After a long day at work, the drive-through may look mighty welcoming. But don't give in to the call of fast food just yet. With a little planning and know-how, you can have on hand all the pantry staples you need to put a healthy meal on the table. Keep these items around, and you'll never need to order take-out again:

  • Sweet potatoes. Baked, roasted or steamed, these are delicious on their own. And they're as healthful as they are yummy. Stuffed with Vitamin C, potassium, fiber and carotenoids, they're a nutritional powerhouse. For a special treat, slice them like French fries, spritz with cooking oil, layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake in the oven at high heat until they're crispy. Or steam and mash with a little honey and cinnamon for a sweet side dish.
  • Whole-grain crackers. When that hunk of low-fat cheese or jar of natural peanut butter is calling your name, you need something with a solid crunch to go with it. Go for whole-grain crackers and crispbreads that are chock full of fiber. Many of them are low-calorie and fat free as well. Eat them in place of refined carbs like white bread, bagels and rolls and you'll reap the rewards.
  • Brown rice. You don't need the slow-cooking kind-the instant or microwaveable version of this staple will do just fine. Brown rice is much more nutritious than white rice because it hasn't been refined and stripped of the magnesium, Vitamin E, Vitamin B-6, copper, zinc, and fiber that make it such a standout. Mix it with diced chicken or canned veggie chili and you've got a meal in minutes.
  • Olive oil. A dietary staple in Mediterranean countries, olive oil is lauded by nutritionists for its heart-healthy properties. Made up mostly of monounsaturated fat, olive oil lowers the level of harmful LDL in the blood and leaves the beneficial HDL intact. Drizzle it over grilled fish or pasta, or mix it with vinegar for a savory salad topping.
  • Almonds. Full of healthful monounsaturated fat, almonds provide a hefty dose of Vitamin E and also have more calcium than any other nut. You can grind them into flour for baking, chop them and mix with yogurt, or eat them whole with raisins or dried apricots. Tired of PB&J for lunch? Almond butter topped with banana slices makes a terrific sandwich.
  • Red beans. Long a staple of families who couldn't afford meat, the humble red bean provides a big bang for the buck. Offering hefty doses of protein and fiber, this legume also contains iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and thiamin. Try tossing them on a salad, stuffing them into your tacos, or simply mixing with brown rice for a filling yet simple meal.



Sources: Center for Science in the Public Interest,, Mayo Clinic,