Dishing up healthy meals at home can be an incredibly daunting and challenging domestic task. From shopping a long list of new ingredients to facing down a goliath recipe, cooking can quickly become a frantic frenzy of figuring out how to assemble a food jigsaw puzzle from scratch. So it's no wonder we're left racking up an exorbitant grocery bill that leaves us exhausted and wondering if we wouldn't have been better off dining and wining at a fancy restaurant instead.
The crux of modern-day cooking is that many disheartened folk are bending over backwards in search of healthy solutions but resorting to highly-processed, quick-and-easy, budget-friendly cheat meals to fill up the family for less, ultimately skipping out on health and nutrition in the long run.
What if I told you that what we cook doesn't have to be such a dire situation? I think this quote by Errick McAdams perfectly captures the simple logic behind conditioning ourselves to eat healthy meals at home:
"If you keep good food in your fridge, you will eat good food."
By stocking your kitchen with well-thought-out, long-lasting and healthy pantry, fridge and freezer staples, you can ensure that you always have the basic building blocks to assemble nutrient-rich meals and snacks at home.
If you, like me, find yourself making fewer trips to the shops after lockdown, you will agree that it can be incredibly useful to have non-perishables on hand when you've burned through your fresh food stores. So next time you go on a grocery outing or order your deliveries online, keep these healthy pantry staples in mind and you will be well on your way to throwing together a nutritious meal in no time.
PLENTY FOR YOUR PANTRY
Grains, pulses and legumes are super convenient pantry items, and act as excellent ingredients to bulk up the base of your meals. Having plenty of these in your kitchen can open the doors to experimenting with incredibly versatile menu options. Grains, beans and lentils (both dried and canned) are highly nutritious foods, and are rich sources of fibre, magnesium, vitamin B and iron. Items in this food category also have a very long shelf life, so you can buy in bulk and ensure that you always have go-to non-perishables at your disposal.
Try adding kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas to salads, grain bowls, stews, soups and curries.
- Gluten-free rolled oats
- Steel cut oats
- Quick-rolled oats
- Organic white basmati rice
- Brown rice
- Wholegrain couscous
- Gluten-free pasta
- Gluten-free flour
- Red & white quinoa
- Green & brown lentils
- Red, white & black kidney beans
- Black beans
- Butter beans
- Cannellini beans
- Activated granola
- Organic popcorn
- Rice cakes
Nuts, Seeds, Dried Fruit & Nut Butters
No, you’re not hungry. You’re just bored.
Feeling personally attacked? Me too. We've all been there before. The pandemic and its incessant lockdowns have confined us to a home itinerary of migrating between our beds, fridges, desks, and bathrooms – on repeat in a seemingly infinite loop. More often than I'd like to admit, I find myself drifting over to the kitchen, hoping that a chocolate bar has magically appeared since I last opened the cupboard 10 minutes ago.
Ditch the chips, chocolates and candy for dried fruit, nuts and seeds!
By stocking your pantry with healthy snacks, you intentionally remove the temptation of sugar-laden treats, which means you have no other option but to enjoy nature's best.
Nuts and seeds are packed with nutrition, providing healthy fats, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals in one bite. Try adding these to your oats, yoghurt, trail mix, salads, smoothies, sauces and curries. Or simply spread some nut butter onto a piece of apple or banana for a quick and satisfying snack.
- Raw or roasted nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans & pistachios)
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Shredded coconut
- Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, dates, goji berries, etc.)
- Nut and seed butters (almond, peanut, cashew, macadamia, tahini, etc.)
Healthy Oils & Fats
Healthy fats and oils are crucial for cooking, and can help to add flavour to recipes while also enhancing the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and antioxidants from food. These are also highly non-perishable, so it would be convenient to buy oils in larger quantities so that you always have a healthy fat source and cooking medium on hand.
Spices, Seasonings & Dried Herbs
Spices, seasonings and dried herbs are the puzzle pieces without which any pantry would be incomplete. They help to elevate the flavour of meals, and give even the blandest omelette a kick to treat the tastebuds.
- Cayenne pepper
- Dried rosemary
- Dried thyme
- Dried oregano
- Vegetable stock
- Himalayan salt
- Organic black pepper corns
- Garlic powder
Onions and garlic are the backbones of every recipe. My mom always says, "If you don't know where to begin when cooking, start by chopping onions and frying them in a pan." I must admit, the pandemic has its pros when it comes to enjoying good food. One is that you can double up on garlic for extra flavour without having to worry about someone smelling your bad breath behind your mask!
In addition to being great ready-at-hand kitchen staples for any recipe, pantry vegetables like onions, garlic, potatoes and sweet potatoes also have long shelf lives compared to other vegetables. Onions can last up to six weeks when stored on the counter, while unpeeled garlic can last up to six months! Potatoes and sweet potatoes can be stored at room temperature for one to two weeks.
- Sweet potatoes
Cans & Jars
Shelf staples like cans and jars can be stored in your pantry for ages, which means you can buy in bulk when stores have discounts. Go-to items like canned tomato, tuna and coconut milk are also cooking essentials for many recipes.
Pro tip: when selecting canned foods, whenever possible, choose ones that haven’t been preserved in added sugar, sodium or saturated and trans fats.
Did you know that a highly-processed, sugar-laden blob of sauce or condiment can triple the number of calories in your meal? By choosing condiments wisely and checking the sugar quantity on the labels of your favourite sauces, you can actively make a world of difference to your health! These tasty items are popular favourites, and can add a few additional health benefits to your food:
- Nutritional yeast – or as the cool kids like to call it, ‘nooch’ – is a convenient way for vegans and people with dairy intolerances to add significant amounts of high-quality protein, vitamin B, trace minerals and antioxidants to their meals.
- Apple cider vinegar has multiple uses in the kitchen. Not only is it an effective all-purpose cleaner, it also acts as a flavourful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant addition to your sauces, dressings and salads.
- Honey and maple syrup are natural sweeteners that offer unique health benefits through their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Add these to smoothies, desserts, sauces, oats and more for a sweet burst of depth and flavour.
- Balsamic vinegar
- Nutritional yeast flakes
- Organic apple cider vinegar
- Maple syrup
Coffee & Tea
A coffee a day keeps… err… Well, it gets you through the day!
This category may not be on the list for health and nutrition, but these are undisputed pantry essentials! Make sure you never run out of a warm cup of freshly-brewed coffee or tea by always keeping an extra packet or tin in your pantry.
Fridge & Freezer Items
I’m a traditional girl, which means I always have the classic trio of milk, cheese and eggs as fridge staples at home. Did you know that eggs are packed with protein, and can last for up to five weeks in the fridge? They’re also great for making a nutrient-dense fried egg on ramen. Most yoghurts can be kept in the fridge for up to three weeks, and can even be enjoyed well past their expiration date if still looking, smelling and tasting fresh. Try adding yoghurt to your smoothies, sauces, soups, curries and more for a little bit of creamy goodness.
Your freezer needs just as much TLC as your pantry, and when it comes to having a well-stocked freezer, a bit of planning can go a long way. Many fresh fruit and veggies are highly perishable, so having some in your freezer is convenient when you need something to add to your soups, smoothies and baked goods.
- Milk & milk alternatives
- Fresh fruit & vegetables
- Frozen fruit, vegetables & meat (fish, poultry or red meat)
There you have it! Cooking doesn’t have to be the bane of your existence. With careful planning, a change of mindset and a kitchen stocked with healthy pantry items, you can keep cool as a cucumber and become the cream of the crop of home chefs. I’ll leave you with this timeless quote by Horace:
“Healthy eating is a way of life, so it’s important to establish routines that are simple, realistic and ultimately liveable.”
At the end of the day, finding foods and cooking habits that work for you and your unique needs is what matters the most. I hope the tips in this article can help you get started with kitting out your healthy kitchen pantry… after that, it’s a piece of cake!
By Liesl Lamprecht