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Winter Meals You Can Pull Straight from Your Pantry

Buying canned goods in bulk may seem a slightly paranoid, Doomsday Prepper-esque endeavor, but a well-stocked cupboard can be a healthy eaters’ best friend—as long as you’re choosing the right stuff. Many canned goods are notorious salt-bombs, which not only cause unflattering bloating but also high blood pressure, and other nonperishables contain trans fats or questionable—and often unpronounceable—preservatives.

With a little shopping guidance and these recipes from Anthony Stewart, head chef at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, FL, however, you can whip up a healthy, low-sodium lunch or dinner in no time by tossing together a few ingredients you’re almost guaranteed to have on hand.

Red Bean Vegetable Soup

While you could grab one of the many pre-made bean and veggie soup options on your supermarket shelves, making your own soup is bafflingly easy—and exceedingly better for your health. Homemade versions have about 100 milligrams of sodium or less per 2-cup serving. By contrast, the same helping of many canned soups contains a blood-pressure-busting 1,200 milligrams or more, a worrisome amount considering that health experts recommend consuming no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium for the entire day. The beans in this dish are loaded with a laundry list of beneficial nutrients, including low-fat vegetarian protein, fiber, antioxidants, and complex (slow-burning) carbs.

Directions: In a soup pot, combine 1 can drained no-salt-added red beans, 4 cups low-sodium vegetable juice (such as R.W. Knudsen Very Veggie Low-Sodium), 2 to 3 teaspoons oregano or Italian-style seasoning, and 2 cups chopped veggies (anything sitting in the refrigerator bin, such as carrots, celery, and onions, works). Bring to a boil and simmer until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Makes about 4 2-cup servings.

Salmon Salad Pitas

Fresh fish is best when you want a fillet for dinner, but for quick sandwiches and salads, canned or pouched is the way to go. You’re still getting heart-healthy omega-3s, which also have been found to reduce hunger. Worried about harmful chemicals in fish? Salmon, particularly wild salmon, have consistently low levels of mercury, studies show. Add onions for crunch, bite (soak them in cold water before you add if you don’t like too much bite), and quercetin, an antioxidant that can lower cancer risk and reduce internal inflammation.

Directions: In a medium mixing bowl, combine 4 ounces canned low-sodium salmon (drained), 1 tablespoon nonfat mayonnaise, 1/2 teaspoon dried dill, 2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped onion, and 1/2 cup sliced cucumber. Serve inside whole-wheat pitas or on top a bed of lettuce if you’re cutting carbs. Makes about 2 servings.

Creamy Italian White
Bean Soup

The beauty of beans is that they also serve as a thickening agent in soup, giving it a rich, creamy, rib-sticking consistency without using heavy cream or adding any fat. This recipe includes escarole, a veggie popular in Italian cuisine, but a package of frozen chopped spinach—another hard-working “pantry” ingredient that’s great to have on hand—works just as well. Both greens are serious superfoods, containing antioxidants, fiber, and other important nutrients that reduce the risk of major diseases including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Directions: Spoon 2 tablespoons of cannellini beans from a 14-ounce can of no-salt added beans and set aside. Puree remaining beans. In a medium nonstick pan, sauté 5 cloves chopped garlic until translucent. Add 2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth and 1 head escarole, finely chopped. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or to your taste. Add pureed beans and red pepper flakes and black pepper to taste, and cook for a minute longer. Makes about 2 2-cup servings.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

The benefits of a high-fiber diet can’t be emphasized enough: It keeps you regular, of course, but also lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of colon cancer. Plus foods such as corn and beans fill you up fast so you eat less over all, key to preventing dreaded winter weight gain. Proof that fiber actually tastes (and looks) good, this colorful mix is good as a side when embellished with grassy herbs such as cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, or toss it in a green salad with diced chicken breast and pack for lunch at the office. And while the salsa may seem summery, it’s a great wintertime condiment, high in immunity-boosting vitamin C to ward off colds and lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce risk of stroke. Just check sodium levels as some brands are overly generous with the salt.

Directions: Combine 1 can no-salt-added black beans, 1 can corn kernels, 1/2 cup chopped green onions, and 1 cup salsa. Double (or even triple) the ingredients if you want to make in bulk. Serve as a salad or on baked tortilla chips with a little grated, high-quality cheddar cheese for a party. Makes about 4 1-cup servings.

Curried Tofu and Quinoa

Ah quinoa. This healthy, tasty, satisfying grain (okay, technically a seed) puts white rice to shame with twice the protein and 2 more grams of fiber per half-cup serving. And despite its status as the super-food du jour, we like it too much to declare that it’s jumped the culinary shark. This recipe adds ticker-boosting, waistline-friendly tofu, which has about half the calories of chicken or beef. While it’s not a pantry staple per se, it should keep for about two weeks in your fridge.

Directions: Rinse 1 cup quinoa in cold water. In a medium saucepan, combine quinoa with 1 tablespoon curry powder and 1 teaspoon turmeric. Add 2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1 cup shredded carrots and 1 cup cubed firm tofu. Makes about 4 1-cup servings.

Soba Noodles with
Spicy Cucumbers

Indulge your Ramen-noodle cravings with healthy, lower-calorie noodles instead. A cup of soba (the Japanese word for “buckwheat”) has just 113 calories; a cup of white pasta, about 200. Plus they’re gluten-free and full of fiber, protein, and B vitamins, the overachievers of vitamins, playing a role in everything from metabolism to building DNA to forming red blood cells and more. Soba may be a little harder to find than the dorm-room noodle staple, but lots of “gourmet” grocery food chains carry them in the Asian food aisle. Tossing the pasta with smoky paprika not only adds dimension to this dish, but it’s also anti-inflammatory.

Directions: In a large bowl, combine 1/2 tablespoon paprika, pinch cayenne pepper, pinch freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, and 2 peeled, seeded, and sliced cucumbers. Let mixture sit while you cook ounces soba noodles according to package directions. Drain noodles and toss with cucumber mixture until gently blended. Makes 4 servings.

Lemon Tuna and
Butter Beans

Butter beans are as delicious as they sound—big, meaty, and filling—and they’re a good source of all-important iron, a mineral everyone needs for cell growth, immunity, and cognitive development. If you have heavy periods, iron is especially important to protect against anemia. These mild-flavored beans work well with bright, assertive flavors such as lemon, green onions, and light tuna, which has fewer calories and less mercury than white tuna.

Directions: In a medium mixing bowl, combine 1 can low-sodium butter beans, 1 can water-packed low-sodium tuna (drained), 1/2 cup chopped green onions, juice of half a lemon, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and as much red chili pepper flakes as desired. Spoon over 2 cups chopped Romaine lettuce or baby arugula. Makes 2 to 3 servings.