Jennifer Hogeland wrote the following article about what kinds of foods to keep on hand for The Post-Crescent:

At the first hint of hunger or when in a rush to make dinner, we head to the pantry to find the foods that will fill our tummies. A well-stocked pantry makes meal preparation easier.

“We are all busy,” said Lori Deering, registered dietitian with Affinity Health System in Appleton. “When we get home in the evening if we don’t have something on hand the tendency is to grab convenience foods or to go out and grab a meal — something quick. It’s harder to get our nutritional needs met with these foods.”

Improve your family’s health by stocking the shelves with nourishing meal and snack options.

“The magic happens at the grocery store,” suggests Debbie Stone, registered dietitian at ThedaCare in Appleton.

Deering and Stone have suggestions on ways to give your pantry a makeover with five changes.

Stock up on healthy fats.

Have some fatty fish on hand. Canned salmon and tuna provide the good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids. These fish make mealtime quick and easy. Cans or bags of to-go tuna are a hit on sandwiches and whole-grain crackers. Shop for fish canned in water; buy low-sodium products.

Keep nuts and seeds on hand for snack time. Offer hungry kids almonds or walnuts. Nuts have a variety of health benefits such as aiding digestion and strengthening bones and muscles.

“Nuts are a heart healthy fat, but they are high in calories so watch portion sizes,” Stone said.

Be on alert. Trans fats hide in thousands of processed foods including crackers, cookies, cereal bars and microwave popcorn. Read labels.

Change cooking habits one step at a time. Next time reach for olive oil instead of shortening.

Look at grains.

People aren’t getting enough fiber from the grains in their pantries. Half of the grains eaten in a day should be whole grains. A general rule of thumb is each grain product should have three grams of fiber. Check those cereal boxes, snack crackers and pastas. Find ways to incorporate whole grains into a family’s diet by having a variety of these healthy options on hand.

“Pass on the white rice and white bread,” Stone said. “Buy brown rice and products made with wheat and barley.”

Pasta is a go-to staple for busy families. Use whole-grain noodles. Toss with a small amount of olive oil and pour on stewed tomatoes found in the pantry for a feast that will get rave reviews.

Oatmeal is a must-have whole grain to keep in stock.

“Oatmeal is inexpensive and is something that makes use feel satisfied,” Deering said.

Fill shelves with fruits and vegetables.

“We encourage people to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables, but in addition to what you have fresh in the refrigerator you can look for other forms that may be sitting in the pantry,” Deering said. “All forms — fresh, frozen, canned or dried — count.”

Having packages of figs, dried cranberries or other dried fruits available is ideal for snack time.

If purchasing canned fruits, select those that are in their own juice as opposed to those floating in heavy syrups. Natural applesauce is an alternative to fresh fruit because sugar isn’t added. Deering suggests having canned pumpkin on hand as a base for soups and stews or for incorporating into breads.

Check labels on canned vegetables for the sodium content. Rinse vegetables with water if the sodium is high.

Have plant protein sources on hand.

Pick up canned or dried legumes. Beans are a good source of protein, fiber and zinc; they are a delicious addition to soups and stews, burritos, salads and rice dishes. Mashed garbanzo beans make a tasty hummus dip.

“Some nights it’s nice to have a meatless meal,” Stone said. “It’s a good idea to have these legumes waiting in the pantry.”

Peanuts are popular legumes. Keeping peanut butter in the pantry and spreading it on a sandwich for lunch is a simple way to get a serving of protein.

Limit the empty calories.

Sodas and sweetened drinks are empty-calorie culprits. The beverages stored in the pantry are tempting, but they contribute calories to our diet without providing any nutritional benefit. Close the pantry door and head to the refrigerator for a cold glass of milk or turn on the faucet for a refreshing glass of water. Stone recommends adding a lemon or slice of cucumber to water if craving a little splash of taste.

All beverages found in the pantry aren’t bad. Green and other variety of teas have a long list of health benefits, thanks to the presence of antioxidants. Aiding the immune system, lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack may be other perks of drinking tea.

A complete food overhaul is difficult and shouldn’t happen overnight. Gradual changes are more likely to stick.

“Look at working on one area at a time and make changes slowly so your family can adjust. Once you make one change move onto the next,” Deering said.