Have you heard the advice to “shop the perimeter of the supermarket” and “avoid” the center aisles. This advice can be confusing, especially at a time when shoppers are gravitating to those middle aisles for budget-friendly, shelf-stable ingredients like canned beans and canned salmon, and it can inadvertently steer people away from an array of healthful and culturally familiar food options. While the supermarket perimeter includes things like fresh produce—something consumers don’t eat enough of but would benefit from eating more of—the center aisles can provide a treasure trove of wholesome, affordable, and versatile foods.
I asked 10 fellow registered dietitians to each weigh in on their favorite center aisle nutritional superstar, why they recommend it, and easy ways to prepare it at home. Below, you’ll find everything from canned tomatoes and oatmeal to frozen produce and peanut butter.
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, Plant Based with Amy
Nuts offer heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. They also provide fiber and protein—and these nutrients, in addition to the healthy fats, help to keep you satiated for longer. There’s a reason nuts are a staple of the Mediterranean diet! All types of nuts are nutritious, including almonds, pistachios, walnuts and other nuts. Nuts are incredibly versatile. You can add them to a bowl of oatmeal or a cookie recipe, or you can chop them up and incorporate into energy balls and bites, cookies and brownies, and even stir-fries and salads.
Amy’s favorite almond recipe: Chocolate Almond Butter Protein Balls
Frozen Fruits and Vegetables:
Manuel Villacorta, MDS, RD Leading Weight Loss and Nutrition Expert, Spokesperson, and Author
Frozen fruits and vegetables are convenient to use, require minimal prep, are usually more affordable than fresh, and don’t spoil nearly as quickly. Frozen produce is just as nutritious as fresh, because it’s picked at the peak of ripeness and flash frozen to preserve the nutrients and antioxidants. Frozen produce is versatile too. I advise my clients to add frozen vegetables to soups, stews, and grain and quinoa dishes. Frozen fruits are great in smoothies.
Manuel’s favorite frozen produce recipe: Sauerkraut Salad with Frozen Corn & Peas
Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and cookbook author
Since most people do not consume the 8 to 12 ounces of seafood recommended per week, canned salmon is a simple way to keep shelf stable, high-quality protein on hand with the benefit of heart-healthy omega-3 fats, and no cooking required. Compared to fresh fish, canned salmon is very economical, and since it can stay in the pantry for years, using canned seafood can help minimize food waste. Add canned salmon to avocado toast or on top of a bagel instead of lox; mix with plain Greek yogurt or light mayo for an easy salmon salad; or use for salmon burgers or in grain bowls.
Lauren’s favorite canned salmon recipe: Mediterranean Salmon Salad with Artichokes, White Beans and Lemon Dressing
Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian, freelance writer and blogger at Chew the Facts®
Carbohydrate foods, such as pasta, have had a bad reputation. Despite the anti-carb fad, complex carbohydrates don’t make you fat, and in fact are broken down slowly in the body providing sustainable energy. A reasonable serving is about 1 cup of cooked pasta. Pasta provides the perfect landscape to build more nutrition into your diet and stretch more expensive items, such as beef or seafood. Clients can get dinner on the table in under 20 minutes by 3 cups of spinach and a healthy protein like frozen cooked shrimp or canned tuna to cooked linguine, or they can create a fabulous comfort meal with leftover chicken, pasta, and a low-fat cream sauce.
Rosanne’s favorite dry pasta recipe: Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese
Arielle “Dani” Lebovitz, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDE, Author and Experience-based Educator
Oatmeal is economical, extremely versatile, and loaded with good nutrition.
Half a cup of plain, dry, rolled oats has 140 calories, 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and it’s a good source of iron. Oatmeal cooks up quickly for sweet or savory breakfast bowls, but it can also be used to bulk up meat-based dishes such as meatballs or meatloaf, add a crispy coating to chicken tenders or a crispy topping to blueberry crumble, and you can grind it into a flour (in a mini food processor or blender) for a nutrient-dense cake, muffins, or pancakes.
Dani’s favorite oatmeal recipe: Easy No-Bake Cookies
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Canned Diced Tomatoes:
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best-selling cookbook author
Only one in ten Americans meet the recommended daily amount of vegetables and what better way to take in more by adding canned diced tomatoes to some of your favorite dishes. Tomatoes are picked at their peak of ripeness, and they’re canned within a few hours which locks in the nutrition. Canned tomatoes are low in calories and packed with the antioxidant vitamin C and fiber. Canned tomatoes are also an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, shown to help lower the risk of heart disease. Canned diced tomatoes are inexpensive, and you can add them to chili, soup, mac and cheese, pasta dishes, lasagna, or use a few cans to poach fish. If you’re watching your sodium, no-added sodium diced tomatoes are available.
Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian
Peanut butter is high in protein, healthy fats, niacin, vitamin E, magnesium, manganese. Plus it has fiber potassium, zinc, and copper. It’s shelf-stable, budget-friendly and so versatile. You can use it in sandwiches, but it’s also delicious in baked goods. I use it to substitute margarine, butter or oil in cookies, bars, and breads. It’s also delicious in savory dishes, such as Thai stir-fry, lentil patties or loaves, or in vinaigrettes for salads and slaws. You can also put a big spoonful in your morning oats or smoothie.
Sharon’s favorite peanut butter recipe: Stir-Fried Thai Sorghum Bowl
Michelle Dudash, RDN, creator of Spicekick and author, Clean Eating for Busy Families.
Quinoa contains all of the essential amino acids and is higher in protein than most other “grainy” side dishes. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 30% of the DV for magnesium, and 15% of the DV for iron. I cook it with broth instead of water to give it a savory, seasoned taste, and it pairs deliciously with a variety of nutritious dishes. It cooks up in 20 minutes, which is half the time of other whole grains like brown rice.
Michelle’s favorite quinoa recipe: Tomato & Avocado Quinoa Salad
Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, Culinary and Integrative Dietitian
Half a cup of lentils provides 9 grams protein and an impressive 8 grams of fiber, which is 30% of the recommended daily fiber! With no need to soak, lentils cook quicker than other pulses making them ideal for weeknight meals. I keep a variety of lentils on hand, including green, brown, and red, and I use them for hearty soups and stews. You can add cooked brown lentils to savory rice pilaf and toss firmer black lentils into make-ahead salads with your favorite vinaigrette, grains and greens. For a fiber boost, swap lentils for all or half of the meat in tacos.
Marisa’s favorite lentil recipe: Pumpkin Lentil Curry
Sylvia Klinger, DBA, MS, RDN, Founder Hispanic Food Communications
I was raised with powdered milk, and today, it has become one of those “must have” ingredients in my home. Powdered milk is inexpensive, has a longer shelf life than fresh milk, and has the same 9 essential nutrients found in fresh milk. I prefer the taste of powdered milk for drinking (but remember, I was raised with it), but you can add it to a variety of recipes, included baked goods, to boost the nutritional profile.
Sylvia’s favorite recipe with powdered milk: Cranberry Orange Scones
Canned beans: Bonus … from my kitchen
Liz Weiss, MS, RDN, Host of the Liz’s Healthy Table blog and EAT, DRINK, LIVE LONGER podcast
Whether you choose pinto, cannellini, black, kidney, or garbanzo, canned beans work wonders in savory soups, homemade hummus, quesadillas, and even brownies. Half a cup of beans has 120 calories, 4 grams of dietary fiber, and 7 grams of protein. Worried about sodium? Choose low- or no salt added, or drain and rinse your beans to wash away 40% of the sodium.
Liz’s favorite bean recipe: Macaroni Minestrone Soup with Cannellini Beans