Pantry proteins

Canned seafood — like this photo of a salad with tuna— can be a nutritious, delicious and relatively inexpensive source of protein.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions in almost every aspect of our lives, including how we receive our food supply. Because of the large-scale closing of restaurants, farmers and ranchers have an over-abundance of meats, dairy and vegetables, but few customers left to buy their goods in large enough quantities.

This unexpected glitch in the food supply chain has caused concerns about the availability and pricing of certain meats and produce over the next few months. Because I believe in being prepared, my pantry is well-stocked with a variety of canned and packaged goods, including pantry proteins like canned seafood.

While I’m accustomed to using canned vegetables and fruits, canned proteins have never been my first choice ... until now. I’ve learned that canned seafood can be a nutritious, delicious and relatively inexpensive source of protein.

Here are a few of the health benefits of canned salmon, tuna, smoked mackerel, sardines and clams:

Canned Salmon — Not only is this fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it’s actually better for you when canned because it’s packed with the bones intact, meaning more calcium for your bones and teeth. Also, some of the fat is removed, making it a healthier option.

Canned Tuna — This pantry staple is high in protein and low in fat, with 42 grams of complete protein with all of the essential amino acids, heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, B-vitamins, selenium and choline.

Tuna contains folate, iron and B-12, which help to prevent anemia. It’s also free of carbohydrates and provides beneficial nutrients for diabetes management.

Balancing our intake of omega-6 fatty acids with more omega-3 fatty acids (from seafood like tuna) can help slow the progression of dementia. The omega-3 fatty acids in tuna compete with pro-inflammatory omega-6s to block inflammation at the cellular level, lowering the risk of vascular cognitive impairment and dementia. The combination of fatty acids and protein in tuna can also be helpful for staying strong as we age.

Canned Mackerel — Canned plain or smoked mackerel is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids and is very inexpensive.

Canned Sardines — Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, sardines are an excellent choice of fish because they are sustainable and inexpensive. They contain high amounts of vitamin B-12 (second only to calf liver), which promotes heart health.

Canned Clams — Clams are high in protein and zinc — critical for the well-being of your immune system — and rich in iron (containing far greater quantities than found in red meat) and selenium.

Clams also are high in omega-3 fatty acids and are a good source of phosphorous, manganese and potassium.

If you’d like to use canned seafood in a new way, try this recipe for Fancy Fish Toast. It’s basically thick slices of toasted bread topped with an array of delicious ingredients with flavors that blend beautifully with any of the varieties of canned seafood previously listed.

If you’re feeling extra fancy, try this recipe using smoked baby clams or oysters!


4 large eggs

Juice from 1 lemon

12 cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half

1 green onion, roots removed and discarded, white and green parts chopped

1/4 teaspoon sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided

2 1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 small garlic clove, finely minced or grated

1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon paprika

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

4 thick slices sourdough bread or country white bread

2 (6-7 ounce) cans or jars oil-packed tuna, drained

1/2 cup torn mixed tender herbs or baby lettuce greens

1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Gently lower eggs into pot with a slotted spoon and cook 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and let cool. Peel eggs; set aside.

2. Using a medium-sized bowl, mix the lemon juice, tomatoes, green onions, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper together.

3. Stir together the mayonnaise, garlic, vinegar and paprika in a small bowl; season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium until shimmering. Add 2 slices of bread and cook, adjusting heat as needed, until bottoms are deeply browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle fried side with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Repeat with another 2 tablespoons oil and remaining slices of bread.

5. Spread mayonnaise mixture over toasted side of bread. Top with tuna and tomato mixture; spoon some of the juices over the mixture. Scatter herbs or lettuce greens over toast; drizzle with oil. Slice each egg into 3 or 4 pieces and arrange on top. Season with remaining salt and pepper. Serves 4.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.

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