The New Year inevitably brings resolutions, even if they’re just to stop eating like you have been the past 2 weeks. You can’t really make changes, though, without the raw materials. Revise your pantry. Not sure how? Here’s your road map.
THE ESSENTIALs for a Clean, Healthy Pantry
Use this as a tool so you can shop and create meals from healthy ingredients any time. A stocked pantry enables you to make good choices most of the time and sets you up for success. How you stock this pantry depends a little on your goals and needs, but some foods are quite universal.
Pantry essentials are foods that you can use to toss together almost any meal and usually last for a while – a week or longer. They may require an initial investment, but many you may purchase in bulk and can thus make last for a long time.
Dry Goods Pantry
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This heart-healthy oil is good for light sautéing. Emulsify it with balsamic or lemon juice for a quick salad dressing. Combine olive oil with chopped garlic and dried oregano as a marinade for fish or chicken.
- Coconut oil: Anti-microbial and high in lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride, coconut oil supports good health and weight. It has a high smoke point and doesn’t degrade when heated – so it’s ideal for sautéing, stir frying and baking. Add a teaspoon or two to smoothies to up your healthy fat intake and help with satiation.
Nuts and Seeds
- Seeds: Have a supply of chia, flax (grind before use), sunflower and pumpkin seeds on hand. Store them in the freezer (even though their listed as pantry items) to prevent rancidity. These are a source of protein, calcium (chia), fiber and healthy fats. Sunflower seeds are a source of zinc and pumpkin seeds are a source of magnesium. Use as snacks, toss into smoothies or top salads with them.
- Nut butter: Organic ground peanut butter with no additives is okay, but experiment with other types of nut butter such as raw almond, walnut or cashew butter. The raw butter hasn’t been subjected to the roasting process that may alter and damage the polyunsaturated fats that nuts contain and that are more vulnerable to oxidation.
- Nuts: Almost all nuts are good options, but focus specifically on raw almonds, walnuts and macadamias. Roast them yourself (just like 3-5 minutes in a 350-degree oven); they’re fresher, taste better, don’t have added oils and are cheaper. Ensure they don’t contain added sugars and salts. Use them as snacks, to top salads or pureed into smoothies.
- Beans: Dried beans that you soak yourself are superior, but having a few cans on hand for quick options is helpful. A great source of protein, canned beans make an inexpensive and, in the case of canned, instant meal. Used right out of the can, black beans work well in tacos, quesadillas, in chilis and as a salad topper. Quickly reheat them with choped onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, coriander and star anise and serve over rice for a quick and complete dinner. White cannelini beans taste great in stews, and make a quick dinner when combined with broccoli, Parmesan cheese and tomatoes. Toss up a curry with canned chickpeas, garam masala, canned diced tomatoes – serve over rice with mango chutney or whip together quickly into delicious hummus. When choosing cans, look for organic and BPA-free cans.
- Canned fish: Sardines, chunk-light tuna and salmon are perfect for salad toppings or to mash into a “fish” burger. Look for troll caught and water-packed – as well as BPA-free cans.
- Dried Lentils: Unlike other dried beans, lentils don’t require a long soak time. Use them to make soup, a salad with chopped onion, peppers and tomato topped with lemon and olive oil, puree into a dip or simmer in water (about 20 minutes) with celery, garlic and cumin and serve with quinoa for a quick meal.
- Canned, diced tomatoes: Use to create homemade tomato sauce, chili, stew and braises. Add to soups or roasted vegetables for a quick ragout. Look for organic brands with BPA-free cans.
- Chicken or vegetable broth: make a quick soup with chicken breasts and frozen vegetables and quinoa. Add to stews, deepen the flavor of sauces, use to finish sautéed greens or poach vegetables. Choose low-sodium and go for the boxes, rather than cans.
- Vinegar: Balsamic and white wine vinegar may be used for marinades, salad dressings and sauces.
- Spices: dry oregano, ground cumin, curry powder, turmeric, paprika, black pepper, sea salt and chili powder. You can make dozens of dishes with any combination of these spices. They work well on meats, poultry, fish and vegetables. Most of these spices have anti-inflammatory properties as well. Remember to replace spices every 3 months or so to ensure their freshness.
- Tamari (wheat-free soy sauce): Use it to make a quick marinade for steaks/chicken with scallions and garlic or to season a quick stir fry.
- Garlic, onions and shallots: These alium vegetables contain phytonutrients that protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer. They are also a base for all stews and sauces and add flavor to soups.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is a pseudo-grain – it’s actually a seed. It offers a lot of protein, fiber, iron, magnesium and the amino acid lysine. Use it like rice, but with a nutritional bonus.
- Rice: Use in moderation, but it is an easily digested source of carbohydrates. If it encourages you to enjoy curry dishes (full of veggies and anti-inflammatory turmeric), have up to a ½ cup at one meal several times per week. Brown or white is OK.
- Sweet potatoes or winter squash: Sources of vitamin A and fiber, these starchy vegetables may be made into soup, “fries” or mashes.