So I can hardly believe it after looking at last week's post about a blizzard ... yes as in SNOW storm, but the past few days have beeeauutiful here. In fact, I have a slight sun burn to prove it! Manitoba weather never ceases to amaze me even though I've lived here my entire life!
So this week's post is by request and is actually something that has come up frequently with some of my new clients lately - grocery staples. I often get asked things like: How do you think up most of your meals on a weeknight? What types of foods do you always have stocked in your pantry? What foods should I always keep on hand for those I-need-a-meal-in-a-minute type nights?
The answer really boils down to creativity and learning to love your kitchen. As you may know if you've read some previous Whitty Nutrition posts, I am not one to use a lot of recipes. I love to look at recipes and get ideas on pinterest but find that sticking to a recipe causes me a lot of problems because A) It slows me down having to read every direction and measure every ingredient and B) it discourages me from making something I'm craving if I'm missing 1 or more of the ingredients listed on a specific recipe. Now don't get me wrong, there are many times when a recipe is necessary to get used to a new technique, or achieve a specific flavor like in a sauce or soup, and of course for baking. Baking is much more of a science whereas cooking is more of an art (at least in my opinion). Baking requires much more careful measuring and weighing while cooking can be adjusted as you go and based on what you have on hand. This is why I am not a great baker but a pretty decent cook. My husband takes pride in the fact that although I can whip up a complete and tasty dinner when it seems like we have no groceries, he still makes better chocolate chip cookies than I do.
I've also learned that to eat nutritiously and reach your health and fitness goals you HAVE to cook. It's just the reality and I think learning to love your kitchen, finding ways to enjoy grocery shopping, and having nutritious foods on hand that can easily be turned into a meal are great steps to ensuring your success in achieving a happy, healthy life!
So what are grocery staples you ask?
These are foods that are good to be kept on hand at all times, some of them you may need to purchase frequently while others may only need to be replaced every few months. Grocery staples will also vary from person to person depending on you and your family's unique tastes but I've complied a list of things I like to keep on hand so that I know I can whip up a meal anytime without having to resort to the drive-thru or take-out. The list I've suggested also doesn't include all of the baking staples you may want to keep on hand such as flour, baking soda/powder, salt, sugar, etc since I honestly find I don't reach for these things very often when I'm cooking meals but rather when I plan on having a bake-a-thon at which point I would go shopping with baking on my mind and not so much meal prep.
So without further adieu here is the list of items that I like to keep my pantry stocked with! I've broken the list down into categories to make it easier to navigate the different sections of the grocery store and also left some room for you and your family to incorporate some of your favorite foods from each category!
- Salad ingredients
- Leafy greens (romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.)
- Salad 'bulkers' (shredded broccoli, shredded carrots, onions, bell peppers, etc)
Salad ingredients are great to have on hand to throw together a side salad, to stuff a wrap or pita shell, or even to throw into a green smoothie. It can be very helpful to wash and cut up your veggies and store in glass containers in the fridge so that they are ready to grab and go for throwing a dish together or grabbing as a snack - no excuses!
- Veggies of choice _______________________, _________________________, _____________________
Eating enough veggies is a difficult task for most people, including us RD's! To learn more ways to help solve this veggie dilemma check out THIS blog post from Whitty Nutrition.
Bananas are a great portable and filling snack that can be used in an endless number of ways from blended in a smoothie to eaten on their own. A banana and some a cup of coffee is one of my favorite things to grab before a workout as well!
Berries are an excellent choice of fruit because not only are they low sugar and high fibre (raspberries are great!) but they too are very versatile. Whether frozen or fresh, berries make a great addition to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, and salads. Keep your fridge and freezer stocked!
- Fruits of choice __________________________, __________________________, ________________________
Fruit is an excellent snack and makes a great dessert. Swap out some of your higher fat desserts like cake and cookies for your favorite fruit. Keep kiwi, apples, pineapple, or whatever floats your boat on hand at all times - make the healthy choice the easy choice!
Cow's milk is an excellent source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D and can be used in a variety of ways. If you opt for another type of milk such as soy, almond, etc, make sure it's fortified and has no added sugar! A cup of milk makes for great post-workout fuel and can help round out any meal.
Look for yogurt with minimal added sugar, in fact plain unflavored yogurt is your best bet. That way you can add your own flavors/sweeteners and control how much of the 'extra' stuff gets added. Plain greek yogurt also makes a great sour cream substitute in recipes and smoothies and packs a punch with 2X the amount of protein of regular yogurt. Always keep your fridge stocked with this staple!
- Cottage Cheese
Now don't just skip over this one if you don't like cottage cheese. I too am not a fan of the texture of cottage cheese, however you can add this to smoothies to increase the 'creamy factor,' or mix 1/2 and 1/2 yogurt with cottage cheese and berries for a filling snack. Cottage cheese has a neutral flavor and can be added to both sweet and savory dishes and is an excellent source of protein!
There is no better way to start your day than with a high fibre cereal! Look for whole grain cereal that has at least 3 - 4 grams of fibre per serving. Oatmeal is definitely a staple in our household - you can make it so many ways! Add sauted apples and cinnamon, a tablespoon of cocoa and honey for chocolate oatmeal, or some fruit and a splash of milk. The possibilities are endless and it's a great way to stay full until lunch!
- Whole grain bread or wraps
Look for the word's 'whole grain' or 'whole wheat' on your bread product labels to help you reach your daily fibre goals. To find out how much fibre you need check out THIS previous post. Bread is great for toast and sandwiches and wraps are commonly used in our house as a quick lunch or supper. Just add in some cooked meat or tuna, cheese, and sliced veggies and voila! You've got a complete meal in minutes! I know it's time to hit the grocery store when we've run out of whole wheat wraps!
- Whole wheat pasta
I often encounter people who are afraid of pasta because it has "too many carbs" but pair pasta with a simple side salad or sauce with lots of added veggies, beans, and/or lentils and you couldn't have a more simple, fast, and economical meal! There is ALWAYS pasta in my pantry. For a great pasta salad recipe check out THIS recipe!
- Cooking grains
It's always a good idea to have some kind of grain in the pantry such as brown rice, quinoa, or barley. It can be added to any meal and is a nutritious source of many vitamins, minerals, fibre, and protein.
Nuts are a MUST in our house! They make a great snack, can be tossed in a salad, or added as a topping to yogurt. They are an excellent source of healthy fat and protein and will keep you feeling satisfied until your next meal or snack! Just make sure you look for plain nuts without added salt or sugary coatings.
- Canned meat
Canned meat is not only convenient but it is also economical. Tuna or chicken canned in low sodium broth can be the basis of a meal in minutes. Add tuna to pasta salad, heat up chicken with some veggies for a wrap or stir fry, or add to any of your favorite casserole recipes and you will always have a quick meal in your pantry!
- Lentils and/or beans
I am a BIG advocate of meat alternatives becoming a staple in all of my client's lives. They are excellent sources of both fibre and protein and make an awesome alternative to meat. Chicken breasts and other sources of meat can get expensive and are often time consuming to prepare. Get some split lentils (no pre-soaking required) or 'no salt added' canned beans and they can be added to almost anything for a quick meal. Think beans and rice, a three bean salad, as a side dish to almost any meal, or added to soups and stews to bulk them up and make one recipe got a lot further! If you have never tried beans or lentils try 'hiding' them in ground meats for tacos or casseroles in small amounts until you get used to the texture and taste. Each time you make the recipe slowly increase the bean/lentil content until you are at least 50/50. This will not only reduce your grocery bill but will make cooking for a large family much easier!
- Natural nut butter
Next time your at the supermarket make sure you grab some natural peanut, almond, or cashew butter for your cupboard. Just as nuts are a great nutritious choice for you and your family, so are nut butters! Just make sure NUTS is the only ingredient. You can add peanut butter to bananas for a great snack, spread it on bread for a quick sandwich, and bake all kinds of peanut-butter flavored desserts!
- Cheese of choice
I MUST have cheese in my house. I love ALL cheese and although this is something to be eaten in moderation it can add a little 'oomph' to almost any meal.
Eggs are something most people usually keep in their fridge. Eggs are a versatile and quick complete protein that are not just suitable for breakfast. Whip up a quiche or heck, have scrambled eggs for dinner. There is almost nothing quicker than an omelette! For a fast weeknight meal have everyone help chop veggies and then they can add their own fillings to a bowl with 1 or 2 cracked eggs and voila! An omelette bar that is fun and will please the whole family.
- Fresh meat of choice
Having some meat on hand can sure help solve dinner dilemmas. Choose what your family likes and make some family favorites. Just make sure to opt for lean cuts of meat and keep red meat to a minimum. Fish is an excellent source of those essential Omega-3's and is a great way to change up the family menu!
Both sources of healthy fat, use olive oil for homemade salad dressings or for eating cold and use canola oil for cooking. I never run out of these 2 things!
Keep in mind nuts, peanut butter, and cheese are also sources of fat that are good to have on hand as described above.
We all need to eat less salt - look for seasonings like Mrs. Dash that have no salt for a great way to add flavor to any dish. Fresh or dried herbs work great too!
Have a happy, healthy week everyone. Let's pray there aren't any more blizzards heading our way!