In today’s fast-paced world, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is more crucial than ever, and it all begins with a well-stocked pantry.
A pantry full of wholesome, nutrient-rich staples serves as a foundation for balanced meals and healthy snacks and empowers us to make healthier food choices.
The time it takes to make a trip to the grocery store to stock up on healthy essentials pays off in dividends when it comes to your health, energy, and mental focus.
Embracing the art of pantry stocking is a powerful step towards creating a nourishing, healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
In this article, we’ll explore useful tips and must-have items to keep on hand to assure you have everything you need for a lifetime of healthy eating and good health.
Let’s take an imaginary tour to the grocery store and select what we’ll add to our shopping cart.
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The rule of thumb here is “eat the rainbow.”
The colors we see are indicative of the various antioxidants present in each of these foods. The more color variety we consume, the better protection we have against chronic disease and premature aging.
Be sure to include citrus fruits or juices, berries and green leafy vegetables. Buy berries when they’re on sale, and freeze them to use later in cereal, oatmeal, yogurt and smoothies.
Freeze bags of pre-washed spinach to toss into smoothies for a nutrition boost!
Dried fruits are a great pantry staple. Avoid those with added sugars. Typically, raisins, apricots, prunes, and dates don’t contain added sugar.
The best selections in the dairy case are fat-free and low-fat products. These give you all the nutrition of full-fat dairy, without the unhealthy saturated fats. Reduced fat string cheese makes a quick and nutritious snack, and an easy-to-pack lunch box item for school or work.
Eggs provide good quality high biological value protein. Despite what you may have heard about eggs in the past, they’re healthy and nutritious. One to two eggs a day fit into a healthy eating pattern. Egg yolks are one of the few foods that contain vitamin D.
Breads, cereals and grains
Keep an assortment of whole grains on hand, including whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, brown rice, oats, and whole grain cereals.
Look for cereals with at least 2 grams of fiber, no more than 4 grams of sugar, and 200 mg or less of sodium per serving. Oatmeal and shredded wheat are the gold standards for hot and cold cereals — neither have added sugar, salt, or fat and both are 100% whole grain.
Many people aren’t aware that popcorn is a healthy whole grain. Yep — good ol’ popcorn!
Buy a microwave corn popper, add a tablespoon of healthy oil, such as canola oil, 1/3 cup of dry popcorn kernels, and cook on high for three minutes. Add salt or other seasoning to taste. Nutritional yeast is a good option for those wanting to avoid salt — it tastes like Parmesan cheese.
Avoid the pre-packaged microwave popcorns in the grocery store — they tend to be high in unhealthy saturated fat and sodium.
Canned vegetables and beans are quick and easy sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber, but are often high in sodium. Rinsing will remove 30-40% of the sodium. Better yet — look for “no salt added” versions.
Keep an assortment of canned legumes on hand to use on salads, soups, stews, and chilies, or as a side dish with brown rice.
Canned whole, diced or pureed tomatoes are a common ingredient in recipes, so be sure to stock up on low sodium versions of these.
Canned salmon and tuna are always good to have around. These are convenient sources of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein.
Choose lean, well-trimmed cuts or beef and pork. Flank steak, round steak or roasts, sirloin, tenderloin and extra-lean ground beef are all good choices.
Buy skinless poultry or remove the skin yourself prior to cooking. Half of the calories, and most of the fat are in the skin.
All fish and seafood are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Make it a point to include fish in your diet at least twice a week.
Frozen food case
Look for frozen fish and poultry without breading or seasonings. Plain frozen vegetables are a nutritious and convenient choice. If you like to make smoothies, stock up on an assortment of frozen fruits.
Read food labels carefully on frozen entrees, pizzas, and specialty items — these tend to be very high in sodium.
Cooking oils, dressings, and condiments
All liquid cooking oils are rich in healthy unsaturated fats. They are all good choices, but extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil have a more favorable fatty acid profile than most others.
Despite the common belief that mayonnaise is high in cholesterol, it is actually very low, and contains an abundance of healthful unsaturated fats.
Many salad dressings are high in sodium, and many contain added sugars. Read food labels carefully. Your best bet is always oil and vinegar. There are many flavors and types of vinegars on the market, so find one that you like. Try regular balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, cider, and malt vinegars. I keep all of them in my pantry.
Lemon juice, salsa, hot sauce, black pepper, and garlic are good mainstays to add flavor without salt.
Nuts and seeds
These contain healthy fats, protein and fiber, as well as an assortment of antioxidants. Sunflower seeds are delicious on salads.
Sliced almonds and walnuts go great with yogurt, oatmeal and cold cereals. Nuts and seeds make a convenient and satisfying snack.
Create your own mixture using your favorites, and add raisins, chopped dates, or chopped apricots for a healthy trail mix.
Don’t forget to include natural peanut butter and other nut butters to add to smoothies, oatmeal, sandwiches, and crackers.
Susie Bond is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist in private practice. Contact her at[email protected]