Whether you’re stocking up for hurricane season or replenishing canned food or pantry items just to keep on hand, sometimes it’s hard to know what to buy.
But it’s nice to have canned food in the house. These items are convenient, inexpensive and have a long shelf life. Although fresh or frozen food has a slightly better reputation, there’s truly nothing wrong with canned items -- it just helps if you know what to buy.
“A lot of sodium can creep in (some canned foods),” said Melissa Perry, a registered dietician with Orlando Health. “You just want to make sure you’re limiting added salt and sugar.”
So we asked: What are some of the best items to stock?
Perry suggested the following.
1. Canned tuna and salmon
These are great sources of protein. Just try to buy fish packed in water instead of oil. That will make it a lot lower in sodium. Canned tuna and salmon aren’t just for sandwiches, Perry added. You could put this fish on top of a salad or eat it with whole wheat crackers.
2. Canned sardines
The same guidelines as above, apply here: You want sardines in water instead of oil, with no salt added. A lot of sardines tend to be packaged in seasonings, or with flavors added -- and that’s where the sodium can hide, Perry said. Otherwise, sardines are a great source of omega-3s and chock full of vitamin B12, which can help with nerve function and brain heath.
3. Canned beans
You can’t go wrong when it comes to beans. What do you like best? Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans -- they’re all excellent sources of fiber.
Just look for that label that says “no added salt” or “reduced sodium,” Perry advised.
Beans are a smart choice for people who are vegetarian, vegan or who follow plant-based diets. You can cook the beans, of course, but if you lose power, you can eat them as is, as well.
4. Shelf-stable vegetables
You can find SO many veggies in cans these days: Green beans, spinach, carrots, peas, corn, diced tomatoes, sliced beets -- and if you’ve been paying attention to this article so far, you probably can guess what we’re about to say: Just watch that salt! Read labels to ensure you’re buying the reduced-sodium versions of these vegetables.
Of course, fresh or frozen is ideal, but if you don’t have those options for whatever reason, canned veggies still offer a lot of the same nutrients and nutrient content, Perry said.
5. Canned fruit
Here, we’re looking for fruit with no sugar added, Perry told us.
If you’re getting fruit cocktail, make sure it’s packed in water and not juice.
You can use this fruit to kick a craving for something sweet, as well. It’s definitely preferred over a sleeve of cookies.
Sure, some of these items will be in plastic packaging instead of literal cans, but it’s all the same when it comes to shelf stability.
Unsweetened applesauce probably falls in this category, too -- it’s a smart, healthy, great option.
6. Mixed nuts
Sometimes it’s hard to tell -- it might say “whole almonds” on the can or container, and those are likely the kind you’re looking for. If you’re someone who has difficulty chewing or you have a relative who struggles to eat, grab some peanut butter. Again, this is one of those times to scan the ingredient list. Try to avoid buying any nut butters with added sugars, hydrogenated oils or high-fructose corn syrup, Perry said.
You just want peanuts and a little salt.
7. Milk options
It’s common to see powdered, shelf-stable milk, at the store, and unsweetened coconut milk is a good option too, especially if you’re lactose intolerant or you need a dairy-free option. These are smart items to have on hand, Perry said.
8. Low-sodium veggie soups
Some can be really high in salt -- so just make sure you’re checking before buying, Perry said.
In related advice, it’s important to buy foods you know you and your family will eat.
That way, if there’s not a big storm or emergency situation, you’re still making sure these soups and items are getting eaten, like if there’s a day you’re crunched on time preparing dinner, or you need an easy side dish. Canned food to the rescue!
9. Whole wheat crackers, whole grain cereal
A lot of people might not see these items as “canned goods,” necessarily, but they still have that shelf life that we’re looking for. These are convenient foods to stock in order to achieve that well-balanced diet.
Stock up on things you like, Perry said. You don’t want to buy a bunch of foods you “think” are right, only to waste them or let them sit in the back of your cupboard for a decade. Think about the smartest, best types of all your favorites -- and then brainstorm how you can aim for shelf-friendly versions.
This story was first published in 2021. It has since been updated.