Pantry Basics: Inside the Vault

Having a well stocked pantry is your friend when it comes to being health conscious.  If you have a few basics around, you can throw together a healthy meal in a hurry.  Without a well-stocked pantry, you can find yourself going out to eat more often, hurting your wallet and your waistline.  Also, if you go to Taco Bell, you can hurt your dignity.  This isn’t a complete list of essentials, but it’s a pretty good starting point.

1.)     Oils:  If you have to have fats around, you need to be conscious of them.  You need to have a few different kinds around.  Keep a can of cooking spray around, it’s convenient and it’s a good way to use a small amount.  Keep a bottle of vegetable oil around for use in recipes.  You’ll need some olive oils, too.  We keep around a bottle of good quality extra virgin olive oil around for recipes where heat isn’t an issue, like salad dressings.  We keep regular olive oil around to use for sautéing, and, well, just about anytime we cook.  The fruity flavors of a quality olive oil are lost when heat is applied.  Basically, if you have a recipe where olive oil is a key flavor, use the good stuff.  We also like to keep some sesame oil around to use in stir fry.

2.)    Vinegars:  I dig the acidity that vinegar can bring to a dish.  Don’t use that crappy distilled white vinegar though.  It’s best used for cleaning windows.  Keep a few around for different recipes.  We have balsamic, red wine, rice wine, and apple cider.  A little balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a touch of mustard, and you’ve got salad dressing.

3.)    Sweeteners:   Like oils, if you have to have them, make sure you know what you’re doing.  Keep honey around.  It’s a healthy sweetener, and a fat burner.  Turbinado sugar is another good one to have around.  Do keep regular old refined sugar around for occasional use, but remember, it’s empty calories and carbs.  We use honey to sweeten things and in baking.

4.)    Canned salmon, tuna, and chicken:  These are nice to have around to add protein to meals.  This should go without saying, but you need to buy the stuff packed in water.  If you buy things packed in oil, your innards will soon be packed in oil, too.  Salad mix, canned chicken, hard boiled egg, and the salad dressing you just made, and bam! You’ve got a healthy chicken salad.

5.)    Spices:  Spices can elevate the even the lowliest meal to something tasty.  I’m not going to tell you what spices you need to have around.  You have to play around with them yourself and figure out what you like.  It’s a good idea to keep a wide variety of spices in your pantry.

6.)    Dried fruits:  We really only keep raisins around, but you can keep others.  The important thing to remember is to look at the ingredient list before buying dried fruits.  If sugar is on the list of ingredients, you don’t want to buy it.

7.)    Peanut Butter:  Peanut butter is just awesome.  Use in moderation, and you can minimize calorie damages by buying the natural kind.  Most of the big names in peanut butter have natural varieties now, so you can stick with your brand loyalty if you want to, but make sure you do buy natural.  Non-natural peanut butter has too many additives and sugars.  1 teaspoon of peanut butter and an apple makes a great snack.

8.)    Chocolate:  Dark chocolate is so damn good for you.  Keep around a variety to use for dessert, or even in recipes.  Have you ever had dark chocolate with chilies in it?  You should probably try that if you haven’t.

9.)    Soup:   Soup is soup-er nice to have around for a quick meal.  Make sure you read the labels on whatever you buy so you know what you are getting into.  I’m sure the clam chowder, or loaded baked potato is awesome, but is it really worth the extra calories?  We have found that we enjoy the Progresso Light soups.  In addition to soup, make sure you always have some chicken broth around.  It’s really handy for recipes and sauces.  Just be sure to buy the low sodium kind.

10.) Tomatoes:  I love having canned tomatoes around.  They are incredibly versatile.  I like adding them to all sorts of recipes.  Most major brands now offer a no salt added variety, so check into that.  In addition to the canned tomatoes, you should try and keep a jar of pasta sauce around.  It’s something that can make you a quick, healthy dinner really easy.  Again, just be sure to keep an eye on the nutrition facts.  Pasta sauce, whole wheat pasta, canned tomatoes, and ground turkey or lean beef makes a great and healthy pasta dish.  Just remember to have some greens with it—or even better, add your veggies to your pasta.  Zucchini is a great addition.

Grains, Pasta, and Breads:

I decided that this group should be offset from the others.  Why?  Because it’s my article and I can do whatever the hell I want.  The important thing to remember with this grains, pastas, and breads is whole grains.  Carbs can be dangerous, but if you stick to whole grains and high fiber you can minimize damages substantially.  Here’s what we like to have around.

1.)     Whole wheat Flour

2.)    Oatmeal

3.)    Brown Rice (You can have instant, but it’s not really the same.  Add some curry powder and raisins for an ethnic flavor.)

4.)    All Purpose Flour (Even though it’s not the healthiest, this is something every pantry needs)

5.)    Whole kernel Popcorn (This puts you in control of the fats and flavors.  We also have Orville Redenbacher Natural microwave popcorn in our cupboard.  The whole bag is only 140 calories, and Crystal likes that.)

6.)    Whole Wheat Pasta (Personally, I don’t dig the texture, but it’s much healthier)

7.)    Thinwiches (Awesome to have around.  Only 100 Calories, too!)  Toast your thinwhich and top with canned chicken mixed with a little olive oil mayo, yellow mustard, chopped pickles, and chopped onion.)

8.)    Whole Wheat English Muffins (Awesome for breakfast sandwiches, which are nature’s candy)

9.)    Corn Starch (Great for thickening sauces, and it doesn’t add much in the way of calories)

10.)  Whole grain bread (We keep it in the freezer, because it takes us a while to get through a loaf)

These are just some of the staples that you can have in your pantry to make eating healthier easier.  As you look through the list, you’ll notice that you can throw together complete meals with the ingredients listed.  Later on, we’ll throw some recipes at you that are made up with nothing but the things on this list.  For now, you’ll all have to wait.  So until next week, enjoy yourselves!

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