So I’ve decided to start a new series entitled ‘Things I Always Have…’ in which I list 5 items that I used to keep my clean eating on track – and that I literally always have in my house. Today I’m starting with my pantry. Honestly, trying to pick just five items was hard but I wanted to keep the list concise and easy to implement for other people – and it challenged me to really look through some of my favorite foods and pick the five that I absolutely use the most. Another challenge was distinguishing between my “pantry” and my “spice cabinet” – I ended up deciding to split it based on where I physically store things in my own kitchen – though you may have a different organization system. For example, I keep my honey in my “spice cabinet” area with my tea and other spices but I keep dark chocolate in the pantry area. So, without further ado, here are my five “must have” clean eating pantry items.
1. Whole Oats
Make sure you’re buying whole oats, with no added salt, sugar, sweeteners, etc. It’s so easy to buy one of the bulk containers of oats and add your own flavor to them – that there’s no reason to ingest all the added ingredients that come in those pre-flavored packets. As you can see in the photo, I empty the oats into an air-tight storage container I bought from The Container Store (you can buy the same ones I have at this link) for storage. I use that same line of storage containers for my my homemade pancake mix, rice, dark chocolate pieces, and other items. But back to the oats – they’re great for oatmeal (obviously) which can be made in any range of flavors from cinnamon to maple, or mixed with fruit and nuts, or even made savory with some cheese and a fried egg on top – delicious! I also use oats in my homemade pancake mixed (linked above), as well as in homemade granola, homemade energy bars, cookies, and smoothies. It’s such a healthy, versatile(fiber rich!) ingredient to have on hand.
Both canned and dried, beans are a pantry staple that are a versatile component of a clean diet. Beans are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc – and they are low fat/calorie by nature. These characteristics make them a great meat substitute. I’m also a HUGE fan of lentils – but that’s a post for another day. I always keep 4-5 varieties of canned beans on hand for quick access use in salads, tacos, burritos, soups, and spreads. My favorites are black beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas), cannellini beans, and kidney beans. Black beans are great for salads and for Tex-Mex meals such as tacos. Replacing half the normal amount of meat you would put into a taco with beans is a great way to increase the health quotient of that taco :-). Garbanzo beans are great for making hummus (see my post here) as well as for salads, and soups. Cannellini beans are an ingredient in one of my favorites soups – pasta fajoli – and also can be blended up to make a hummus-like spread or pureed and added to milk to make a substitute for cream in recipes (try it – it’s delicious! ½ cup pureed beans and ½ cup milk used to replace 1 cup heavy cream). Beans truly are pantry superstars. Cue Molly Shannon with her arms up in the air.
3. Canned Salmon
My experience with canned fish was limited to tuna until about 3 years ago. Then I discovered canned salmon. Salmon is lower in mercury than tuna, and is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. Also, when choosing salmon you should always look for wild-caught Alaskan salmon rather than Atlantic salmon (which ALL comes from gross, over-populated fish farms), and most canned salmons are wild-caught Alaskan (check the label). Atlantic salmon, no matter what the restaurant or fish monger tries to tell you, is NEVER wild caught – but is grown in overcrowded fisheries that are usually heavily doused with antibiotics. Wild-caught is healthy, higher in omega-3s and antibiotic-free, but it is usually tougher to find on menus or at the grocery store. A very convenient way to incorporate it into your diet is through the use of canned salmon. Use canned salmon as you would tuna in recipes – or try salmon cakes which are delicious and one of my favorite recipes. Combine canned salmon with an egg, breadcrumbs, and fresh herbs – form into patties and pan-fry or grill until firm. Delicious.
Nuts are another nutritional superstar. They are higher in fat and calories, so watch the portion size – but it’s mostly the heart-healthy unsaturated fats that do a body good. They’re a great snack, and are also tasty in cookies, homemade granola, homemade energy bars, and in various other desserts. For a morning snack or breakfast, I like to eat some Greek yogurt with local honey, fresh fruit, and a handful of nuts. They’re also tasty thrown on top of a salad (I particularly like walnuts and pecans for this purpose).
5. Dark Chocolate
You read that right – dark chocolate. I’m all about loving what you eat, and although I don’t have a huge sweet tooth – I do love chocolate. Dark chocolate (look for a cacao percentage higher than 60%) is high in antioxidants and unsaturated fats. It’s still high in fat and calories though, so I limit myself to a small piece at a time. Trust me that good quality dark chocolate in small measure is way more satisfying than a huge bowl of M&Ms. And it’s free of the artificial colors and chemicals found in many traditional candies. I like to keep dark chocolate around in two forms – a bag of pre-wrapped small dark chocolate squares to use as the occasional dessert treat and a container of loose dark chocolate chips for use in granola bars, cookies, and even oatmeal (it’s a great treat!).
I hope this helped you find new uses for the five “must-have” items listed above. They are delicious, nutritious additions to every diet. There are additional items that I almost wrote about here (lentils, dried fruit, pasta) that are also diet super-stars, but I’ll leave them for another day .
Have a happy, healthy Tuesday everyone!
What are your favorite pantry staples?