Surprising ways to pack a wallop of protein, without relying on your fridge or freezer.

Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D.
March 24, 2020
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Loading up a pantry with quality food is always a wise idea. Being able to put together a snack or meal with what you have on hand can make your life easier when you can't get to the store (see our favorite, healthy pantry essentials). And while it's relatively easy to get fiber and other nutrients from common pantry staples like whole grains and canned fruits and vegetables, finding delicious shelf-stable protein can be a bit more of a challenge.

While most of us in the United States eat enough protein (find out how much protein you should be aiming for daily), it's still an important nutrient. Protein does a lot for our bodies. It helps keep you full (it takes longer to digest than carbs), and it plays a role in muscle maintenance and growth, as well as hormone synthesis. These seven shelf-stable protein options help fuel your body with what it needs. Some of these may really surprise you, but will add a lot of nutrition (and flavor) to your daily diet.

1. Sardines

Canned fish is a great go-to—it's a super cost-effective way to get the same health benefits of fish but unlike fresh fish, canned lasts a heck of a lot longer. While we mostly think of tuna, sardines are a canned fish that deserve a spot in your pantry. Mix sardines up like a basic tuna sandwich (a little mayo, celery and try mixing in some chopped apple, grapes or oranges for a unique spin) or use them as your source of protein on salad. They're sustainable, provide a great source of omega-3s, vitamin D and other nutrients, and taste amazing.

Other canned fish that deserve an honorable mention: mackerel, salmon and, of course, tuna.

2. Pulses

Dry peas, chickpeas, lentils and beans have been protein staples around the world for thousands of years. Pulses pack a plant-based punch of protein and fiber and are low-cost options to keep your family full and healthy. Shelf-stable, nutritious and endlessly versatile, they're essential ingredients for times when you need an easy protein to turn to. Dried or canned, both are amazing options to have on hand. With canned beans, rinse them with water to reduce sodium. Use them in place of (or in addition to) meat, add them to soup, or make a super-quick salad by mixing beans with sardines, tossing in some olive oil and balsamic vinegar and adding a pinch of salt. Want a bigger meal? Try swapping pulses for beef in your next pot of chili or toss them onto a salad for a protein boost.

3. Pistachios

Nuts are another shelf-stable go-to for protein-rich snacks. All nuts deliver plant-based protein, heart-healthy fats, fiber and other nutrients (learn more about the health benefits of nuts and why we can't get enough). Pistachios are a good source of plant protein with 6 grams per serving, making them among the highest-protein snack nuts. They are so versatile and can be used as a healthy, filling snack, a topper for salads or oats, or mixed with fruit (fresh or dried) to add even more quality nutrition. If you're feeling bored with regular pistachios, try one of the flavored varieties, like Wonderful Pistachios Salt & Pepper, which come in-shell—adults and kids alike can have fun breaking them open.

4. Wheat Berries

Not traditionally what you think of as a protein food, but just ¼ cup of these uncooked nutty grains (that's about ½ cup cooked) packs 7 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber. That's a powerful one-two nutrient punch. Wheat berries are delicious cooked in coconut milk and topped with berries. Use them in soups, salads and chilis. Get more healthy recipes with wheat berries.

5. Cheese Crisps

Shelf-stable cheese crisps, basically baked cheese, are a perfect addition to your pantry. They're great for kids' lunches or adult snacks. Whisps Cheese Crisps, one of the most popular brands, are made of 100% cheese. They deliver a protein boost to top salads and soups (canned or homemade), with about 10 grams protein per serving). Cheese crisps come in a variety of blends and flavors, like Parmesan and Cheddar.

6. Hemp Seeds

A great topper for yogurt, oats or added to a smoothie, hemp seeds are packed with nutrition. The beautiful thing about these tiny, nutrient-dense seeds is that for just 3 tablespoons you get 10 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 12 grams of healthy fats. That's a lot of nutrition in just a very little amount. While they're technically shelf-stable, keep them in the fridge or freezer to help them last longer. Chia seeds and flaxseeds are two other healthy seeds to keep on hand to stir into oatmeal or add to smoothies.

7. Jerky

It's not just for road trips. This is a perfect, portable source of quality protein (among other nutrients). And you can get everything from beef jerky to chicken, salmon, tuna and turkey and more. It's portable. It's durable. And it's a nice source of protein when you're looking for a quality snack to enjoy.