Pantry staples you can buy in bulk and don’t go bad quickly, like pasta, rice, and oatmeal, have become the mealtime heroes of quarantine. But as dependable and versatile as they are, without the abundance of color fresh produce brings, it can leave meals looking a little…beige.
Healthy eating experts often preach the importance of colorful meals as a way to get a whole spectrum of vitamins and nutrients, but when you have oatmeal, rice, and pasta on repeat, it can be a little hard to do.
Here, registered dietitian Crystal Cascio, RD, gives tips on how to give meals more color and nutrients. She zeroes in on the aforementioned trio of meals virtually everyone has on repeat right now, but her tips can be applied to anything you’re making in the kitchen. Keep reading for her helpful tips.
Healthy ways to give meals more color, according to a dietitian
if you’re making pasta
While it may be hard to keep fresh produce in steady supply right now, Cascio says this is a great time to stock up on frozen veggies, which have the same nutrient value as their fresh counterparts and last a lot longer. “When you make your pasta sauce on the stove, you can actually throw some frozen veggies right in there and they’ll defrost and warm up at the same time as your sauce, so it’s super easy,” Cascio says. If canned vegetables are more readily available to you than frozen, Cascio says incorporating them into your meal can be just as good. Just keep an eye on the sodium content when shopping. A good rule of thumb is to consume less than 2,300 milligrams a day.
Because there are so many glorious alternative pastas now, Cascio says another way to add more color and nutrients to your bowl is by playing around with the different types. Some protein-rich varieties to try: red lentil, black lentil, and edamame.
Another way to give meals more color, including your pasta dinner: herbs and spices. “Spices are such a great way to add more color, nutrients, and flavor to any dish,” Cascio says. For pasta dishes, she likes to add herbs like basil, oregano, and parsley.
Check out the video below to see how to make a colorful pasta dish with a vegetarian bolognese sauce:
If you’re making rice or beans
Similarly to varying your pasta type, Cascio says switching up the type of rice you make can add more color and nutrients to your plate, too. Instead of always going for white or brown rice, she recommends trying other types like black rice, red rice, or wild rice.
The same logic can be applied to beans and legumes, too. “Sometimes I get into the habit of just buying chickpeas but there are so many colorful beans and legumes that are full of flavor and bring different nutrients to the table,” Cascio says. Some of her recs: navy beans, red lentils, pinto beans, kidney beans, and lima beans.
Here too, herbs and spices can add color, flavor, and nutrients to your plate. Some to try: mint, basil, and turmeric.
If you’re making oatmeal
While a bowl of oatmeal is full of fiber, it can taste pretty bland on its own. This is another time when Cascio suggests incorporating some frozen produce in your bowl, especially berries which are high in antioxidants. “You can also add dried fruit on top, too,” she suggests. “Just make sure that what you’re buying is just the fruit and doesn’t have added sugar.”
Cascio also likes to add vibrant, warming spices to her oatmeal, like cinnamon and nutmeg. With just a few shakes of a spice, your bowl is instantly more flavorful.
While you may not have frequent access to the produce section right now, there’s still plenty of other ways to give meals more color. And a bonus of getting more creative is that it extends beyond just this time in isolation. Chances are, you’ll be using these hacks even when your crisper is full.