This is National School Food Service Employee Week. Friday is School Lunch Super Hero Day. We need to thank the 160 School Nutrition Team members in 36 kitchens for their dedication to the program this year meeting the needs of our schools and the Pitt County community. They have done an awesome job serving meals from buses, curbside, classrooms and some are back on the service lines. They have served nourishing meals, rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. These foods that help keep your body and mind healthy during stressful times. Also, I missed thanking Mandy Light, an ECU Dietetic Intern who wrote such a great column on added sugar last week. 

Q: What would be some healthy and not too expensive staples to keep in my pantry and my refrigerator freezer? SH, Greenville

A: Many have the misconception that shelf-stable canned and dried fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, meat and fish aren’t as healthy as fresh. Unless they have lots of salt, fat and sugars added, they can be. In the time of COVID when many people need to budget their money, these items are not only convenient but usually less expensive. We have created a shopping list of healthy shelf-stable foods for pregnant women. Email me if you would like a copy. Deena Kayyali, a senior ECU dietetic student who will continue as a dietetic intern next year has some other great information for you.

Keeping a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator and freezer can be made simple and easy. Life can get busy and complicated but having staples that are nutritious and budget-friendly in your home may help you create a delicious meal. Let’s talk about the best way to gather pantry staples for you and your family.

When stocking, it is important to keep in mind what you and your family enjoy and will actually eat. Say yes to healthy foods and no to chips, sodas and cookies. If you don’t know what your favorite healthy foods are, start with making recipes that seem most appealing to you. There are many food items that are helpful for whipping up a quick, healthy meal. The foods you should always have in your pantry should be ones that most recipe ingredient lists call for like broth, beans, lentils, oil and flour.

I’ve developed a staple list and sectioned off the staples into five simple groups. Keep in mind that you don’t need everything on this list — this is just a guide. Pay attention to what you eat within a seven-day period and come up with your own list of healthy staple items.

Group 1: grains, pasta and bread can be the base of a meal such as brown rice, oats, whole-wheat pasta or whole-grain bread.

Group 2: condiments and sauces to add flavor to the base includes spices, canned tomato sauce, olive oil, ketchup and mustard.

Group 3: protein foods that require refrigeration but have a long shelf life such as eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt.

Group 4: foods stocked in your freezer to easily incorporate into a meal like fruits and vegetables and proteins such as fish filets, chicken breasts and lean ground beef.

Group 5: shelf-stable items such as canned foods, bouillon paste (which can be used to replace broth) and garlic and onions, which can add a depth of flavor to most dishes.

From this list, I can create a whole grain pasta dish with broccoli, chicken and a white sauce infused with garlic. Stock your pantry with foods that will give you the nutrients to maintain your health and keep you full for longer. These include foods with dietary fiber like whole grain pastas, brown rice, quinoa and other ancient grains, dried or canned beans, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.

Find out how much fiber is in the product by reading the Nutrition Facts label. We used to think about dietary fiber as being soluble or insoluble but a better way to think about it is how it functions in your body. Bulking fibers help prevent or treat constipation and support weight management. Viscous fibers help manage blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Fermentable fibers help improve gut function.

It’s good to get a mix of fibers by eating different kinds of high-fiber foods. Many patients tell us it is a challenge stocking fresh fruits and vegetables because they spoil quickly and lead to food waste. If that’s you, opt for frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Frozen foods are picked at peak ripeness and almost immediately frozen, so they are nutrient-packed. You may find that bags of frozen vegetables without added sauces are more budget-friendly than fresh produce.

Healthy eating can be simple with healthy pantry items. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, milk for a healthy eating plan.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at