Healthy Canned Foods You Need to Always Have on Hand

Pulling a meal together for dinner on a busy weeknight isn’t always easy — and making it healthy is even trickier. Gone are the days of boxed mac and cheese and frozen pizzas. You’re ready to make something nutritious, even as you stare at the barren shelves of your refrigerator.

If you’re out of fresh fruits and veggies, not to worry — these healthy canned foods can save the day.

1. Salmon, mackerel, or sardines

Sardines and turnips on a wooden table.

Sardines make savory and tasty mid-day snacks. | Mythja/iStock/Getty Images

You’re familiar with tuna, but it’s by far not the only fish worth buying canned. Consumer Reports says canned fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are just as good for you as the fresh varieties, as they contain plenty of protein and heart-healthy omega-3s. And The Daily Meal reports sardines are one of the few non-meat sources of vitamin B12, which is vital for brain health.

The only downside is the sodium content in canned fish (and most canned foods in general). But if you’re not at risk of high blood pressure, eat up.

2. Lentils

A person scooping lentils from a bulk container.

Skip the long boiling and get to eating some delicious lentils. | David Silverman/Getty Images

If you’ve forgotten about this legume, it’s time to incorporate it into your diet. Lentils are high in protein and fiber, mindbodygreen says, making them the perfect accompaniment when you’re sick of rice or pasta as a side dish. They also aid in digestion, can help reduce your risk of heart disease, and can help lower your cholesterol levels.

If you’re trying to lose weight, lentils should definitely be on your radar too. An entire cup cooked comes to just 230 calories.

3. Pumpkin

Pumpkin puree in a glass bowl.

A taste of pumpkin without a trip to the farm. | Sarahdoow/iStock/Getty Images

Let’s be clear: We’re not talking about the sugary pumpkin pie filling in the baking aisle — we’re talking about straight canned pumpkin with nothing added. And this canned food is full of beta-carotene, which can help prevent heart disease and enhance your eye health, Greatist says. It may also surprise you to know that you’ll feel pretty full after eating a dish with pumpkin due to its incredibly high fiber content and decent amount of protein.

Unsure of how to add canned pumpkin to your meals? Try adding it to oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast, or you can even toss it into mac and cheese or chili for extra creaminess.

4. Artichokes

Fresh artichokes on a wooden table.

You can make seriously impressive use of canned artichokes in spreads, salads, and appetizers. | Dianazh/iStock/Getty Images

This often forgotten vegetable can seem intimidating to cook, no matter how much you’re craving spinach and artichoke dip. And that’s where the canned version comes in. Livestrong.com reports just one medium artichoke contains over 40% of your recommended daily value of fiber, which also can help lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar. This fiber is also unique because it can stimulate the production of good bacteria in your gut.

If you’re stumped on how to use canned artichokes, try throwing them on pizzas, using them in a salad, or even just sautéing them in a pan with olive oil and garlic.

5. Black or kidney beans

Red beans spread out on a wooden table.

You can quickly warm up beans for soups, side dishes, or chili. | Piyaset/iStock/Getty Images

Beans are cheaper if you buy them dried, but the prep time is undesirable. In that case, feel free to go for the cans of black and kidney beans. All varieties of this legume are high in protein and fiber, and black beans in particular may help to strengthen your bones and heart, says Medical News Today. And Livestrong.com notes kidney beans could aid in cancer prevention.

6. Tomatoes

Tomatoes stacked next to a wooden crate.

Canned tomatoes taste exactly like fresh ones. | Dovate/iStock/Getty Images

Fresh tomatoes are plenty healthy, but the Guardian suggests canned tomatoes may actually be even better for you. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful micronutrient that may aid in cancer prevention. And when heated, you’re actually able to better absorb it. That’s not all this fruit offers, either — you’ll also get tons of vitamin K, C, and E, which may aid in preventing heart disease when combined with lycopene. Making your own tomato sauce sounds like a pretty good idea right about now.

7. Spinach

Portion controlled meal with chicken, veggies, and rice.

Break out the can opener. | Veranika Smirnaya/iStock/Getty Images

Fresh or frozen spinach too expensive? No worries — feel free to buy this veggie canned. TIME says all the nutrients in the fresh vegetable are present in the tinned version, too, and canned spinach actually contains more vitamin C per serving. On top of that, spinach is great for your heart and can help lower your risk for diabetes. Popeye was on to something when he ate a ton of this veg, as it’s also great for your muscles.