Cans Get You Cooking

Happy National Canned Food Month!  From cozy winter stews to fiber-packed breakfasts on the go, canned foods are a necessary component to a balanced diet.  Here are ten flavorful, nutritious tinned foods that have earned their place in your pantry.  

When it comes down to price, convenience, and versatility, canned goods are where its at.  Whether it be a hearty chili, quick pasta dish, or even popsicles, the saying is true: cans get you cooking!  A well-stocked refrigerator is important, of course, but I'd argue a carefully-curated pantry is absolutely crucial in the quest to whip up meals on a moment's notice.  Here are the top ten canned items you should always have on hand.  Oh, and please put your mind at ease regarding their safety - I wouldn't be recommending them otherwise.  

1.  Beans, beans, and more beans

From cannellini to kidney, black and red and everything in between, a variety of canned beans is a pantry MUST.  Use beans in pasta and chili; toss them on top of salads; blend into hummus and other bean dips; or puree them as a substitute for flour in baked goods, like these drool-worthy peanut butter cookies.  If sodium content is a concern, choose reduced sodium varieties, or simply drain and rinse before serving.  Current guidelines recommend 1 1/2 - 2 cups of beans per week.

2.  Chipotle peppers en adobo

Yes, you can probably find chipotle powder at your local grocer, but nothing beats the spicy, smoky heat of chipotle peppers en adobo - especially the ones by La Morena.  Blend with plain Greek yogurt for the ultimate lentil taco topping, use the sauce to lend an unexpected kick to egg sandwiches, and, obviously, chop some up and add them to your next batch of chili.  20 calories per serving never tasted so good.  

3.  Ro-Tel Original

Who knew Ro-Tel was meant for something other than the eponymous Queso dip?  Made with a blend of ripe tomato and green chilies (other varieties here), this pantry staple pairs uncommonly well with slow-cooked pork dishes.  Sub Ro-Tel for the regular tomatoes in this surprisingly simple Indian-inspired pork stew.  For perfect pulled pork, combine boneless tenderloin with Ro-Tel, onion, garlic, cumin, and cayenne.  Cook it low and slow, shred, and add a touch of Sweet Baby Ray's original barbecue sauce.  Then please invite me over for dinner.  

4.  JoyVa Sesame Tahini

I thought I knew tahini.  Then I got my hands on some JoyVa.  Whether or not the can as a vessel (as opposed to glass) has anything to do with it, its roasted sesame flavor is second to none.  Essential to preparing authentic hummus and baba ghanoush, a 2 tablespoon serving of tahini provides around 25% of your daily needs for magnesium, a mineral necessary for nerve, muscle, and cardiac health. Spread tahini on toast, drizzle it on top of baked sweet potato wedges, or blend with lemon juice, olive oil, and water for a creamy dressing (minus the actual cream!).  

5.  Pineapple chunks, in juice

Juice in and of itself is a treat (just like soda), making pineapple chunks canned in their own liquid a two for one.  Canned peaches don't taste quite like the real thing, and applesauce has little nutritional value.  But pineapples chunks packed in their own juice taste as good as, and sometimes better than, their fresh counterpart.  Offering 20% of the recommended daily value for Vitamin C for 15g of sugar per serving, they make for an easy dessert or frozen kid-friendly treat.  Save the juice for an adult beverage.  You deserve it.    

6.  Italian tuna packed in olive oil

Shoes, love, pastry, and tuna.  Let's face it: Italians do it better.  Genova brand offers both albacore and yellow fin varieties, all wild-caught and packed in heart-healthy olive oil.  Add this relatively cheap source of protein to salads, on top of "buddha bowls," or, in a peanut butter sandwich.  Just trust me and try it.

7.  Skinless and boneless sardines packed in olive oil

Arguably the most nutritious canned food you're not eating - yet.  Sure, the bone-in version may contain more, readily-absorbed calcium, but sardine newbies should go for the S&B variety.  Can't knock the nutrition (nearly the same omega-3 content as fresh salmon, per serving) for the price, and the mild flavor is a pleasant surprise.  Try them in this spaghetti dish.  

8.  Pickled jalapeños

Scene from the La Costena jalapeño eating contest.  Do not try this at home.

Scene from the La Costena jalapeño eating contest.  Do not try this at home.

Chop up some of these spicy pickled peppers, slice up some avocado, and pile it all on your next chicken sandwich or burrito.  The heat from the peppers may induce satiety, making that post-lunch run to the vending machine a lot less tempting.  Some research suggests regular consumption of spicy foods as part of an active lifestyle may help us live longer.  

9.  Goya Coconut Milk

The label says it all: no gums, thickeners, or added stabilizers.  Comprised solely of coconut milk, water, and a trace amount of a common preservative, this Leche de Coco is a solid go-to.  While coconut EVERYTHING is all the rage, most products made from this tropical tree nut impart a significant amount of fat per serving.  Utilize them sparingly and enjoy every bite!

10.  Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin

Libby's, JoyVa, and caramelized banana oatmeal. 'Nuf said. 

Libby's, JoyVa, and caramelized banana oatmeal. 'Nuf said. 

There's only one canned pumpkin worth buying, and that's Libby's.  Packed with fiber and nearly 300% of the recommended daily value for vitamin A, canned pumpkin can be used for so much more than pie.  Spoon it over warm oatmeal, blend it into plain Greek yogurt, stir it into a sausage and pasta dish, and, of course, into boxed brownie mix.  

Enjoy your (canned) food!  Enjoy your life!