Although eating fresh, local, and seasonal foods will always be the most ideal option, it’s not always realistic. Be it climate, accessibility, or budget, there are many reasons why keeping a well-stocked pantry of non-perishable foods is a good idea. Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy options to choose from that can help to make eating well a whole lot easier, you just need to know what to look for. Here is a list of healthy non-perishable food items that you can add to your pantry today.
What are non-perishable foods?
Non-perishable foods are packaged, shelf-stable foods that can be stored at room temperature for extended periods of time without spoiling. Non-perishable food items typically have an expiration date of months, if not years, and commonly include foods that are canned, dried, or dehydrated.
Having a supply of non-perishable foods at home is not only a good idea for emergency situations but keeping these foods on hand will ensure that you always have something to cook, whether you made it to the grocery store or not. Although some non-perishable foods are packed with preservatives, additives, and other unhealthy ingredients, there are many healthy non-perishable foods available that can help save you time and money.
List of Non-Perishable Food Items
Here is a list of 14 of the healthiest non-perishable foods that can easily be stored in the pantry for months or years to come.
1. Dried Beans, Lentils & Chickpeas
Both beans and lentils are inexpensive to buy and simple to prepare. Canned beans and lentils have a shelf-life of 2 to 5 years, while dried beans and lentils can easily be stored for 10 years or more. (1) Both beans and lentils are good sources of fiber and vegetarian protein and are versatile ingredients that can be made into soups, stews, salads, burgers, and dips.
2. Canned Tuna, Salmon & Sardines
They may not be the sexiest foods, but canned tuna and other seafood products are great sources of protein and are incredibly nutrient-dense. In fact, a 100-gram serving of sardines contains 24 grams of protein, 68% of your daily value of vitamin D and 149% of your daily value of vitamin B12. (2) Canned seafood can be eaten on its own, made into sandwiches, or added to a salad, casserole or pasta dish for a boost of protein. To ensure you are getting the healthiest canned seafood, be sure to avoid options packed in vegetable oil and choose brands packed in water or olive oil.
3. Nuts, Seeds & Butters
Although raw nuts and seeds have a shorter shelf life than some other non-perishable food items, commercial nut butters and seed butters can easily last for up 9 months when stored in the pantry, while natural nut butter can last up to 3 months. (3) From peanut butter to almond butter to tahini, nut and seed butters are good sources of healthy fats and moderate sources of protein that can be used as a condiment, in dressings, in sauces, or as a simple snack. Be sure to look for brands that contain no added sugars or preservatives; although they may not last as long, they are much better for you.
4. Dried Fruits
Because fresh fruit goes bad so quickly, stocking up on dried fruit, such as raisins, dates, and apricots, is a great way to keep fruit on hand without worrying about spoilage. Although dried fruit is a more concentrated source of natural sugar than fresh fruit, they remain good sources of fiber and nutrients, and a little bit goes a long way. Dried fruit can be consumed as a snack, on its own, or in trail mix, and can also be rehydrated and added to baked goods or savory dishes such as stews. Generally speaking, when stored properly in an airtight container, dried fruit can be kept in the pantry for up to 1 year. (4)
5. Dried Vegetables
In addition to dried fruit, dried vegetables are another healthy non-perishable food item that can be stored in the pantry for multiple months or years. (5) “Dried” vegetables are typically dehydrated vegetables that can be reconstituted with the addition of water, broth, or liquid. Although there are many different types of dried vegetables, some of the more popular included dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, and dried peppers, which can be added to dips, pasta dishes, soups, and stews or used in savory bread and baked goods.
6. Rice, Oats & Other Whole Grains
Whole grains, such as rice, oats, quinoa, and barley, have a much longer shelf-life than other carbohydrate sources, making them a great addition to a healthy non-perishable pantry. Not only are whole grains good sources of fiber but they are incredibly versatile and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. If stored properly in airtight containers, whole grains will keep for up to 6 months on a cool, dry pantry shelf or up to a year in the freezer, while flours and meals will keep for 1 to 3 months on a cool, dry pantry shelf or 2 to 6 months in the freezer. (6)
7. Canned Tomatoes & Tomato Sauce
Canned tomatoes, tomato pastes, tomato sauces, and pasta sauces are all great additions to a healthy non-perishable food list. Not only are tomatoes a staple ingredient in any good pasta dish, but they made a great base for a soup or stew as well. In addition to canned tomatoes, canned vegetables such as beans, corn, peas, and carrots are versatile ingredients for quick and easy meals and can easily last for 2-5 years when stored at room temperature. (7)
8. Pasta & Noodles
Although they often get a bad rap, pasta and noodles can most certainly be included in a healthy diet and added to the list of healthy non-perishable food items. Be it traditional wheat noodles, rice noodles, or buckwheat noodles, noodles are an inexpensive and versatile ingredient that has been used across cultures for thousands of years. Not only can these items be stored at room temperature for up to 2 years but they can be served hot or cold in dishes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. (8) When buying pasta, be sure to read the ingredients and opt for versions made with flour, water, and/or egg, and that’s it.
9. Dried Meat & Fish
Meat preservation is an age-old practice used for centuries to help meat from spoiling. Drying meat and seafood helps to remove moisture and inhibit the growth of microorganisms, slow enzymatic activity, and prevent the oxidation of fatty acids that promote rancidity. (9) When naturally preserved through curing, dried meats and seafood are able to retain their vitamins and minerals without the addition of additives and preservatives. Both dried meat and fish can be consumed on their own or rehydrated and cooked into various dishes.
10. Pickled & Fermented Vegetables
In addition to canned and dehydrated vegetables, pickled and fermented vegetables are also healthy non-perishable food items. Much like curing meat, pickling and fermenting foods is a traditional method of preservation that was used across cultures before the advent of refrigeration. Traditionally fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented vegetables, are a natural source of beneficial probiotic bacteria and, when canned or bottled, can easily be stored in the pantry at room temperature for 3-5 years. (10)
11. Olive Oil
Let’s get real, a well-stocked pantry without a good cooking oil is of little use. Fortunately, olive oil can be used for just about any cooking method making it a true kitchen essential. Although all cooking oils (olive oil included) do expire, if stored properly they can keep unopened for up to 18 to 24 months. To ensure you maximize the shelf-life and nutritional value of your olive oil, opt for brands in dark, glass bottles and store them in a cool, dark area of your pantry.
12. Honey & Maple Syrup
You might be wondering why honey and maple syrup make the list of healthy non-perishable foods but these natural sweeteners are both sources of trace minerals and contain health-promoting properties. Unlike refined sugar, maple syrup contains many trace minerals including manganese, zinc, and iron, while honey is well known for its natural anti-bacterial and anti-microbial benefits thanks to its antioxidant properties. (11)(12)(13) Unopened, raw honey will keep indefinitely, while 100% pure maple syrup will keep for 1 year unopened in the pantry, 1 year opened in the refrigerator, and indefinitely in the freezer. (14)
13. Dried Herbs, Spices & Salt
The downside of many non-perishable food items is that they lack flavor, so keeping a pantry well stocked with dried herbs and spices is a great way to ensure that you can easily add a quick boost of flavor. Although herbs and spices do lose their flavor over time and don’t last forever, whole spices will stay fresh for about 4 years, ground spices for about 2 to 3 years, and dried herbs for 1 to 3 years. (15) Real salt without additives, such as rock salt or sea salt, is an essential source of nutrition to any whole foods diet, providing essential minerals and electrolytes, and will never go bad. (16)
14. Dark Chocolate
Ok, I couldn’t write this list without including everyone’s favorite food; chocolate. While milk chocolate does have a shorter shelf life due to the addition of milk, about half the time, unopened and stored properly, dark chocolate can last up to 2 years. (17) Although less of a ‘health food’ and more of a treat, dark chocolate, 80% or more, does contain minerals and antioxidant properties, making it a great addition to any non-perishable foods list.
The Bottom Line
While fresh foods can go bad quite quickly, there are many healthy non-perishable food items available today. From whole grains to dried beans to canned fish, these non-perishable foods can be used daily to create delicious and healthy meals, while saving time and money. So, whether you are stocking your own pantry or donating to a local organization, these items are a great addition to any grocery list.