Whenever anybody asks me how to improve their diet, my advice is always the same: you MUST begin to cook your own meals. The ONLY way to know exactly what and how much you’re consuming is to prepare your food yourself. Period. There is simply no other way to control the intake of salt, sugar, unhealthy fats, dyes, preservatives, etc. And once we commit to cooking, we can improve our chances of success tremendously by making sure that we have a well stocked kitchen.
Having a healthy diet and being able to cook healthy meals begins with having the right things at your fingertips – the essential tools, equipment and appliances as well as a “healthy pantry.” In other words, a kitchen that’s stocked with the healthy and flavorful ingredients you need to make meals that are nutritious and delicious. After all, who wants to eat food that isn’t pleasurable and satisfying?
An added benefit of having a well stocked kitchen is that it makes the entire process of cooking much more enjoyable. I happen to love the time I spend in the kitchen. Not only do I find cooking to be creative and meditative (for me, it’s highly therapeutic!), but being able to prepare healthy and tasty meals for myself and my family is extremely gratifying. And I know that a big part of the reason I enjoy the process so much is that I can keep it fairly simple. I don’t have to go hunting around for the equipment, utensils and ingredients I need. They’re readily available and easy to grab. As long as I’ve got some basic tools, quality ingredients and a willingness to try new things, I can make my time in the kitchen (and the food that’s produced there) pretty magical.
To that end, I’ve created a list of items that comprise a healthy pantry. These are the things I always have on hand and they pretty much ensure that I can whip up a nourishing and great-tasting meal anytime. Of course, this list can (and should) be tailored to your individual tastes and preferences, but I believe that it’s a great starting point. So here goes…
Items to be Included in a Healthy Pantry:
- Oils: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and canola oil are ‘must-have’s’ in my kitchen. I prefer to also keep sesame oil on hand for stir fry’s, marinades and asian dishes.
- Nonstick cooking spray (for baking)
- Vinegars: Balsamic, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar and rice vinegar
- Kalamata olives (pitted)
- Dijon mustard
- Soy sauce or coconut aminos
- Sun -dried tomatoes
- Ground Black Pepper/Peppercorns (for a grinder)/Red pepper flakes
- Mayonnaise (I prefer mayo that is soy-free so I usually opt for olive oil mayo, canola oil mayo or avocado oil mayo)
- Salt: finely ground sea salt for cooking and a finishing salt (for example, fleur du sel)
- Broth: low sodium chicken, beef, vegetable
- Beans: no-salt-added cannellini, kidney, garbanzo, black beans, lentils, etc.
- Tomatoes: no-salt-added diced, whole, tomato sauce, tomato paste
- Tuna: chunk light or the imported Italian tuna packed in olive oil (my fave!)
- Roasted red peppers, packed in water
- Sugars: granulated sugar and brown sugar for baking
- Maple syrup
- Cocoa/cacao powder
- Dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao)
- Natural peanut butter (creamy is called for in most recipes)
- Almond butter
- Low sugar jam/fruit spread
- An assortment of shelled, unsalted nuts – almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc.
- An assortment of dried fruit – apricots, figs, cranberries, cherries, dates, raisins
- All purpose flour (gluten free flour, if preferred)
- Oats: old fashioned rolled oats (I also like steel cut oats)
- Plain or seasoned breadcrumbs (gluten free, if preferred)
- Pasta (regular or gluten free) in a variety of shapes
- Rice: brown and basmati are my favorites
- Couscous, barley and/or farro
- Dried spices: garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, italian seasoning, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, herbes du provence
- Pure vanilla extract
- A high quality hard cheese, grated (such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Locatelli)
- Butter (unsalted)
- Wine: red and white (and please make sure that you only cook with wine that you would drink. None of those supermarket “cooking wines”, please!)
Now, this is a long list (and please note that, although I refer to this as a “healthy pantry,” some of these items are actually refrigerator items). Chances are, you won’t compile everything all at once but the goal is to, over time, create a well-stocked kitchen. Trust me when I tell you that it will add immeasurably to both your ability to prepare beautiful, nutritious meals, and also to your enjoyment of the cooking process.
I wish you many happy hours spent in the kitchen and many healthy and satisfying meals.