It can be incredibly simple to make healthy foods at home when you have the right things to fill your pantry with. Many people new to healthy eating assume that all healthy foods belong in the fridge, but I totally disagree. In fact, my pantry is just as packed with as many healthy foods as my fridge is. Though fresh ingredients are a must in healthy eating, there are a few essential things to fill your pantry with as well. These pantry ingredients can help round out a meal, add flavor and include some simple healthy foods that aren’t even required to be stored in the fridge at all. Make sure you keep these on hand so you can always have some healthy options on hand when the ingredients in your fridge start looking sparse.
One of the best things to fill your pantry with is gluten-free, whole grains such as rolled oats. I like to keep rolled oats on hand in case I ever want to make oatmeal, or use the oats to make protein bars, healthy cookies, or make my own oat flour with the oats to bake with. Plus, oats are a great food to make a great breakfast in minutes on those days you aren’t able to make it to the grocery store to buy fresh foods like yogurt, fruit or any other breakfast ingredients that might be in your fridge. Plus, oats are incredibly healthy! You’ll be less likely to reach for a box of sugary cereal if you’ve got some healthy oats on hand. Always buy the rolled oats instead of instant. They have more fiber and are less processed.
Another item you’ll want to keep in your pantry at all times is nuts! Walnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, or whatever nuts you enjoy can be kept in your pantry for up to three months at their freshest, but after that, they should be transferred to the fridge. I find they hardly last a month in my pantry though, since they’re always eaten pretty quickly! Nuts can be added to yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, any kind of baked dish, or just make a nice little snack all on their own.
My pantry is never lacking in this department. Spices are essential in a healthy eating lifestyle, because that’s where all the flavor is at! Spices help kick up the flavor of any dish and there is a world of spices out there waiting to be used and discovered. I love mixing up different blends of spices to create unique flavors to add to my healthy foods, or just sprinkling them onto dishes one at a time. Spices are also a great way to use less salt in your recipes, but still add flavor. I would advise anyone looking to eat healthy to stock up on herbs and spices and ditch the salt altogether. Some of my favorites are oregano, basil, parsley, cayenne, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, mustard powder, cardamom, coriander, cilantro, turmeric, garlic, and even commercial blends such as Mrs. Dash.
Quinoa is most known as a whole grain, though it is technically not a grain at all, but a seed. Quinoa fluffs up just like grains do when it is cooked and has a great mouthfeel and a delicious nutty taste. The best part is, it contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein and it is also full of fiber. Quinoa is wonderful to use in replacement to oatmeal if you want, and it is my go-to substitute for rice. Quinoa is also wonderful to mix into baked goods, homemade casseroles, omelets, or it can be made into quinoa flour in a high speed blender or food processor to bake with. This versatile seed is so delicious and also very filling. Be sure to keep some on hand all the time in your healthy eating lifestyle.
Some of my essential pantry items are healthy flours that I use to bake with. If you enjoy whole wheat flour, feel free to buy whole wheat flour, but I enjoy other varieties, which are actually grain-free. My favorites include protein powder that I use as a flour replacement, coconut flour and almond flour, which lend a delicious and fiber-rich taste to recipes, but are lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein than standard grain flours, making them have less of an effect on the glycemic index, and they are much more filling. These make wonderful pancake, cake, muffin recipes and more, and are always put to good use in my pantry. In fact, I'm quite the coconut flour hoarder and go through it insanely quickly with my pancake and quick bread recipes!
Herbal tea is a mainstay in my pantry. It is fantastic for drinking in replacement to coffee or sugary drinks, but I find it most useful for a variety of health ailments. Many herbal teas can actually be some of the best natural medicines for common health complaints like insomnia, stomach upset, anxiety, cold and flu, low energy, headaches and more. Each herbal tea is different since its ingredients are what determines its health properties. For instance, peppermint is wonderful for taming stomach upset and poor digestion, as is ginger tea. Chamomile, hibiscus and rose petal teas can ward off insomnia, and echinacea and green teas can help prevent or treat the flu and other cold-type illnesses. Green tea is also great for anxiety, low energy and headaches, and licorice tea can be great to treat low energy and sugar cravings. There is a variety of herbal teas out there and once you start trying one, you’ll quickly see how addicting they are!
Many people disagree with using stevia, but it is my go-to sweetener and you’ll never find sugar or artificial sweeteners in my pantry since I discovered this wonderful plant-based sweetener. If you watch your sugar intake and want to find a more natural sweetener lower in sugar than maple syrup or honey, try using stevia. Stevia contains zero calories and comes from an herb. It has no glycemic index effect and comes in many forms. My favorite forms of stevia include the organic, pure stevia extract, liquid stevia, or green leaf stevia, which isn’t processed at all. Stevia is 600 times as sweet as sugar so you need less, and it can help flavor a variety of dishes, without the need for more high calorie sweeteners.
Ditch those nasty, refined vegetable cooking oils and buy some organic, unrefined coconut oil instead. Coconut oil is the only cooking oil I will use and it holds up better than other oils do in cooking. It also contains no cholesterol and will not clog the arteries like other cooking oils. Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, but these fats are used differently in the body than other fats. They are immediately used in the liver for energy production and not stored as fat. Don’t worry; your food will not taste like coconut oil either! When cooked, coconut oil lends a delicious fatty flavor to foods, just like other oils, but it loses the coconut taste. Also, coconut oil holds up in high heat temps, which means it remains stable. Next time you cook an omelet or saute some veggies, coat your pan with coconut oil and you won’t be sorry. You can also use the oil as a beauty lotion, but I recommend keeping this in a separate jar in your bathroom and not your pantry!
I may be a health nut, but I’m no snob to using canned veggies. These can be wonderful to have on hand and have been proven to be just as nutritious as fresh foods. While I’d much rather have fresh varieties on hand, I have to say that I always use up canned pumpkin, canned tomatoes and canned green beans pretty quickly! I buy organic so I can avoid BPA and other chemicals and pesticides used in non-organic varieties, and I always buy salt-free as well, to avoid added sodium. Canned veggies are so useful for preparing quick meals, bulking up recipes and are a real lifesaver when your fridge is running low on fresh foods.
Eating healthy does need to require plenty of fresh foods, but it also needs to include plenty of healthy pantry options. Plus, the more you crowd out your unhealthy pantry items like junk food, processed foods and all those sugary cereals, you’ll be able to have better choices when it comes time to open those pantry doors in search of healthy food options. What are your pantry essentials for a healthy lifestyle?
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