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The Continuous Update Project (CUP) is an ongoing program that analyzes global research on how diet, nutrition and physical activity affect cancer risk and survival.

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August 20, 2014 | 3 minute read

3 Staples for Last-Minute Healthy Meals

With summer unofficially ending soon, its back to hectic work and school weeks for many. And sometimes it’s challenging to plan out your meals for the entire week. Or you get home late, tired and realize cereal or ordering pizza is the easiest option. , 3 Staples for Last-Minute Healthy Meals

We’ve all been there, and I’ve found the best way to avoid this is by keeping a few healthy foods in my kitchen at all times that I can easily make into a more nutritious, cancer-protective meal. My staples aren’t always the same – what I have usually depends on the time of year or recent recipes I’ve tried. Right now, here are three of my staples:

1. Can of no-salt beans (garbanzo or black beans, usually) – Beans are a good source of protein and fiber and low in fat. They are also inexpensive and you don’t have to worry about them spoiling quickly. Use the beans on a salad or in place of meat in something like tacos.

2. Spinach – This is a good source of fiber and cancer-protective carotenoids. The nice thing about this leafy green is that you can eat it in a variety of ways – for instance, you can sauté it with a little olive oil, garlic and lemon juice or you can use it as your greens in a salad. If you find it starting to wilt, just cook it up!

3. Salsa – Salsa is very low in calories and great for flavoring dishes. Fresh salsa is my favorite – made with tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, garlic and herbs – but jarred tastes great too and lasts longer. I add salsa to anything that I think could use a little flavor or a sauce in place or other high fat toppings like oil, butter or creamy dressings. For example, if you think about it in the morning you can put chicken breast in the crockpot with a jar of salsa to get the protein portion of your dinner on the way. You could also sauté the zucchini (or spinach), beans, and salsa together and add to a whole wheat tortilla for a quick vegetarian burrito.

These ingredients can go with a number of other meals/dishes depending on what else you have, but with them on hand you know you have at least a few healthy options on hand at all times.

What’s your favorite kitchen staple?

Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. You can follow her on twitter @SonjaGoedkoopRD.

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