How you stock your pantry can either set you up for success or sabotage your healthy-eating efforts. With Spring cleaning chores on the brain, now is not only a great time to organize your closet but also to pick apart your pantry. Luckily for you, I tackled this very task in my own kitchen last week, and I’ve put together a list of the things to toss or donate, and the staples to stock up on.
Expired goods Healthy or not, expired foods in your pantry may not be safe to eat. Instead of just tossing it into the trash, empty the food contents into a compost bucket or down the drain, and recycle the packaging. If you come across an item that’s just recently passed it’s eat-by date, leave it out on the counter instead of putting it back in the pantry, and plan a meal to use it up by week’s end.
Items with trans fats Look at the list of ingredients. If you see a type of oil preceded by the words “partially hydrogenated,” you’ve got trans fat on your hands. (For example: “partially hydrogenated soybean oil.”) If a product has less than 0.5g per serving, food manufacturers aren’t required to list it on the Nutrition Facts label, but that doesn’t mean the food doesn’t contain it. Some common trans fat-filled foods include: microwave popcorn, shortening, cake mixes and frostings, pancake and waffle mixes, non-dairy creamers, packaged cookies, crackers, processed meat sticks, some canned chilis, and packaged pudding,
Foods loaded with added sugar Foods high in added sugar are likely also adding to your waistline. Again, look at the ingredient list. If sugar is one of the first few ingredients, added sugar is a big component. Some of the usual culprits include breakfast cereal and pastries, packaged desserts, baking mixes, packaged pudding, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit, and even some dried fruits and packaged nuts.
Packaged snack foods Pretzels, potato chips, cheese doodles, rice cakes—these foods do very little to satiate hunger or nourish your body. I think we gravitate to them purely for their salt and crunch factors.
Refined grains Traditional cous cous, white rice, white pasta—all of these grain-based items have been stripped of nutrition through processing and provide little more than refined carbohydrates. Donate these items to a local food pantry or, if you prefer to use them up, incorporate them into a meal with plenty of vegetables and legumes.
Salty snacks, soups, and sauces Much like decadent desserts, salty foods are okay once in a while. But having a cabinet full of them is asking for trouble—especially if you have high blood pressure, or have been told to cut back on sodium. Food manufacturers add salt mainly for two reasons: our tastebuds love the stuff, and it acts as a preservative. When it comes to foods like nuts, soups, and sauces, opt for the low-sodium version—you can always add a little more if needed, which is still usually less than the amount found in the regular version.
Canned or dried beans Beans are incredibly versatile and can give meals and snacks a boost of protein and fiber. With just a handful of additional ingredients beans can be whipped up into spreads or dips, like homemade hummus, a quick vegetarian chili, bean burger patties, soups, and more.
Whole grains As your stash of white, refined grains dwindles, replace them with more nutritious and fiber-rich whole grains. I always have a stash of whole wheat pasta, brown rice, barley, and whole wheat cous cous in my pantry. I also keep healthy breakfast grains, like old fashioned or steel cut oats and wheat bran, on hand to sprinkle onto yogurt and fresh fruit.
High fiber cereals Though typically a breakfast food, I will admit cereal for dinner isn’t the worst meal in the world. Fiber plays an important role in digestive health—it keeps things moving, and also helps with satiety and prevents big blood sugar spikes after a meal.
Chicken, beef, or vegetable broth I always have one 32-ounce container of each in my pantry, which comes in handy for making a quick soup or adding a little bit of flavor to grains like quinoa and cous cous. Grab the low-sodium kind, and be sure to store it in the refrigerator after opening.
Packaged protein Canned tuna and salmon are great sources of protein (and calcium too, in salmon’s case) and can quickly be turned into a number of nutritious meals for a busy weeknight dinner or a last minute lunches.
Nuts and seeds Walnuts, almonds, pecans—whatever type of nut you prefer, are all good sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. Vacuum packed bags will maximize shelf life. When choosing nut or seed butters, keep in mind that the healthiest ones have the fewest ingredients—just nuts and maybe some salt. Because natural nut butters don’t contain shelf-stable trans fats or preservatives, be sure to check the label to see if they should be refrigerated after opening.
Herbs and spices Great for enhancing flavor without adding sodium, lately herbs and spices have also been making headlines for their powerful antioxidant abilities.
Healthy snacks and treats Dark chocolate, granola bars, and dried fruit without added sugar are more nutritious than cookies and candy. A small handful of dried fruit or a square of chocolate can quickly take the edge off of that sweet tooth. Granola bars can make a great snack or a quick grab-and-go breakfast, just look at the ingredient labels and choose ones that provide the most fiber and least amount of sugar and other additives.
What are your spring cleaning pantry plans? I’d love to hear what you will be tossing and keeping!