Shelf-Stable to Table

Shelf-Stable to Table

As we are being asked to maintain social distancing and perhaps even face quarantine, making meals from our pantries and freezers may become part of your daily routine.

I like to think of this as an opportunity. Eating homemade meals is almost always healthier than prepared meals or eating out. It’s more cost-effective, which is a big consideration for many people right now. It also can be a creative outlet. Even if your supplies are limited, you can try new combinations with what you have on-hand.

Pantry Items

Pantry items include foods in cans and jars, dried and dehydrated foods, as well as some root vegetables like winter squash and potatoes. Pasta, grains, flours, nuts, and seeds are shelf-stable and versatile. Depending on your budget and storage space, you may need to choose between different options during different shopping outings. For example, one week you buy rice, another week you buy pasta. Basics to buy include any of the following:


  • Pasta and noodles
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oats (can be used whole or ground into flour)
  • Flour
  • Popcorn kernels (packages for the microwave)


  • Canned tuna, salmon, or sardines
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, chia, hemp) and seed butters
  • Canned or dry beans
  • Canned or dry lentils
  • Eggs (last 3-5 weeks when properly stored)

Root vegetables including

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash (acorn, butternut, delicata)
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Beets

Canned Produce

  • Beans
  • Green beans
  • Corn
  • Beets
  • Tomatoes
  • Olives
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Mandarin Oranges
  • Pineapple

Freezer Foods

Freezer foods are pretty obvious: it’s what you have in the freezer. Fruits and vegetables are great options to buy frozen. They hold their nutrition better than some fresh options because they are flash-frozen right after harvest. If you have fresh produce that you won’t be able to use before it goes bad, chances are, it can be frozen. I freeze dark greens to use in smoothies later. You may have meat in the freezer. If so, it’s a great source of nutrition. Even if it’s hot dogs, you can work small amounts of meat into your meals for added flavor, protein, fat, and micronutrients. Freezer foods I keep on hand include:

Frozen Veggies

  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Mixed veggie blends
  • Stir fry mix

Frozen Fruit

  • Berries
  • Tropical fruits like pineapple and mango
  • 100% Purple Grape Juice

Frozen Protein

  • Ground beef, bison, and turkey
  • Whole chicken
  • Fish or shellfish, especially wild-caught, cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, or halibut

Our food supply chain is strong, so you should be able to restock supplies over the long-haul. Stores may stock shelves or limit quantities of certain items for purchase, but there’s still plenty of food. Stock up on some basics and then include a few fresh items to balance out your plan. Fresh items include apples, oranges, root vegetables like squash and potatoes, seasonal fruits and veggies, inexpensive herbs like parsley, eggs, bread, and milk.

Fresh Produce With Long Shelf Life

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Lemons or limes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Herbs

When herbs or greens look like they’ll soon pass their prime, consider freezing them or adding them to soups or casseroles. If you see overripe bananas on sale, pick them up and eat them with away, or freeze to use later in baked goods or smoothies.

Here are a few tips to consider for making meals that are affordable, tasty, and nutritious.

  1. Buy foods that can be used in multiple meals like rice, pasta, and eggs.
  2. Start building a pantry of spices that you can use to flavor your foods. Spices can be expensive, so choose basics like cinnamon and cumin to start. If possible, pick up a couple of herb plants and grow your own herbs rather than buying fresh versions.
  3. Think weekly and mix things up each week or every couple weeks, depending on your situation. Perhaps one week, use rice as a staple and build meals around it. The next week, opt for a different grain like quinoa, kasha, or oats.
  4. Buy seasonal produce for maximum quality and flavor, as well as lowest prices.
  5. Add fresh or frozen veggies when you can for more flavor, interest, and nutrition. Canned veggies are a great option to keep on hand. You might find that you prefer frozen peas to canned peas. Broccoli typically comes frozen, but beets are a great choice in a can.
  6. Eggs have a shelf like of 3-5 weeks and are a great source of mood-supporting nutrients including choline, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. They are super versatile and a great food bargain, even if you buy the more expensive, pastured version.
  7. Keep onions and garlic on hand. Not only do they offer tons of flavor to foods, but they also offer health-supporting compounds at an exceptional price point.

When working with what you have on hand, use a simple formula of 1 part protein (plant or animal source), 1 part carb/starch, some healthy fat, 1 or more parts veggies, and extra flavor from alliums like garlic and onion, herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon juice, or dried fruit. I’ve created an infographic to give you some ideas.

Here are some ideas of how you can put your pantry and freezer items together into meals:

Are you interested in more healthy recipes that use pantry items? I’ve created a FREE guide to creating healthy meals. It includes entrées, snacks, and even directions on how to cook some culinary basics. Grab it here!

If COVID-19 has encouraged you to take charge of your health and wellness, I want to help. Schedule a discovery call and we can talk about how working together can help you meet your goals.