Spring is in the air. So what better time than now to spring clean your pantry! Stocking your kitchen with healthy essentials ensures you have the staples to make healthy meals and snacks. Get ready to enjoy the benefits of good nutrition.
Here are the steps:
Step 1: Remove everything from your kitchen cabinets. Yes, everything- we are going to clean the cabinets and throw away old spices and oils. Oils do have a shelf life. The length of shelf life depends on the type of oil, how it is stored and when it was opened. How to tell if oil has spoiled? Color, texture and smell all change with age so if the oil develops a wine smell than it has gone bad. Look at the best before date, determine the number of months since then, follow this link for average shelf life depending on the type of oil http://www.eatbydate.com/other/condiments/how-long-does-oil-last/ and toss it if the oil has expired. Spices have a much longer shelf but still have the potential to expire and this will alter the taste of your dishes. Follow this link for information on spices http://www.eatbydate.com/other/spices/how-long-do-spices-last/ . On average, dried spices and herbs last 2-3 years after their best by date while fresh only last 5-7 days past the date. Now wipe your cabinets clean.
Step 2: Time to stock, take an inventory of what you have and compare to this essentials list:
Oils: For low heat cooking: Olive oil for making salad dressings or sautéing over medium heat. Skip olive oil when cooking on high heat because it has a low smoke point and with all oils it is important to not allow the oil to reach this smoke point. If brought to too high a heat, beneficial compounds in the oils degrade and turn into potentially harmful compounds. Coconut oil has a very low smoke point as well, slightly lower than olive oil but can be used in baking at temperatures less than 350 if choosing unrefined oil. For high heat cooking: Organic canola oil, peanut oil or refined safflower oil for temperatures above 375 degrees F. Refined safflower oil has a very high smoke point but unrefined should be used more like olive oil.
Baking essentials: Baking soda and baking powder Cocoa powder, unsweetened Cinnamon (use frequently to “sweeten” oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods) Vanilla extract
Additional pantry items: Vinegars- balsamic and red wine (great for sautéing or making homemade salad dressings) Spices – Italian spices oregano and basil are versatile Lemon pepper is great on chicken or fish Chili powder or red pepper flakes if you like spicy foods Pepper- freshly ground, black or white Powders – garlic and onion can be used in most all dishes Sweeteners- local honey, raw cane sugar or Stevia are healthy. For good health, use honey or sugar in moderation.
Whole Grains: Quinoa – whole grain, complete protein and excellent source of fiber this ancient grain can be substituted for rice in savory dishes, added to soup and salads or mixed with oatmeal and flavored with cinnamon and vanilla for breakfast Old fashioned oats- for oatmeal or to make oat flour (just place oats in food processor or blender) and sub in for recipes where flour is called for just keep in mind the texture will be denser. Cereal- stock your pantry with a whole grain cereal, low in sugar; either mix in with a sweetened cereal or add natural sweetness by topping it with berries, bananas, raisins and a drizzle of honey. Uncle Sam’s is a great choice and one of the few cereals that provide omega-3 fats, essential for heart and brain health. Pasta- whole grain pasta, any variety, will be denser than white pasta but this only means more nutrition! Snacks: Popcorn- unsalted, unbuttered, this is a whole grain snack. To flavor try garlic powder, oregano or even hot sauce! Crackers- Engine2 are a delicious whole grain choice. If you have Ritz crackers or even Cheez-its, toss them these products still contain trans fats. Sweets- dark chocolate, the higher the percentage the more bitter but less sugar helping to curb your sweet tooth without triggering more sweet cravings.
Seeds (an easy way to add tons of nutrition to your meals): Ground flaxseed- a rich source of essential fats, ground flaxseed is found in most grocery stores on the baking aisle. Sprinkle on oatmeal, yogurt, or use as an egg substitute in baked goods; flaxseed lends just a slightly nutty flavor. Chia seeds- nutrient powerhouses these seeds do not have any flavor to them so they can be added to most any dish. Add into smoothies to thicken the consistency, mix into yogurt, oatmeal or sprinkle on cereal. You can even make your own homemade pudding with these seeds.
Nuts: Walnuts- one of the few nuts that are a relatively rich source of omega-3 fats these are great as a snack, or addition to morning oatmeal or cereal, salad or mixed into muffins or breads Almonds- cocoa roasted almonds offer a slightly sweet, chocolaty taste making these a great snack to hold you over until the next meal. Including plant fats is a key weight loss tool. Nut butter- natural peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower butter, etc. makes for an easy sandwich or snack or mix-in for a smoothie to add some healthy fats and protein.
Beans/legumes: Dried, whatever your preference- more time consuming to prepare, cook a bunch at once and freeze for leftovers. These are a great source of plant protein, cholesterol-lowering fiber and low in fat and calories; pair with brown rice/quinoa as a main course. Or have as a side, add to soups, topping for a salad or filling for a burrito. Canned – have a few on hand for when crunched for time, these only take minutes to prepare and are a great way to add fiber and protein to soups. They are packed with salt, so rinse them well.
Dried fruit: Raisins- unlike most dried fruits, raisins do not have any sugar added and make a great addition to dried cereal, oatmeal, baked goods or paired with nuts and dark chocolate for a snack.
Frozen Produce: Berries- I like to stock my freezer with berries for yogurt, oatmeal and smoothies. Frozen berries, in addition to fresh, are an excellent source of antioxidants, protecting your body from free radical damage. Vegetables- whatever your preference as long as the package does not contain added butter or sauces. Now just stock your refrigerator weekly with fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, herbs, milk, cheeses, eggs, fresh salsas, breads, hummus and fresh meats or vegetarian protein sources (tofu, seitan, tempeh) for the week!
Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN, CDE, CDN is the author of the widely-acclaimed book The Teen Eating Manifesto: The Ten Essential Steps to Losing Weight, Looking Great and Getting Healthy (Nirvana Press 2012). Lisa is a specialist in weight management and diabetes for teens and adults. She is the Founder of Lisa Stollman Nutrition with offices in Huntington, NY and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or for more info: www.lisastollmanrd.com. Look for her new e-book The Trim Traveler: How to Eat Healthy and Stay Fit While Traveling Abroad (Nirvana Press 2014) later this spring.