What to keep on hand to make cooking a delicious, nutritious meal easy every night of the week.
The best way to ensure you have everything you need to prepare delicious meals is to keep a well-stocked pantry. When you cook at home you can prepare healthy, nourishing food using quality, fresh ingredients—much better than prepared food that is often loaded with calories, fats, sodium and added sweeteners.
Here are a few of my pantry favourites and the reasons why.
Extra-virgin olive oil
Why?: No surprise here—olive oil is one of the reasons why the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world.
How to use it: I recommend buying cold-pressed olive oil for the best flavor. Cook with it, but also drizzle over finished dishes, like grilled fish, pasta, and vegetables sides. (Just be sure not to go overboard. Even though it is good fat, one tablespoon still packs 120 calories.) Personally I have a crazy flavoured olive oil collection. My favourite place to shop online is Evoolution. Visit their website and check out all the amazing products they carry. www.evoolution.ca
Non-fat Greek yogurt
Why?: Greek yogurt is packed with 18 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving. Though it's creamy and seems indulgent, it contains just 100 calories per serving.
How to use it: Greek yogurt makes a great substitute in recipes for mayo and sour cream.
Why?: It'll last in your cupboard for years. And in addition to being a versatile sweetener, honey can serve as a hangover helper, cough soother, and more.
How to use it: Sweeten homemade marinades and salad dressings. I also like to incorporate it into whole-grain baking. Whole wheat flour can be denser, but adding honey in place of regular sugar keeps things tender and moist. In recipes that call for sugar, swap in an equal amount of honey and reduce baking temperature by 25 degrees.
Why?: They are full of monounsaturated fats (the good stuff) and have a long shelf life.
How to use them: Throw them on top of salads, stir them into pastas, or try snacking on them. You can eat 10 for about 50 calories. They're perfect when you're craving something salty, but it's more satisfying than a fluffy cracker in your belly.
Why?: Not only inexpensive, they're also a great source of protein and fiber. (One cup of chickpeas, for example, contains a whopping 15 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber.)
How to use them: Keep beans of all kinds in your kitchen. I personally favour chickpeas, black beans, and white northern, but what you stock in your pantry is up to you. Keep canned around for salsas and salads; dried to make larger servings that will last the week.
Why?: For one cup of cooked quinoa, you get 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber for just 222 calories. Plus, the hearty whole grain is a good source of energizing iron and B vitamins. I also like it because it's one of the speediest grains to cook; it's ready in about 15 minutes.
How to use it: Combine cooked quinoa with shredded chicken, chopped veggies, and toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Or, eat quinoa hot as a substitute for oatmeal. Stir in almond milk, dried fruit, nuts, and drizzle with honey.
Why?: One egg contains six grams of belly-filling protein for only 70 calories. One study found that overweight people who ate eggs for breakfast lost twice as much weight as those who started their days with bagels. Protein keeps you feeling full for longer.
How to use them: Hard boil a bunch at the beginning of the week for an on-the-go breakfast or snack with a piece of cheese and fruit. Or, throw a fried egg on top of a rice-and-veggie bowl or a salad for an extra bit of protein.
I've put together a list of the things that I usually have in stock in my pantry. I couldn't list all the spices I own as they number above one hundred, but my best advice is there are never enough spices in your home.
Grains & Legumes
Whole-wheat flour and whole-wheat pastry flour (Store opened packages in the refrigerator or freezer.
Assorted whole-wheat pastas
Brown rice and instant brown rice
Pearl barley, quick-cooking barley
Rolled oats. steel cut oats
Plain dry whole wheat breadcrumbs
Brown Rice Krispies (I crush and use as breadcrumbs)