Whether you’re trying to keep grocery store trips to a minimum, manage your budget, or prepare for a natural disaster or pandemic, keeping a stock of non-perishable foods in your home is vital.
Non-perishable foods are those with an extended shelf life — meaning they last longer without spoiling and don’t require refrigeration.
With a bit of creativity, you can make healthy, easy, and delicious dinners from some basic pantry staples:
Canned, root, and starchy vegetables
Canned and dried fruits
Canned proteins (tuna, salmon, chicken, beans, lentils) and jerky
Dry whole grains (bread, crackers, pasta, quinoa, rice)
Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
Herbs, spices, oil
We created 7 nutritious non-perishable dinner ideas that taste amazing. All from these staple supplies!
They are quick and easy to prepare and can be adjusted to suit your personal dietary preferences. Bon Appétit!
Related Article: 14 Tips For Eating Healthy When Working From Home
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Are Non-Perishable Foods Healthy?
Non-perishable foods can be healthy depending on the degree of processing involved and amount of additives used. First, it’s important to understand the difference between non-perishable and processed foods.
Non-perishable foods are the ones with longer shelf lives and which don’t require a fridge. They typically include canned, dried, and dehydrated foods. Some fresh foods such as potatoes and corn can also be considered non-perishable because they last so long.
In comparison, the NHS defines processed foods as those that have been altered in some way during preparation. Research shows that food processing can help ensure safe, diverse, abundant, and accessible food supply.
However, excessive consumption of “highly processed foods” have been suggested to contribute to the obesity epidemic as well as rise in chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes. This is because they contain large amounts of salt, sugar, and/or fats.
For good health, focus on the minimally processed foods as much as possible (the ones higher on the list), even when buying non-perishable foods.
Unprocessed and minimally processed: Fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs, and unseasoned meat.
Basic processed: Grain flour or pasta, rice, canned fruits and vegetables with no additional flavorings.
Moderately processed grain products: Whole-grain breads, tortillas, crackers, or breakfast cereals made from whole-grain flour with no added sweeteners or fat.
Moderately processed foods: Salted nuts, fruits canned in syrup or vegetables with salt.
Highly processed: Refined-grain breads, sugary beverages, cookies, salty snacks, candy, and TV dinners.
*Avoid the highly processed foods as much as possible.
What To Keep In Your Cupboards
When stocking up on non-perishables, the key is to find foods that have a long shelf life which are minimally processed.
You want your foods to be recognizable as their original plant or animal sources. For instance, you want a whole potato instead of french fries or chips.
Look at the nutrition label and avoid the products with complex names. Some chemical food preservatives are acceptable in limited amounts.
Here’s a list of the best cupboard keepers to stock your pantry with. And don’t forget to have a can opener unless you buy pouches or pop lid types.
CANNED, ROOT, AND STARCHY VEGETABLES
Vegetables are nutrient dense, meaning they provide your body with lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eating vegetables helps maintain a healthy heart, promotes proper bowel function, helps increase immunity, and protect against certain types of cancer.
Choose My Plate recommends that adults get between one and three cups each day with physically active or stressed individuals needing more.
When it comes to canned vegetables, aim for “low sodium” or “no salt added” versions. If these aren’t available, you can always drain and rinse the food before eating it.
Some fresh vegetables can last longer include: carrots, potatoes/yams, onions, celery, squash, pumpkin.
Check out this helpful guide: Proper Storage of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.
CANNED AND DRIED FRUITS
When it comes to canned fruits, they commonly have sugar added. To reduce sugar content, go for fruit canned in water instead of juice and syrup. If these aren’t available, you can always drain and rinse them before eating them.
Dried fruit has had almost all the water removed. This leaves energy-dense fruit, making it easier to get more calories. This can be helpful if your food supply is limited, if you’re looking to gain weight, or gain muscle.
Fruit are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. A few vitamins may be reduced during processing such as vitamin C. Studies show that anthocyanins (compounds with antioxidant effects) are also reduced when dried. But dried fruits still have a lot of benefits.
Some fresh fruits that last longer include: bananas, oranges, apples, grapefruit, clementines.
CANNED PROTEINS (TUNA, SALMON, CHICKEN, BEANS, LENTILS) AND JERKY TUNA, SALMON, CHICKEN (CANNED OR IN POUCHES)
When it comes to mercury level in canned tuna, the FDA recommends having fish twice a week is a safe bet. Canned light is one of the better lower mercury choices. If you want to save some calories, choose canned in water instead of oil.
Consumer Reports shared a USDA study that found that canned salmon actually had slightly higher levels of omega-3. Most canned salmon also contains bits of bones which will give you calcium. Wild salmon is safer when it comes to pesticides and PCBs.
Beans and Lentils
Beans and lentils are an excellent source of plant-based protein. They are high in amino acids such as creatine (building blocks of protein). Beans are a rich source of antioxidants which help fight damaging free radicals and fiber, which helps heart health and protect against some types of cancer.
A review and meta-analysis found a connection between eating beans and a lower risk of heart disease.
If you have time, making beans and lentils from their dried version can save you money and be a bit healthier. Check out New York Times guide on How to Cook Dried Beans.
Related: 21 Superfoods To Boost Your Immune System
Jerky and Dried Meat
Meat preservation has been a practice used by humans for ages in order to prevent protein from spoiling. Most jerkies and dried meats such as sausages are made by curing the meat in a salt solution then dehydrating it. Common day meats have preservatives, flavorings, and other additives used.
Eating too many processed meats is associated with an increased risk for many chronic diseases such as heart disease and some cancers. So aim to have it in moderation and avoid the kinds with added sugar, artificial flavorings, and preservatives.
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, go for dried soy products, just apply the same rules of aiming for minimal processing. Fermented soy products are a great option.
DRY WHOLE GRAINS (BREAD, CRACKERS, PASTA, QUINOA, COUSCOUS, RICE)
Whole grain products in comparison to refined products such as white bread, contain fiber, minerals, and antioxidants. Whole grains are considered to be therapeutic agents in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity. Studies show that consuming two to three servings per day (about 45grams) of whole grains may help prevent disease and cancer.
When choosing whole grain products, look at the ingredient list. “Whole grain” should be part of the first few ingredients. Aim for at least 2 grams of fiber per serving with minimal and less complicated ingredient lists.
NUTS, SEEDS, AND NUT BUTTERS
Nuts contain good amounts of plant-based protein and healthy fats. Eating nuts and nut butter in moderation has been shown to decrease the risk for heart disease. Most nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats which help lower the “bad” cholesterol while increasing the “good”.
When buying store-bought nut butter, make sure to check the label and avoid added sugar and hydrogenated oils. According to the American Heart Association, eating trans fats can increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke as well as a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
If you’re allergic to nuts, go for the seed butters such as sunflower seed butter or roasted edamame.
HERBS, SPICES, OIL
Herbs and spices have been used for centuries both for culinary and medicinal purposes. According to research, spices and herbs not only enhance the flavor of food, they can also protect against acute and chronic disease.
Spices and herbs such as clove, rosemary, sage, oregano, and cinnamon are excellent sources of antioxidants. And regularly consuming spicy foods has been linked to lower risk of death from cancer, heart, and respiratory diseases.
Herbs and spices can be used according to what type of meal you’re looking to cook: savory, sweet, spicey for instance. They serve as excellent replacements for sugar and salt.
Sweet: cinamon, ginger, clove, cardamom.
Savory: basil, cilantro, oregano, garlic powder, onion, rosemary.
Spicy: chili pepper, black pepper, cayenne.
7 Non Perishable Food Dinner Ideas
It’s extremely easy to piece together foods from the non-perishable healthy foods list and make delectable meals. The key is to try your best at including all macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) alongside fruits and or vegetables, herbs and spices.
Not sure which foods quality as which macronutrients? Check out: The Powerlifting Diet: Eating For Strength (Definitive Guide)
If you don’t have, don’t like, or are allergic to certain ingredients, simply substitute for a similar one. Say for instance you don’t eat meat, sub for fish, fermented tofu, or beans. Simple as that!
MEDITERANEAN COUSCOUS WITH CHICKPEAS
Ingredients: couscous, raisins, almonds, chickpeas, chopped onions, cinnamon, salt.
Chop onions and almonds. Drain chickpeas.
Using the same amount of water as couscous, boil the water.
Pour dry couscous into a pot or bowl, then add boiled water. Cover and leave for 5-10 minutes or until couscous is soft.
Fluff couscous with a fork, and mix in raisins, almonds, chickpeas, chopped onion, cinnamon and salt.
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ITALIAN CHICKEN PASTA
Ingredients: oil, whole grain noodles, canned chicken, canned crushed tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt, pepper.
Perishable ingredients (if available): zucchini
Cook pasta according to the package directions.
Heat a pan to medium-high and add oil then chopped zucchini. Cook a few minutes, stirring frequently, then add canned tomato, chicken, and seasonings (basil, oregano, salt, pepper) until well heated.
Top pasta with chicken and vegetable sauce.
GREEK PASTA SALAD
Ingredients: whole grain spiral or penne pasta, cannoli or white beans, canned olives, canned artichoke hearts, onion powder, mint, salt, pepper.
Perishable ingredients (if available): tomato, cucumber
Cook pasta according to the package then cool by rinsing with water.
Drain beans, olives, and artichoke hearts.
Chop tomato and cucumber.
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with seasonings (onion powder, salt, pepper and mint).
MEXICAN RICE AND BEAN BOWL
Ingredients: beans, whole grain rice, tomato, onion, garlic powder, cilantro, cayenne, salt, pepper.
Perishable ingredients: (if available): tomato
Cook rice as directed on the package or buy pre-cooked rice.
Drain beans and heat in a pot or pan.
Chop tomato and onion and add seasonings (garlic powder, cilantro, cayenne, salt, pepper).
Place beans and rice in a bowl and top with homemade salsa.
TUNA SANDWICH WITH VEGETABLE CRUDITÉ
Ingredients: canned tuna, whole grain bread or crackers, capers (optional), onion, celery, carrot, salt, pepper, dill.
Perishable ingredients: (if available): celery, carrot.
Chop onion and in a medium sized bowl, mix with tuna and seasonings (capers, salt, pepper, dill).
Spread on bread to make a sandwich, or serve on crackers.
Wash celery and carrots and cut into long stips.
Fresh fruit is also an option here as a meal accompaniment.
Ingredients: oil, brown rice, canned peas, canned salmon, carrots, onions, ginger, garlic powder, salt, pepper.
Cook rice as directed on the package or buy pre-cooked rice.
Wash and chop carrots. Peel and chop onion.
Heat a large pan to medium and add oil. Add chopped carrots, onions, and drained peas and cook until carrots are soft.
Add canned salmon to heat.
Add rice, seasonings (ginger, garlic powder, salt, pepper) and a bit more oil if needed and mix all ingredients until desired temperature.
LENTIL AND POTATO STEW
Ingredients: oil, vegetable broth or water, canned lentils, onion, potato, carrots, garlic powder, rosemary, salt, pepper.
In a large pot, heat oil over medium. Add chopped onion, potatoes, and carrots and stir until slightly brown.
Add seasonings then stir in vegetable stock or water.
Increase heat and bring to a boil. Add drained lentils then reduce to low.
Simmer for about 20-30 minutes until potatoes are tender.
As with any goal, planning and preparing are factors that will determine your success. If you can squeeze in some meal planning before stocking up on your non-perishables, all you’ll have to do is piece the foods together at meal time.
Take a few minutes each week to dedicate to some simple meal planning. Pick from the above non-perishable meals. Or get creative and change up your standard dishes.
Food-related activities such as shopping, cooking, and planning have been shown to actually help people feel better about themselves. Nourishing yourself, especially in times of need, will promote long-term health and healing for your body and mind.
About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.