By Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN
Author of The Small Change Diet
Out with the old and in with the new! Isn’t that what we say in the New Year? There’s no time like the present, so let’s start right away on your kitchen pantry. At this point the holidays are indeed over, and there isn’t one good reason for you to still have holiday candies, cookies, and cakes hanging around. You’ve had your fill, and it’s time to stock up on healthy foods.
Here are some really simple, affordable items that should be found in your pantry in 2012:
Beans: These are one of the most versatile and nutritious foods I know and one of the easiest to cook with. Simply open up a can of your favorites—black beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas), cannellini beans, or kidney beans—drain, then rinse under cold water, and toss them into a salad, pasta dish, or soup. Or put them into a blender and create your own bean dip or hummus variation. This will make a great snack with raw veggies, whole-wheat crackers or as a sandwich spread. Beans are rich in fiber and protein, which helps fill you up at meals, so you won’t be as hungry when you leave the table.
High-fiber cereal: In my opinion breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you can’t open up your pantry and find something easy to make you might choose to pass on it (bad idea). I suggest keeping a high-fiber cereal on hand. My only rule of thumb is that the grams of fiber listed on the nutrition panel should be more than the sugar, ideally a minimum of 4 grams of fiber per serving. The cereal can be eaten with low-fat milk, a soy beverage, or low-fat yogurt. Top with fruit and you have a perfect start to your day.
Nuts: Who doesn’t get hungry in between meals? If you are like most people, especially between lunch and dinner, you most certainly do. The problem is with many people is that they aren’t prepared when hunger strikes and end up making less-than-nutritious choices. Nuts are the answer. The only downfall is if you eat too many; even though they’re packed with protein and healthy fats, they end up giving you too many calories. My suggestion: Pre-portion them in Ziploc snack bags and store them in your cupboard or desk. And with such a variety of nuts, e.g. almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, you’ll never get bored.
Canned tuna: Hungry for lunch and realize at the last minute you have nothing in the house? If you have a can of tuna in your cupboard you’re in luck. An individual can (3 ounces) packed in water is only 70 calories and a whopping 16 grams of protein. So making a quick sandwich with low-fat mayo and whole wheat bread is a no-brainer—obviously keeping in mind that you do need to have those items stocked as well. The tuna can also come in handy as your protein source for a healthy pasta dish or salad. If you want to get adventurous I suggest you also stock up on canned sardines; personally, I’m still trying to develop a taste for them because they’re a nutritional powerhouse.
Olive oil: Whether broiling, sautéing, grilling, or roasting, if you are going start cooking more meals at home this year than you need this kitchen basic. From tossing in salads to flipping your eggs, a little olive oil is sure to be needed. One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fats, which are excellent for your heart, is 120 calories. I suggest putting olive oil in a spray bottle (like one used to water plants); this way you can spritz and not pour. I have known many patients who are heavy pourers and by the time they are done cooking their meal they have used 360 calories simply from oil, defeating the purpose of using such a healthy ingredient.
What else should be on your shopping list? Brown rice, balsamic vinegar, whole-wheat couscous, whole-wheat pasta, tomato sauce (no sugar added), whole-grain crackers, canned artichokes (great to throw into pasta and salad dishes), popcorn (microwavable 100-calorie packs), low-fat mayonnaise, natural nut butters (almond or peanut), spices, and olives (especially if you’re a martini lover like me). Obviously a lot of these products do wind up in your refrigerator after opening, but you need to start somewhere. Next we can revamp your refrigerator and freezer.
Remember, you can only be as healthy as the foods you surround yourself with. Keeping your kitchen stocked well is a great beginning. Happy New Year!