Expert Advice: Essential Tips for Stocking Your Pantry

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By : Suvarna Sheth

For someone living with diabetes, it can be challenging to find foods that satisfy your cravings, yet are a healthful choice and don’t risk raising your blood sugar levels, or your blood pressure.

That’s why a well-stocked pantry is essential to your success.

We speak to Susan Watkins, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian with St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, who offers her expertise in how to stock your pantry. We’ll also find out what the best snacks are to satisfy your sweet and salty desires.

Taking the time to properly stock your pantry is “very important” for someone with diabetes, according to Watkins, who has been a diabetes educator for over 10 years.

“Not planning ahead is one of the biggest reasons people end up eating unhealthy foods,” she says, “you end up tired at the end of the day, or busy at work, and if you are not prepared you will often end up grabbing fast food, or food that other people have around, which are usually not good choices.”

She says preparing ahead at home, at work, or in your car using a cooler bag with your own healthy foods can help you stay full and on track during the day.

It can also help prevent highs and lows with your blood sugar.

Watkins indicates most people have a better time staying on track if they have easy to prepare items readily available. “If the food takes too long to cook or put together it will decrease your chance of making and eating it,” she says.

Also, she says to have items from different food groups, proteins, whole grains, vegetables and fruits stocked and readily available.

Below are a few essential items Watkins suggests we should all have in our kitchens:

Steam in the bag vegetables and frozen vegetables are a perfect backup. “Frozen vegetables stay good for a long time and still contain a high nutrition content because they tend to be frozen at their peak ripeness,” Watkins explains, “This is perfect for adding to all meals to increase nutrition, add volume to the plate and decrease calories.”

Precooked whole grains can also help you put together a quick meal, such as vacuum sealed wild rice, brown rice or beans, and lentils. Most stores carry these items, even Target. Trader Joes also has small frozen bags of precooked brown rice, red rice and barley (small packs come in a box), as well as quinoa packs. “These are super easy to pop in the microwave for 3 or 4 minutes and add vegetables and protein,” Watkins says, “precooked edamame beans or lentils can make a great protein addition as well.”

As far as the “snack section” in the pantry goes, there are some snacks that have ‘good’ fat that may curb the craving for carbs. Watkins says preportioned bags of nuts, such as almonds, are a good choice.

Precooked edamame beans also make a good snack as does hummus (the flavors are endless, like eggplant hummus and tomato basil) with raw vegetables.

Another good substitution is using avocado used instead of mayo in egg, chicken or tuna salad. “I love putting it on top of Japanese cucumbers or zucchini slices,” Watkins explains.

Watkins says it’s important for patients to keep in mind that if they eat dinner late and are on DM medication or insulin, their snack may need to include a carbohydrate to prevent hypoglycemia.

Good after school/work snack ideas:

Nuts with a small fruit

Avocado egg or tuna salad on top of zucchini or cucumbers (low carb)

Celery with cream cheese or avocado and Trader Joes Everything but the Bagel Seasoning (low carb)

Nut butter and whole grain crackers or sprouted grain toast.

Apple with nut or sunflower seed butter

Plain Greek yogurt with dip seasoning and raw vegetables (low carb)

Plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts

Cottage cheese with a fruit (or for a low carb option just add tomatoes and “Everything but the Bagel Seasoning.”)

1-2 corn tortillas with beans and a sprinkle of cheese (feel free to add veggies too).

Watkins indicates the worst thing anyone, and especially someone with diabetes, can do is wait too long to eat.

“This will almost always cause you to overeat or go for high calorie, unhealthy foods,” she warns. “Also trying to go on a diet plan where you feel hungry all the time usually sets you up for failure.”

People often find they get full based on the amount of food (volume) and not necessarily the calories.

So try to have a full plate of food by adding in a lot of non-starchy vegetables to meals you already eat. For those trying to lose weight 1-2 cups of non-starchy vegetables at lunch and dinner can help you feel full while still losing weight.

Read about the 25 best non-starchy vegetables here.


Susan Watkins is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She is the manager of the Center for Health Promotion at St. Joseph Health and the coordinator for St. Joseph’s ADA recognized diabetes program. She also manages their HMR weight program, which has been nationally recognized by U.S. World News and Report as a best, fast weight loss diet in the country for the last 3 years. In addition to diabetes, she creates programs and educates patients on a variety of conditions such as IBS, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver conditions.