(NewsUSA) - In an ideal world, you'd shop every day for the freshest ingredients to make gourmet meals for your family. However, family obligations keep you so busy that dinner often means fast food or take-out.
Fortunately, there is a happy medium between healthfulness and convenience. With a well-stocked pantry, it's easy and less expensive to create healthy meals in minutes without extra trips to the grocery store.
Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian and nutrition book author, provides these tips for creating the perfect pantry:
* Keep supplies for healthy last-minute meals on hand. Pantry staples like whole-wheat pasta, eggs, tomato sauce, canned tuna fish, peanut butter, canned salmon and canned beans (such as black beans and garbanzos) can make quick and healthy sandwiches, soups, omelets and more.
* Stock up on natural foods. Many common pantry supplies, like canned soups, crackers and sugary cereals, contain large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats and sodium. Choose more nutritious alternatives.
* Choose whole grains. Oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice are healthy staples, but you can also create quick, easy meals and side dishes from grains like bulgur wheat, buckwheat, quinoa and whole wheat couscous. Snack on popcorn (a whole grain) instead of fatty chips, and make a delicious trail mix with whole grain cereal, dried fruit and nuts.
* Spice it up. With a well-stocked spice rack, you can prepare simple dishes such as beans and rice with an Indian, Mexican or Mediterranean flare. Stock dried rosemary, thyme, tarragon, dill, cumin, cinnamon, sage, chili powder, turmeric, bay leaves, curry powder, garlic powder, onion powder and black and red pepper. Toss dried herbs and spices after a year, as their flavor fades.