Welcome and congratulations on taking the first steps towards creating a healthier pantry. It can appear daunting, so you can either do it little by little, or in one fell swoop.
The first step in creating a Healthy Pantry is to try to get rid of as much unhealthy foods as possible.
Here are the first items I got rid of:
- White sugar
- White flour
- Processed foods (cookies, crackers, cereals, soda, artificially flavored fruit drinks)
- Read ingredient labels; a rule of thumb I follow is that there should be a minimal number of ingredients, and everything on the label should be recognizable.
- Avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, natural flavors (these still contain a lot of chemicals), hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, wheat flour (this is the same as white flour; look for whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour).
- Also, ingredients are listed in order of dominance, so if sugar is listed first, that is the most predominant ingredient.
The next step is to refill the empty shelves with unprocessed, whole foods. Once you have some basic ingredients on hand, you will find that it becomes easier to cook healthily.
Here are some of the ingredients I try to keep in stock.
Fresh Produce (Buy organic whenever possible to minimize pesticide exposure):
- Fresh vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, napa cabbage, kale, spinach)
- Fresh fruit (bananas for smoothies, whatever is in season)
- Fresh parsley, scallions, cilantro (for taste and appeal)
- Frozen fruit (berries for smoothies and fruit compote)
- Whole grains (a variety of brown rice*, steel cut oats*, rolled oat*, barley, farro, quinoa*, wild rice*, wheat berries) *available gluten-free
- Whole grain pasta *gluten-free varieties are available
- Dry legumes (black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, red lentils, French green lentils)
- Canned beans (to use in a pinch, although some can linings contain BPA)
- Boxed organic vegetable and chicken broth
- Boxed tomatoes (chopped and crushed – good for soups)
- Tomato paste (I like the one that comes in the tube since it stores well)
- Oils (extra virgin olive oil, regular olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil)
- Vinegars (rice wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, unfiltered red wine vinegar, unfiltered apple cider vinegar)
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Spices (my favorites include cinnamon, cumin, oregano, thyme, turmeric, chili powder, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, curry powder, herbes de provence)
- Soy sauce (gluten-free)
- Sesame oil
- Chinese rice wine
- Naturally sweetened mirin
- Vegetarian oyster sauce
- Pure vanilla extract
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
- Kombu (for soups and beans)
- Sweeteners – Coconut Sugar, Jaggery, Brown Rice Syrup, Raw Honey, Maple Syrup, Organic Cane Sugar
If you eat poultry and eggs, try to buy organic or antibiotic free products. If you use dairy products, try to buy organic (no antibiotics, no hormones).