Having the right healthy ingredients on hand is essential to making great food choices – and you can do it all for less than a tank of petrol. Fill up your pantry with these essentials and reap the rewards.

STOCK UP ON PANTRY STAPLES FIRST

Keep these simple rules in mind: wholemeal and wholegrain over white, low-salt canned options and healthy fats over saturated fats.

For longer-lasting energy in baked treats
Choose: Wholemeal flour, $2
The extra fibre gives you energy to burn all day. Use it in banana bread, carrot cake and savoury muffins. Just leave the batter to rest for 10–20 minutes, as this lets the bigger grains absorb more liquid, resulting in a softer, fluffier product.

For meals that keep you feeling full
Choose: Microwave brown rice, $2
Cooking brown rice from scratch takes roughly 40 minutes and, for most of us, that’s way too long for busy weeknights. Using pouches of microwave brown rice will slash cooking time to just 90 seconds. Look out for the new high-fibre blends, such as brown rice and chia, which will help you feel full for even longer

For tasty sandwiches and salads
Choose: Flavoured canned tuna, $2
Make tasty salads, sandwiches and pasta with flavoured tuna: think chilli oil, lemon and pepper, or basil. Keep tuna and salmon handy for quick and healthy omega 3-rich meals and snacks. (Check the nutrition panel that it contains less than 500mg sodium per 100g.) The best part? Thanks to the long expiry dates of canned tuna, you don’t have to worry about wastage in your pantry!

For fibre-rich dinners
Choose: Canned chickpeas, beans and lentils, $1.50
These nutritional powerhouses are great in salads and soups. You can even use them to create a healthier Bolognese sauce by swapping half the mince for a can of protein-rich brown lentils. (No one will spot the difference!)

For high-fibre classics
Choose: Wholemeal pasta, $2.70
Not only do wholemeal varieties have three times more fibre than regular pasta, some newer types also look and taste similar to what you’re used to.

MAKE THINGS FLAVOURFUL

Many ready-made stir-in sauces and marinades are laden with fat, salt and kilojoules, so try this line-up of tasty ideas instead.

For creamy flavour in salads and pasta
Choose: Feta cheese, $6
Not too high in fat, feta has bags of flavour. A little goes a long way, so stick to 30g portions per person (about the size of a matchbox). Crumble it over salads, pasta dishes or couscous.

For salads and marinades
Choose: Balsamic vinegar, $5
This is your ticket to making quick, healthy salad dressings. It has just 60 kilojoules (14 calories) per tablespoon and its acidity helps to slow digestion and lower the glycaemic index of your meal, so it’s good for you! Use on its own or add a dash to olive oil. Try adding a drizzle of balsamic to homemade tomato sauce for extra intensity, or use it to marinate red meat.

For chicken and fish
Choose: Dukkah, $3
This aromatic Middle Eastern nut, seed and spice mix is an easy way to add flavour to meat or veggies. Sprinkle a few teaspoons over fish or chicken before grilling, or toss a little over roasted vegetables for a great- tasting dish with minimal effort.

For Asian flavour with less salt
Choose:Tamari, $5
Found in the Asian section of most supermarkets, tamari is a darker and thicker version of soy sauce but lower in salt and just as flavoursome.

PACK YOUR FREEZER

These snap-frozen picks have all the goodness of fresh food and ensure you always have a fast and nutritious meal on hand.

For a boost of vitamin C in snacks and breakfasts
Choose: Frozen berries, $6
This makes a great between-meal snack. When defrosted, berries add a delicious, sweet taste to breakfast smoothies, porridge or yoghurt.

For antioxidants and high-fibre meals
Frozen stir-fry vegetables, $5
When you’re really short on time, a bag of stir-fry vegetables gets a meal on the table in minutes. So stash a variety in the freezer for busy nights.

For easy dinners that boost heart health
Frozen fish fillets, $8
We’re not talking about crumbed fish fingers, but convenient frozen fillets of barramundi, Hoki or salmon, which come ready to microwave or oven bake in a special steam bag.

© Prevention Australia