If you’re like me, long-term meal planning is typically something reserved for party planning only. Although I make my weekly shopping list, which may even include some specialty items from a recipe I’ve wanted to try, I tend to go for the same staple items and whatever is in season at the Farmer’s Market. By the end of the week I find myself standing in front of an open pantry, searching for inspiration to utilize the remaining produce in my fridge.

At this point I am always grateful for the following “must-have” pantry items. With these items on-hand, delicious and healthy meal options are only minutes away. No need call in take-out or dig out that frozen pizza in the back of your freezer.

Here’s a list of pantry necessities that can lead to a multitude of yummy, healthful family meals.

Dried Cranberry HeartDried fruits

Cranberries, Raisins, Dates, Blueberries, Apricots, etc.

Keep a stash of any one or more of these dried fruits in your pantry to add to salads, rice dishes, homemade trail-mix/energy bars/recovery bars, chicken salad and more.

Health Benefits: Great sources of fiber and vitamins.

AlmondsNuts & Seeds

Almonds, Walnuts, Pine Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Flaxseed, etc.

As with dried fruits, nuts and seeds add texture and flavor to salads, grain dishes, and snacks. They’re also great additions to sweet treats and desserts, like Raw Brownies!

Health Benefits: Excellent source of protein and nutrients as well as providing heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

QuinoaWhole Grains

Quinoa, Brown Rice, Steel-Cut Oats, etc

Whole grains provide a filling and delicious base to any meal. Cook grains in large batches and use throughout the week in salads, soups and side dishes such as this Quinoa and Green Bean Salad.

Health Benefits: Whole grains are made up of complex carbohydrates. These complex carbohydrates give our bodies the FUEL we need, the energy that most of our body systems need to function.

Black Beans
Beans & Legumes

Black Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils, Kidney Beans, etc.

I like to buy these items in bulk (dried) and prepare large batches at the beginning of the week. They can be an excellent side or as part of any main dish. Beans and lentils lend themselves to a variety of flavors and uses—Get creative and see how other cultures utilize these power foods! Beans and legumes are must-have items for vegans, who rely more heavily on them for adequate daily protein intake. Check out our featured recipe for Lentil Dal.

Health Benefits: Loaded with protein, fiber and minerals.

Cocoa NibsOrganic Dark Chocolate Chips or Organic Raw Cocoa Nibs

These little morsels of rich, deliciousness have saved me from over-indulging my sweet-tooth many a time. When purchasing the chocolate chips, be sure they are organic with NO added sugar. As a satisfying addition to trail-mix, or melted to make these yummy Chocolate Apricot Nut-Bars, dark chocolate chips are a crave-curing go-to. For an even healthier alternative, try using organic raw cocoa nibs. This superfood can be used just as chocolate chips are!

Health Benefits: Rich in antioxidants, organic dark chocolate helps protect and repair your cells from damage by free radicals. Organic raw cocoa nibs are full of antioxidants as well as flavonoids, amino acids and magnesium helping improve mood, reduce anxiety, increase energy levels and reduce symptoms of PMS.


These are the absolute essentials that I keep my pantry stocked with regularly.  When you’re either feeling creative, or just desperate, having a well stocked pantry can make all the difference in the world.

For more advice on Building a Natural Foods Pantry, 101Cookbooks.com has some great tips.

This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free and vegetarian.

This recipe was inspired by Bobby Flay’s, “Grilled Sweet Potato and Green Onion Salad.” I loved the flavors of Bobby Flay’s recipe and wanted to create a complete meal which included protein and vitamin-rich leafy greens.


  • Recipe Yields: 4 servings
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Notes: You can parboil potatoes and cook quinoa up to one day prior to making this recipe.

Sweet potato quinoa saladIngredients

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, do not peel
  • 10 oz. washed spinach or mixed greens, or a mix of both
  • ¼ c. dried cranberries
  • 4 scallions, whole
  • 1 c. Quinoa
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

For the Vinaigrette

  • ¼ c. balsamic vinger
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together and set aside.


  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover by an inch with cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until just cooked through but not soft, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from water and let cool.
  2. Cook quinoa according to directions and let cool.
  3. Rinse scallions, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. When sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice crosswise into ½-inch thick slices (must be fork-tender), brush with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Grill the sweet potatoes until slightly browned and cooked through, about 1½ minutes per side. Grill scallions until slightly charred and softened, about 4 minutes.
  6. Cut grilled potatoes into cubes and chop the scallions.
  7. Toss greens, sweet potatoes, dried cranberries, scallions and cooled quinoa in a large bowl with the vinaigrette.

This is a great one-dish meal to serve at room temperature, which makes it easy to bring to a BBQ or as an easy week-night dinner. Sweet potatoes and spinach are packed with Vitamin A and C, providing antioxidants and fiber, while the quinoa is a delicious, protein-rich addition to this simple salad.


This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, vegetarian and vegan.

I’ve grown quite fond of lentils lately. In fact, I am now searching through (and testing) every possible lentil recipe on the planet, and I will post the best ones. I made this simple lentil dal last night and was very impressed with it! Thank you One Green Planet for this recipe.


  • Recipe Yields: ~4 servings
  • Prep Time: ~10 minutes
  • Cook Time: ~30 minutes


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 c yellow lentils (I used red here)
  • 1 c green lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or a dash of ground cinnamon)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste (buy from a glass jar, not a can)
  • 4½ c vegetable broth (low sodium, organic)
  • cilantro (optional, for garnish)
  • salt and pepper to taste (optional)


  1. Add olive oil to a pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for ~2  minutes.
  2. Add garlic and ginger, sauté for another  minute.
  3. Sift through lentils, removing any debris. Then rinse lentils, drain water and add to pot.
  4. Add bay leaf, cinnamon stick, turmeric, cumin, tomato paste and broth. Bring to a boil then lower heat to simmer.
  5. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are tender.
  6. Remove bay leaf and cinnamon stick, garnish with cilantro and serve warm. Enjoy!
One Green Planet has amazing recipes and other articles to help you live a greener life. Check them out here!

Thank you Chef Chloe for this delicious recipe! I can eat the stuffing by the spoonful it’s so good! This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, vegetarian and vegan.


  • Recipe Yields: 6 stuffed mushrooms
  • Prep Time: ~40 minutes
  • Cook Time: ~30 minutes
  • Notes:  The lentil stuffing can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator. The mushrooms can be stuffed and assembled on a baking sheet the day before. Bake and finish the stuffed-mushrooms right before serving.


  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (or quinoa, or grain of your choice)
  • 1 can lentils (rinsed and drained) or cook your own lentils (about 1½ cups)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (plus extra for brushing)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • ½ vegetable broth (organic, low sodium)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (plus extra for garnish)
  • 6 Portobello mushrooms (remove stems and gills)
  • 1 tomato, sliced into thin rounds
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  2. Cook brown rice and lentils (separately) as their packages instruct.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 2 tbsp oil over medium heat. Add onions, cashews, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until onions are soft and lightly browned. Add garlic and cook a few more minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, combine onion/cashews, brown rice, lentils, breadcrumbs, vegetable broth, basil and thyme. Mix together and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Brush both sides of mushroom caps lightly with olive oil and place top-side-down on a lightly oiled cookie sheet pan. Stuff mushrooms with ~½ cup of the lentil stuffing, finish with a tomato slice on top.
  6. Bake for ~30 minutes, or until the stuffing is browned and mushrooms are cooked through.
  7. Garnish with extra fresh thyme if desired and enjoy!
Thank you, Chef Chloe, for this amazing recipe. For more delicious vegan recipes, please check out her web site! I also made these with a side of roasted brussel sprouts and green beans. Yum!

Eating healthy becomes much easier when we are in control of what and how we cook. It is possible to find healthy meals outside of your own home, but you lose control over how such items are cooked. Eggs cooked in oil, sweet potatoes fried instead of baked… restaurants typically take the cheap and easy approach to all things. This week, we are going to focus on cooking our own food. This is going to be an essential concept in achieving a healthier lifestyle.

This week, you will cook at least 6 meals on your own. That means you, not a spouse or anyone else. This week you will prepare breakfast twice, lunch twice and dinner twice. This should prevent folks from only preparing say, breakfast for example, and taking the easy way out of the challenge. But none of you would do that, right? After all, this program is voluntary, and the goal is to step outside your comfort zone to learn new ways to become healthier. Everyday, at a minimum, you will be preparing one meal for yourself.

For some of you, this will be easier than others. This challenge is currently geared towards those that do not prepare very many meals for themselves. If you currently cook at least 6 meals on your own each week, you’re going to need to find a way to make this challenge one you will find more difficult. For instance, say you always prepare your own breakfast, always bring a fresh lunch (prepared by you, not a frozen meal) to work, and sometimes cook dinner for yourself… this week, I challenge you to cook dinner for yourself every day. Or maybe dinner isn’t the problem, but you’re a slave to the sodium-filled Lean Cuisines at lunch. If that is the case, challenge yourself to bring your lunch every day this week.

The point of these challenges is to make them difficult for yourself. If you come across a challenge that is going to be easy for you, find a way to modify it to ensure you will be learning something and at the end you will have taken something positive away from the week’s challenge. This is all about you, don’t forget that!

Below are some helpful resources I recommend for healthy recipes. Please try some new recipes this week, and if you find one you like, please share it with us! Do exercise caution, however. Healthy recipe sites will sometimes contain recipes that might contain healthy ingredients, but could be high in calories, etc. If you have questions, please feel free to email me!

Live Whole Be Free

CLEAN Program Recipes

Whole Foods

Chef Chloe

My New Roots

The Urban Poser

Skinny Scoop

100 Days of Real Food

You are in control of what you put into your body. You are responsible for how you look on the outside, and how you feel on the inside. Think of food as fuel. Ask yourself, is what I’m about to eat going to give my body the proper nutrients to function optimally? Good luck this week!

Peace, love and responsible eating,



This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, vegetarian and vegan, with a nut-free option available.

After several months of being dairy-free, there really wasn’t much I missed about it… until I read this recipe on ChefChloe.com, and I realized that I wanted Mac and Cheese. Badly! So I thought I’d give this vegan recipe a try and see if I couldn’t curb my craving without giving in to temptation. Luckily, it worked, and it is now one of my new favorite recipes!


  • Recipe Yields: ~4 servings
  • Prep Time: ~5 minutes
  • Cook Time: ~20 minutes
  • Notes: Can use regular pasta instead of gluten-free if you’d like


  • 1 pound gluten-free pasta (I used brown rice shells)
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • ¼ cup vegan margarine
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour, or any other type of GF flour)
  • 3 cups almond or rice milk (I used almond)
  • ½ cup nutritional yeast (the cheese!)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon agave


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions on package, adding the broccoli for the last 5 minutes of cooking, cook until tender.
  2. At the same time, in a medium saucepan, whisk margarine and flour over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Add milk, yeast, tomato paste, salt and garlic powder to the saucepan, and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.
  3. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until sauce thickens.
  4. Adjust seasonings to your heart’s desire and stir in lemon juice and agave.
  5. Drain noodles/broccoli, add to sauce and serve immediately.
  6. Enjoy delicious mac and cheese without consuming any animal products! Hooray!
Thank you, Chef Chloe, for this amazing recipe. For more delicious vegan recipes, please check out her web site!

This recipe is: Gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, vegetarian and vegan.

Brown rice is a great choice if you’re looking to eat some grains, since it’s nutritional value is far superior to that of white rice. It’s also suitable for those with gluten intolerances, since rice is gluten-free. Eat this as a main dish or as a side, either way it’s delicious! Also, feel free to experiment with flavors and add-ons such as balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, garlic, etc.


  • Recipe yields: 4 servings
  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 50 minutes


  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 lb. sliced button mushrooms
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 c. long-grain brown rice
  • 2 c. water or vegetable broth (low sodium)
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/2 c. chopped non-sulfite dried apricots
  • 1/2 c. chopped toasted walnuts (omit if you are allergic to nuts)
  • 1/4 c. total chopped fresh parsley and thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar


  1. In a medium sauce pot, sauté mushrooms, onions and garlic in warmed oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, about 6-8 minutes.
  2. Stir in rice, water or broth, salt & pepper to taste and bring to a boil.
  3. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is completely absorbed, about 45 minutes.
  4. Remove covered pot from heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff with fork. Transfer to large bowl, add apricots, walnuts, herbs and vinegar and toss to combine.
Per serving (~14 oz.): 340 calories (120 from fat), 13g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 310mg sodium, 48g total carbohydrate (6g dietary fiber, 2g sugar), 10g protein.



This recipe is: Gluten-free, dairy-free*, soy-free and vegetarian*. *Contain eggs

This vegetarian recipe can easily be altered if you would prefer to eat chicken or shrimp pad thai! Feel free to experiment based on your dietary preferences.


Recipe yields: 4 servings
Soak time: 1 hour – overnight
Prep time: 30 minutes
Additional Equipment Needed: Large wok or skillet


  • One 14 oz. package rice noodles (ensure they are gluten-free)
  • 1/4 c. tamarind juice
  • 1 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar (can substitute stevia, use 1/2 tblsp.)
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil (try olive oil or grapeseed oil)
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c. bean sprouts
  • 1/4 c. unsalted peanuts, crushed
  • Sprigs of fresh cilantro, for garnish
  • Lime, wedged, for garnish


  1. In a large bowl, soak the rice noodles in cold water for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the tamarind juice, vinegar, sugar and paprika.
  3. In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and egg and cook, stirring until the egg is scrambled, about 1 – 2 minutes.
  4. Serve the noodles with bean sprouts on the side, peanuts sprinkled over the top and with the cilantro and lime-wedge garnishes.