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By Jill Johnson Henscheid, CD, RD, Gundersen Nutrition Therapy

Find Healthy Recipes

Have you ever gotten home after a long day just to find yourself rummaging the cupboards for something to quickly throw together for a meal? In these moments, do you find yourself thinking about balance or are you searching for the most ready-to-eat option available?

Fortunately, it's totally possible to have both: make a healthy, balanced meal using just those long-lost items hovering in the back of your cupboards. You might benefit from the cupboard challenge – clean out your cupboards and use only what you have on-hand to create a quick and easy meal.

The past two weeks I challenged myself to meal plan with only the food options in my cupboard. That's right; no grocery buying, no excuses, just make a meal happen using only what I already had on hand! After successfully completing the challenge, I can tell you it is possible and the flavors and nutrition might even be a welcome surprise. Try these tips for the cupboard challenge.

Remember – a healthy meal is one that is composed of at least 3 different food groups:

  1. Pick a protein source for the cornerstone of your meal: beans, lentils, nut butter, nuts, seeds 
  2. Choose a fruit or vegetable: even canned options or bean or vegetable soups
  3. Add a grain: you probably have some pasta or rice laying around

Here a few combinations we tried during our cupboard challenge

  1. Baked beans, brown rice and canned fruit
  2. Northern beans, green beans and yellow saffron rice mix
  3. Vegetable soup with black beans and spiral pasta added
  4. Lentils, pinto beans and stewed tomatoes
  5. Vegetable beef soup with whole wheat crackers

Making a balanced meal can be an intricate or simple process. However the cupboard challenge reminded me that simplicity can still be balanced and healthy. The next time you believe there's nothing to eat, take the cupboard challenge – pick three food groups and make a meal!

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