Our house is crazy. Probably a lot like yours. Our schedule is a mix of kids activities, work, travel, house maintenance and trying to maintain our sanity. Trying to eat healthy while balancing a busy life is a challenge.We try to cook at home a few nights a week. Meal prep must be under 30 minutes or less. If it’s too complicated we are going out to eat. I would describe us as self-proclaimed semi-foodies. My family does not have tolerance for food that doesn’t taste good and will easily complain if the menus lack variety. One can only stand so many chicken, broccoli and rice meals. Here are 8 things we keep in our pantry to help us to add more healthy cooking options to our menu.
Lemons & Limes
Maybe not quite a pantry item but something to keep in the grocery cart every week. A quick squeeze of lemon or lime juice spruces up almost any roasted vegetable into something completely drool-worthy. Squeeze a lemon or lime into a bowl, add a dash of honey, sprinkle of pepper, dash of salt and a tablespoon or two of olive or walnut oil and you have a salad dressing worthy of any five-star restaurant.
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar takes ordinary to extraordinary when you add these to roasted vegetables, grilled chicken or splashed over a mixed bowl (I make mine with quinoa or farro, roasted butternut squash, steamed broccoli, black beans and grilled chicken). Try this over watermelon. Trust me!
I prefer to have fresh jalapeños on hand but if you are in a pinch the jarred variety will suffice. Did you know that the capsaicin in spicy peppers will actually burn calories?! The capsaicin boosts thermogenesis in the body which will add a slight boost to the number of calories burned as your body digests the food. I add them to soups, salads, salsa of all varieties, slaw and just about anything else.
I have a canister collection in the pantry that hold items I pick up in the bulk foods section. For grains I always have on hand quinoa (in all colors), couscous, polenta and farro. Sunday afternoon is a great time to cook a batch of them up and use them for meals and mixed bowls throughout the week.
I find these in the bulk foods section next to the grains and flour alternatives. These aren’t just for your grandma’s pantry! Cook them up in chicken stock and mix them in with your favorite grains, bean salads or add to soups in place of bread or heavy starch items. Lentils are a great source of iron, protein, vitamins and minerals. One cup has about 230 calories and will leave you feeling full and satiated.
In our house we try to avoid heavily processed foods. White flour makes the top of my list of things I just won’t bring in the house. To replace these I keep a flour alternative on hand. Some alternative flour options that you may find readily available include chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour, almond flour and coconut flour. I would not necessarily categorize these alternative flour options as health foods as it still takes some processing to get these into a flour-like state but the processing steps are still fewer than your standard all-purpose variety.
Flour alternatives are great for dredging or breading protein and for thickening sauces. I have used them for baking with varying results so lets say you should test it out and see if that option will work for you. Of the alternatives I listed I prefer chickpea flour and always keep some on hand. Some of my friends use coconut or almond flour. Chickpea flour has fewer calories than typical all-purpose flour with the added bonus of having more protein and minerals. As an added bonus I find protein dredged in chickpea flour gets a better crust and flavor than the regular old run-of-the-mill white stuff. Do a little reading up on options and test some of these out to find which option is best for you.
Sodium levels are a concern in the healthy-eating debate circles. But let’s face it, food without salt is boring. If you are cooking with whole foods at home adding salt to enhance the flavor won’t spike sodium levels into the danger zone. I’ve found that having salts that are little less harsh than table salt allows me to add less while still boosting the flavor profiles. At a minimum I always have kosher salt around for regular cooking and a little pink Himalayan sea salt to add to steamed and roasted vegetables.
Pepitas are the seeds that come from pumpkins or other varieties of squash. I pick these up in the bulk foods section. I will usually pick up the spiced or seasoned kind and put them on everything. They go great with the mixed bowls, in salads, mixed in with grains, added to soups or just about any protein.
Eating healthy isn’t synonymous to bland and boring. It doesn’t require hours spent cooking. Keep trying new and unique ways to add flavor and variety to whole foods. You may find that healthy eating is your new favorite cuisine. Healthy cooking never tasted so good!
What are some of your favorite ways to add flavor and flare to your food?