The Perfect 7: Kitchen Staples You Should Always Have on Hand

JJ berriesRecently I was in the middle of a recipe that called for coconut flour. I searched my cupboards and quickly realized I was completely out, so I rushed to Whole Foods, stood in line for 45 minutes, and arrived home with $75 worth of groceries. Isn’t it funny how foods not on my list mysteriously appeared in my cart?

Let that be an expensive lesson for everyone: keeping staples on hand saves time, effort, and money.

Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”  No kidding. With the proper tools and guidance at your disposal, failure doesn’t stand a chance.

A properly stocked fridge and pantry saves you serious hassle. It means you needn’t disrupt your Zen flow and a pleasant glass of pinot noir to rush out for a missing ingredient. It also means you’re less likely to veer into temptation. (You know the situation: you’re out of almond milk, so you run to the store and return with a big jar of almond butter.)

To avoid those time-sucking scenarios, I always ensure I’m well stocked with essentials. Scout’s honor: if you visit my kitchen, you’ll always find these 7 basics:

  1. Coconut flakes, oil, and milk. Coconut everything (okay, not candy bars!) are my pantry rock stars with a fantastic taste and fat-burning medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).  Unsweetened coconut flakes provide a nice kick to salads, fresh berries (hello, dessert), and shakes. I love cooking with coconut oil for its subtle flavor. Because it’s a highly stable fat, coconut oil performs well even under high-heat cooking.  Is there anything coconut oil can’t do? I even use it as a skin moisturizer.  Coconut milk is my go-to milk in protein shakes, Thai soups, and lots more. So you see: my love for coconut knows no bounds. Maybe when I retire I’ll move to Hawaii and own a coconut farm.
  2. Frozen Berries.  I live in the desert, where I can get fresh California berries nearly year-round. I actually like frozen berries better in my shakes, so I buy fresh berries at my farmers market and freeze them. Easy: lay clean berries on a sheet pan in your freezer overnight and then pop them into freezer bags, so you have them all winter long to throw into your morning shakes.  If you buy frozen berries, check that they have no added sugar.
  3. Sea Salt.  Salt has a bad rep, but used wisely, it adds major kick to your dishes. Taste-test your soup, sauce, or sauté. Now add a pinch of salt and retest. See the difference? And you don’t need much to do the job. Just dump the table salt for mineral-rich sea salt or kosher salt. 
  4. Leafy and Cruciferous Greens. I joke that the only thing nutritionists agree on is green veggies. For good reason: kale, collards, spinach, broccoli, and Swiss chard pack a walloping nutrient and fiber punch for very few calories. Plus they’re so versatile.  Steam collard greens or use stronger lettuce like cabbage as a wrap. For healthy chips, bake kale with a little oil and sea salt. Brussels sprouts with coconut oil and sea salt: amazing.
  5. Quinoa. Cooks in less than 15 minutes, gluten-free, and full of protein, fiber, and B vitamins: can you see why this is my favorite seed that everyone mistakes for a grain?
  6. Onions and Garlic.  These two sulfurous foods add serious flavor to soups, stews, sauces, and sautés. And those health benefits: allium and selenium, for instance, provide a natural blood sugar regulator and immune booster. Minimize the tears by putting onions in the fridge for about an hour. Unless, that is, you need a good cry.
  7. Raw Nuts and Seeds. Maybe the most versatile item in your kitchen. Raw pecans, walnuts, and especially almonds get major freezer space in my kitchen along with flax and chia seeds.  (Freezing helps maintain their essential oils.)  Sprinkle them on salads, toast them with spices for a snack, mix into gluten-free grains for added texture, garnish a soup, or make nut butters and nut milks… The possibilities are nearly endless. You can even make “cheese” out of cashews.



Heads up: you’ll be seeing a lot of these 7 staples in my upcoming Virgin Diet Cookbook, out in February 2014. We’ve just announced the book news to the world, though if you’ve followed my blog you’ve known about it for months.

Your turn: what are your favorite food essentials you could never be without in the kitchen? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.

© 2013 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food allergies.  She is the bestselling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, a Huffington Post blogger, creator of the 4X4 Burst Training Workout & co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. Her latest book, New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days, is out now. Learn more at