When people come in to see me for a medical visit, they are often stunned that I actually take the time to go over their diet and educate them on having a healthy pantry. So many health conditions can be helped with eating alone, and it’s my job to help people nourish their bodies, no matter what lifestyle they may be struggling with. Even if you barely have time to eat, or have several kids you need to worry about first before you can get in a bite, the first step to eating well is having good, healthy food available. So time to clean out that freezer full of plastic-packed meals, and get those “energy” bars full of sugar out of your pantry! We’re ready to restock, and here’s where to start, getting local and organic whenever possible, of course:
Get a few sets of these in all different sizes, not only to store your bulk items, but also to start canning your own home-grown goodies, and even freeze leftovers (make sure you get some of the thicker, wide-mouth, freezer jars for these). It doesn’t get much easier than putting some leftovers in a jar in the freezer, and either putting it in the fridge the night before you grab it for work, or just grab it right out of the freezer in the morning and thaw and reheat at the office. This is much safer than the toxic plastic bags and containers we’ve been using for so many years.
Olive oil: Used for medium heat cooking, and for dressings and sauces
Coconut oil: For higher heat cooking, baking and other goodies
Tip: These are the only oils I recommend for any kitchen as other oils have either been processed so much that they are already trans-fat (pro-cancer), or they are so unstable, that as soon as you heat them up, they turn right into trans-fat. FYI, any time an oil smokes, that means it has been oxidized and therefore turned to trans-fat. Surprisingly, I also recommend using animal fat, as it’s stable at high heat - so go back to what our healthier ancestors did and cook those eggs in bacon fat!
Bulk Grains, Legumes and Flours
Quinoa: A wonderful whole grain rich in protein and iron, this is super easy to cook and has a satisfying, nutty flavor
Brown or Wild rice: Good with pretty much anything, and it doesn’t spike your blood sugar nearly as much as it’s refined, white counterpart
Oatmeal: steel cut, and/or rolled oats are always good for breakfast, baked goods, snacks and even meatloaf
Lentils: a great source of protein and vitamins, and so easy to cook
Dried beans: kidney, black, chickpea…the list goes on. Give ‘em an overnight soak the night before you want to cook and not only will they taste better than canned, but it’s also been said that soaked beans cause less gas.
Garbanzo & Fava Bean flour: Bob’s Red Mill produces this high protein, low-carb flour. Great for all kinds of baked goods.
Coconut flour: Rich in healthy fats, it’s equally as tasty
Baking soda and powder: A must for yummy baking
Xanthan Gum: For those gluten-free recipes
Cornmeal: No household can live without cornbread…gluten-free or no!
Gluten-free flour mix: I recommend Bob’s Red Mill for the most authentic taste
Vinegars: Balsamic, white (used for cleaning mostly!), rice and wine
Hot Sauce: Pick a kind you love, or have a few on hand for variety!
Bragg’s Amino Acids: These add a great salty flavor to many foods, plus it’s good for you
Mustard: Dijon, stoneground, take your pick - just make sure it’s not loaded with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup
Soy Sauce: Gluten-free if you need it
Honey: Preferably raw and from your local area. This is really the only sugar source I recommend, as it’s got more health benefits (anti-viral and immune-supporting) than any other type of sugar. Still, this is sugar, so only use in moderation!
Tip: if you ever want to substitute honey for sugar in other recipes, use half the amount of honey that you would sugar (1 cup sugar = 1/2 cup honey)
Sea Salt: Pick a favorite, or keep a few on hand. Great for seasoning, but also a great source of minerals. A pinch of this and a squeeze of lemon juice in your daily water intake will replenish you with your much-needed electrolytes.
Pepper: White, black and various chilis - if you like a smokey flavor, try my favorite - chipotle
Various dried herbs
Fresh herbs in your garden, patio/deck or even your windowsill
Sugar: if you really need some kind of sugar for a special treat every now and then, I recommend raw sugar cane or turbinado sugar. This sugar is less processed than other sugars, but doesn’t taste any different because…well, it’s sugar! Sugar is one of the most inflammatory foods we can put in our body, so please, only save it for special occasions, and try not to eat it, or even honey, on a regular basis. If you tend to use sugar substitutes, STOP NOW. All of these products, no matter how “natural” or “close to real sugar” they claim to be can be extremely dangerous to your health. They can stop your immune system dead in its tracks, enlarge your liver and kidneys, cause diarrhea and other stomach upsets and even increase your risk of diabetes or worse.
Nuts, Nut Butters & Seeds
Nuts: Pecans, almonds, walnuts, filberts (hazelnuts) and Brazil nuts (I generally don’t recommend peanuts due to the mold that may be on peanuts)
Nut butters: Almond, cashew, coconut and pecan (granted, open containers usually need to be kept in the fridge)
Tahini: Actually a sesame seed butter, this is kept in the fridge once opened. Great for making hummus, dips, dressings and sauces.
Seeds: Pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flax (I always recommend keeping flax seeds in an opaque, air-tight container in the fridge to reduce any chance of oxidizing)
Tip: Not only are nuts and seeds a great, quick snack, but when you do have time, choose a couple of your favorite nuts and seeds, mix them with a little coconut oil and sprinkle them with your favorite seasonings. Then, bake them until lightly roasted, cool, and store in an airtight container for your own snack mix! Also, nut butters are great to spread on just about anything - rice cakes, celery, or bound with some ground nuts and seeds and rolled into balls for your very own protein-packed snack.
Tomatoes: Whole, diced, fire-roasted or crushed - great as a base to any quick meal
Tomato sauce/paste: A great thickener for soups and stews (not to mention my fav - chili!)
Diced jalapenos, chilis and chipotle peppers: A great addition for anything from eggs to chili
Coconut milk: Another versatile ingredient for Thai food, or even an extra-thick and creamy hot cocoa. I recommend the brand Thai Kitchen for good quality, and always get the full fat, not lite.
Chicken/veggie broth: A quick fix for when you don’t have time to make it yourself. Try cooking your veggies in this instead of oil or butter, or using half broth, half water for rice and other grains.
Beans: In case you don’t have time to soak them overnight
Wild Alaskan Salmon: Canned is the next best to fresh, and fresh wild Alaskan salmon can be hard to get in some areas. Add this to salads, or create a patty with grains and veggies for a wonderful dinner.
Applesauce: Preferably homemade, but if you don’t have access to fresh, local apples, buy your favorite unsweetened, organic brand. This is not only a great snack for people of any age, but it’s also a great baking substitute for the moistest baked goods ever!
Tip: It’s easy to substitute fat (oil or butter) with applesauce in most baked goods, but it will affect the flavor. Try just substituting half and work from there until you come up with a percentage that tastes the best to you (i.e. if the recipe calls for 1/2 cup of “vegetable oil,” try using 1/4 cup applesauce and 1/4 cup coconut oil for an amazing flavor and better fiber and fat content).
Dried mushrooms: Just reconstitute with water and you have your favorite mushrooms ready for any recipe Seaweed - add to soups, snacks and Thai recipes, or just use as a salt substitute (careful if you’re sensitive to iodine)
Well, I think that about covers it! With a pantry stocked like this, there will be plenty of choices for quick, healthy, home-cooked snacks and meals. And check out World’s Healthiest Foods or Martha.com for wholesome recipes based on what you have on hand.