Top 20 "Go To" Items for Every Kitchen


Cooking without using salty foods is a lot easier if your pantry is stocked with great low-sodium choices. We've listed our top choices for low salt "quick foods" that older adults should keep on hand. Healthy staples can replace canned soup and other salty convenience foods.

Healthier choices will save you time and money, and help you avoid costly restaurant meals when you need healthy food in a hurry. These foods keep for quite a while and can be used in lots of quick meals.

  1. Eggs: Inexpensive protein-rich eggs stay fresh three to five weeks after you buy them. Eat them with toast. Try an egg strata for breakfast or dinner, or hard cook several to use in sandwiches or salads.
  2. Tuna: Canned tuna is another inexpensive protein option. Save money by rinsing regular tuna in a sieve or colander to get rid of most of the salt, which is cheaper than buying the low-sodium options. Tuna can be eaten cold on a salad or sandwich, mixed with pasta in a casserole, or served hot over rice.
  3. Rolled oats: Oatmeal is a great salt-free way to start the day. Just microwave one to two minutes for the fastest breakfast ever, or add to meatloaf, homemade granola, or homemade cookies.
  4. Sour cream, cream cheese or yogurt: Add salsa or fresh herbs to one of these dairy products to make a creamy dip or spread. Use as a quick Alfredo sauce, or top a potato or homemade nachos. If you are watching calories, try the reduced fat options or use plain yogurt.
  5. Couscous: Just add boiling water to this pasta, along with your fresh or dried herbs, wait five minutes, fluff with a fork, add protein, and it's ready to serve as a main dish. Avoid the pre-seasoned type, as they are usually high in salt.
  6. Ramen noodles: Quick and inexpensive, ramen noodles are a go-to item across America. Look for low-salt recipes using the noodles—just avoid the seasoning packet and the types that have the seasonings mixed in with the noodles already. Add eggs, cooked meat leftovers, or veggies for a hot, nourishing meal.
  7. Frozen dinners: Keep a few frozen meals on hand for days when you don't feel like cooking. Look for meals with fewer than 600 mg of sodium.
  8. Ground beef: Buy fresh ground beef on sale to save money and freeze—or buy already frozen patties for a quick meal. Enjoy meatloaf, chili, taco meat, and meatballs!
  9. Peanut butter: If you've never tried salt-free nut butters, experiment. Besides sandwiches, you can use peanut butter in a spicy peanut sauce for stir fry and in homemade cookies.
  10. Powdered milk and soy, almond, and other plant milks: Buy these in the non-refrigerated section of the store—unopened, they will keep on your shelf for about a year. Use powdered milk in cooking to save money without losing flavor or adding extra salt.
  11. Frozen chicken: Often less expensive than fresh, frozen chicken can be baked, boiled, fried, or barbecued. Avoid those with added salt and water. Ask the butcher if you are not sure.
  12. Rice and rice noodles: Another easy food that can go with almost any entrée. Cook a big batch then freeze in small containers for a quick side dish. Try brown rice for a healthy change. Stay away from premade and/or seasoned mixes—instead, make or buy the salt-free varieties.
  13. Canned fruits: Try mandarin oranges or canned pineapple, which can wake up a humdrum salad or homemade pizza.
  14. Corn tortillas: Salt-free corn tortillas keep well in the freezer and work well with any meal. Serve with eggs or meat. Fry them to make your own chips.
  15. Refrigerated pie dough: Pre-made pie dough is one of the few reasonably low-sodium convenience foods. Use it to make your own quiche or pie.
  16. Basil pesto: Find the pesto product that has the least amount of salt. Add pesto to pasta, as a sauce on pizza, or mix with cream cheese.
  17. Salsa and tomato paste: Find the tomato product with the least amount of salt. Add tomatoes to a pan of sautéed chicken, with a can of light coconut milk, some curry powder, and you have a quick dinner. Use tomato paste to top pizza and as a base for red sauces, or mix with ground beef for meat loaf.
  18. Cornmeal: Cornmeal is ideal for those who love cornbread, muffins, or stuffing. Leave out the salt in your favorite recipe but add the baking powder or soda. Look for Ener-G foods low sodium baking powder or baking soda in health food or upscale grocery stores. A jar will last more than a year.
  19. Popcorn kernels: Popcorn is a great snack! Why buy microwave popcorn when you can pop your own kernels in a brown paper bag? Visit the Northwest Kidney Centers website for more information.
  20. Fresh herbs: Keep a supply of fresh herbs in your fridge, or freeze for future use. You can put them in everything you cook throughout the year.

Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She holds a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. Erin McCormick, also a Northwest Kidney Centers registered dietitian, contributed to this article.