Stock a variety of nutrient-rich, shelf-stable foods in your pantry and you’ll be equipped to whip up healthy meals and snacks for children no matter what.
Feeding your child a healthy, nourishing diet can be one of your greatest challenges—and rewards. But it can be difficult to stock your pantry for success. Without those go-to healthy and delicious foods, a hungry child can make life get real very quickly We all know what those meltdowns can be like. Having healthy, staple ingredients on hand makes good nutrition simple, quick, and more enjoyable. It can also save money and provide a healthy routine for your family’s diet. Creating a healthy pantry for kids equips us to take on meals with the confidence and peace of mind of a parent who’s taking charge of nourishing her children with the fuel they need to grow and thrive—and owning it!
It’s never too early to establish healthy eating patterns, and that begins with a pantry filled with healthy foods from all the food groups. Research shows that children who are introduced to a wide variety of foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, are more likely to eat them. The first 24 months are when food preferences and behaviors begin to form. Surrounding them with healthy foods and seeing the whole family eating them significantly increases the opportunities for children to try new foods, and it makes it more likely they will learn to enjoy them as they grow.
Stock the Basics
Keeping a variety of shelf-stable, fresh, and frozen foods on hand, along with a savvy stash of cooking essentials and kid-approved seasonings to dress up any dish is a true meal saver. Even the simplest, quickest meals and snacks are better when made with nutritious ingredients.
Creating a Powerful Pantry
Canned and dried beans, lentils, and peas are rich in protein and make a great foundation to a meal. Their soft texture and mild flavor are ideal for young and older children alike. And what kid doesn’t love pasta? Add a variety of dried alternative pastas made with chickpeas or lentils for a different source of protein. Nuts and seeds and nut butters are a versatile ingredient or add-in for side dishes, hot cereal, and baked goods, like my Kids PB&J Bars. These bars have peanuts, peanut butter, chia seeds, and convenient pouches of unsweetened fruit puree for an added boost of fruit.
Whole wheat pasta, quinoa, oats, couscous, and brown rice are all kid-friendly, quick-cooking whole grain sources perfect for main dishes, sides, cereals, and in baked goods, like my Kids Berry Oat Tahini Bars, made with oats and whole grain flour. Whole grain breads, dried cereals, and crackers make a quick sandwich, breakfast, and easy, out-of-the-box snack. Storing a few ready-made whole-grain meals can sometimes save the day too.
Veggies and Fruit
Canned vegetables are essential! Tomato products, from diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa can make a quick meal kids love, like pasta, pizza, chili, and so much more. You can never have too many or enough variety—corn, peas, carrots, green beans, beets and mushrooms— canned varieties are especially easy to pop—or sneak—into any dish, or add a little seasoning and they’re an instant side dish. Packed with vitamins, minerals, health protecting plant compounds like antioxidants, and fiber—essential for developing minds and growing bodies, it’s important to get veggies into every meal. Just be sure to choose low sodium or no added salt varieties. Don’t forget to stash long-lasting potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, like butternut and spaghetti squash.
When it comes to fruit, opt for unsweetened canned or jarred fruit, either cut or pureed, like applesauce, as well as dried fruit, like leathers, raisins or apricots, for a sweet snack, hot cereal mix-in, or dessert. For those in-a-hurry snack needs, keep some convenient grab-and-go fruit and fruit and veggie purees or prepared smoothies on hand.
Cooking Essentials and Seasonings
Every meal needs a behind the scenes crew. High quality vegetable oils, like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are the beginning of dishes little kids love, like stir fries, sautéed and roasted veggies, and baked goods. My Zucchini Carrot Spice Muffins are always a hit. Flour, whether whole wheat or alternatives, like oat or almond flour are a baking staple that can pull off a quick batch of pancakes, muffins, or sweet treat. Even the youngest family members deserve a little baked love with my Berry Yummy Oat Baby Muffins, which have just a taste of cinnamon and vanilla for baby’s developing taste. Of course, you’ll need your baking soda and powder, vanilla extract, and a few favorite spices beyond salt and pepper, like cinnamon and nutmeg. On the savory side, you’ll want to have a few vinegars on hand to splash into a vinaigrette, and soy sauce to flavor whole grain noodles, farro, or brown rice, and your favorite kid-friendly spices, like garlic, paprika, and mild chili powder.
Items keep for months in cold storage, so it’s ideal for stocking fruits and vegetables. Just as nutritious, perhaps more so, as their fresh counterparts, they are far more convenient and time-saving because they’re often pre-cut and ready to go. Frozen berries, mango, and peaches whip up a smoothie or breakfast bowl in a snap, and they make the best snacks. Spinach, broccoli, and a good mix of corn, peas, and carrots are just the thing to pull a last-minute meal together. If you double a recipe or make a large casserole, freeze those leftovers for a faster than take-out nosh. Breads will last months here too—sliced, rolls, tortillas, pizza dough… life-savers when you need that base for a fun roll-up or the perfect accompaniment to your child’s favorite soup.
Your go-to for fresh, seasonal veg and fruit, as well as greens for salads—bagged salads are great—and a snackable assortment of carrots, cucumbers, grapes, apples—whatever your kids love. Dips make snacking more fun, so nut butters, hummus, and plant-based yogurt are good fridge staples for this. They also spread nicely on bread and tortillas for lunch or snacking. Non-dairy cheeses are great for snacking on their own, with crackers, or used for pastas and casseroles, pizza, and calzone, or grated onto steamed or roasted vegetables. Plant-based milks live here too—straight-up, over hot and cold cereal, turned into a yummy pudding or frozen treat, or splashed into smoothies, like my Pumpkin Peach Spice Super Smoothie. If you dilute them, 100% juices are handy and refreshing without being too sweet.
Check out some of my favorite, kid-friendly recipes: