried herbs
  • garlic

Click here to print up a shopping list for your healthy pantry makeover.