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Dried lentils and assorted beans on a large spoon on top of a wooden surface.

Limiting trips to the grocery store while still having enough, not to mention needed, food stocked for healthy meals is a tricky task. Much of our beloved produce doesn’t stay fresh for longer than a week, and the packaged foods we know will keep often contain added sugars, inflammatory oils and processed fats, or other artificial ingredients, additives, and preservatives.

“We always preach shopping the outer rim of the supermarket,” says Ryan Dodge, executive chef of Life Time’s LifeCafes nationwide. “But what happened, especially near the start of COVID-19, is everyone went to the center.”

But there are ways to both nourish your body and reduce your trips to the store. It just requires a bit of strategy.

“You still want to primarily shop the outer rim, but while you’re there, think about which items you can get that can serve multiple purposes and will last longer,” says Dodge. “For example, carrots, onions, and celery are all packed with nutrients and will keep for two weeks or longer. They also happen to be the trio that makes up mirepoix, a base that can flavor many soups, casseroles, meats, and more.”

He goes on to say, “My biggest hack for cooking at home right now is to purchase ingredients that are so versatile that you could ultimately make 30 different dishes with either just those items or by mixing and matching them with a few other ingredients.”

If he’s shopping with this mindset, Dodge says he looks to stock three primary areas:

Produce Drawer: He opts for vegetables that, when properly stored, can keep for weeks, such as carrots, onions, celery, garlic, sweet potatoes, winter squash, root vegetables, and cabbage.

Pantry: There are valuable foods in the center aisles, just be sure to read the labels and choose options that have minimal, identifiable ingredients, and don’t contain added sugars or hydrogenated oils. A few items Dodge often picks up:

  • Canned produce, such as tomatoes (crushed, diced, or whole peeled) and pumpkin
  • Beans and legumes, such as black, kidney, garbanzo, and cannellini beans
  • Whole grains, such as whole rolled oats, brown rice, quinoa, orzo, and polenta
  • Healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Dried fruit, such as cherries, apricots, and Medjool dates
  • Spices, such as salt, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes

Freezer: Vegetables are often picked and flash frozen at their peak, making frozen ones a great option when fresh isn’t possible. Dodge says he likes to keep greens, such as spinach and kale, on hand, as well as a variety of berries. He also typically has frozen corn or whole-grain tortillas so he has the option for tacos and enchiladas.

To further demonstrate this approach, we challenged Dodge to take 10 of the longer-lasting items he almost always has in his own kitchen, and give us examples of how he uses them in very different — but very tasty — recipes. 

Ingredients to Keep on Hand

  1. Extra-virgin olive oil
  2. Grass-fed butter
  3. Garlic bulb
  4. Carrots
  5. Onion
  6. Celery
  7. Organic, low-sodium broth, such as bone, chicken, beef, and/or vegetable
  8. Organic BPA-free can crushed or diced tomatoes
  9. Hard cheese, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Manchego
  10. Fresh or frozen greens, such as spinach or kale


Italian Wedding Soup

“This soup tastes great with meatballs, if you’re looking to add in a source of protein,” says Dodge.

Makes four servings

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes


  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup orzo pasta (optional)
  • 10 oz. frozen spinach
  • Parmigiano Reggiano for serving


  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened and slightly caramelized, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the chicken broth, water, wine (if using), bay leaves, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
  3. Add the pasta (if using) and cook, uncovered, at a gentle boil until the pasta is al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and add the spinach. Cook until heated.
  5. Ladle into bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Eggs Diablo

“This recipe is super versatile,” says Dodge, “and it’s delicious with the addition of cheese or crusty bread.”

Makes two servings

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes


  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbs. grass-fed butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried basil (Italian seasoning will also work)
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 dash tabasco
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 large eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onion and sauté for about five minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and basil.
  2. Add the can of tomatoes, dash of tabasco, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Use a spoon to make two or four depressions in the sauce. Gently crack the eggs into each depression. Season the eggs with salt and pepper.
  4. Cover the pan and cook until the egg whites are set and the yolks are done to your liking.
Molly Schelper
Molly Kopischke

Molly Kopischke is the director of content strategy at Life Time.

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