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Stocking Up? Look for Foods in These Three Categories

It’s common to want to make sure there is plenty of food in the house, especially in light of recent times. Still, no matter what’s going on in society, it’s also common to not know exactly what you should stock up on -- especially when you want to make healthy decisions and provide nutritious options for your family. Focusing on foods in these three main categories can help.

Whole grains

Whole grains are a type of complex carbohydrate that are important because they contain fiber, which can decrease the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Grains that aren’t whole, such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, and sugary cereals, are a type of simple carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates can raise blood sugar and insulin levels quickly and then crash it, leading to decreased energy and hunger. Foods that are full of fiber will increase fullness and slow down the release of blood sugar, giving us sustained energy throughout the day. Examples of whole grains are foods that have 100% whole wheat, including cereals, breads and pastas, steel-cut oats, waffles with whole grains, whole grain pancake mixes, whole grain tortillas, quinoa, and brown rice. Be sure to read labels and look for 100% whole wheat. Sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate that is another great choice from this category.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are super important because they are full of fiber, plus vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that boost the immune system. It can be challenging to stock up on fresh vegetables and fruits, but frozen and canned vegetables work just as well. These options are usually picked at their peak of freshness and then frozen or canned, so they can actually be higher in vitamin and mineral content than fresh varieties.

Fresh produce that tends to have a longer shelf life are: apples, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, beets, potatoes, spaghetti squash, onions and garlic. Frozen berries can be thawed and added to cereals and whole wheat muffin mixes, or used frozen to put in smoothies. Extra fresh spinach, kale and overripe bananas are great to bag up and freeze for future smoothies. Dried fruit can be a good option as long as it does not contain added sugar. When looking for canned fruit, check that it’s not packed in heavy syrup. For canned vegetables, look for “no salt added” or be sure to rinse veggies first before cooking. Canned pumpkin is a fun way to get more vegetables by adding it to soups, chilis and pancake/waffle mixes.


The last category is protein, which helps build and maintain muscle. Protein helps us feel full after meals and build antibodies, which is very important in fighting off infections. There are many sources of protein that you can stock up on in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Great sources of protein are chicken breasts, fish, turkey, eggs, Greek yogurt with no sugar added and canned chicken or tuna packed in water and not oil. Plant-based sources are beans (look for no-salt-added or rinse beans before cooking), edamame, lentils, nuts and seeds. When making good nutrition choices for your family, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Narrowing your focus to these three areas can help eliminate the confusion and keep your nutrition on the right track. To learn more tips for eating right, contact the nutrition experts at your local YMCA.


A former pediatric nurse, Liz Bravman, RN, is a cycling instructor, nutrition educator and personal trainer at the Susan M. Duncan Family YMCA in Arvada. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and a Master’s degree in nutrition education.