Work, Exercise, Social Life, Family. If you were to ask a person what their day-to-day priorities were, these items would most likely pop up on their list in one order or another. Cooking on the other hand, may fall by the wayside or go un-mentioned.
Let’s face it- we’re all busy. We’ve got places to be, things to do, people to see, and because of that, cooking tends to come last in our priorities, or not at all. And why shouldn’t it when we live in the world of fast-food, right? These institutions exist because of our busy lifestyles and the increasing demand for “here and now”. The quick-service food industry promises fast, satisfying, and usually “healthy” meals that cater to our busy “now” existence.
I put the healthy in quotations as I find that questionable, both literal and mental. And don’t even get me started on the “meals section” of the grocery store.
To me, healthy eating means to not only use wholesome unprocessed ingredients to create balanced and satisfying meals, but to also take the time to eat it. To me, healthy food doesn’t come in a foil wrapped package or plastic container to be eaten at your desk or to sit on your lap in your car. Food should be eaten slowly, on a plate, and savoured with each and every bite.
I know it isn’t realistic to suggest that you should take the time every single day to create healthy balanced meals for you and your loved ones. I’d be a big fat liar and one huge hypocrite if I did. However, we all know short cuts exist, and you don’t always need to sacrifice health and nutrition in the name of efficiency. I sincerely believe that we all deserve to eat healthy and balanced meals every single day, regardless of the demands of our busy schedules.
I’ve touched on meal-planning once or twice before and how beneficial it can be for preparing healthy meals that fit busy schedules and tight budgets. But I’ve never really told you about the other side to meal-planning: Pantry stocking!
So with that in mind, here are the items I like to keep in my pantry on a regular basis that help me turn around quick and satisfying meals that not only taste good, but make you feel good as well!
1) Canned legumes and veggies.
For the times when soaking and cooking just aren’t possible a few cans are great to have on hand. I always keep chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and pinto beans in stock. They’re great for dips, salads, and burgers and also pack a punch of protein and fiber!
Recipes to try:
Bad-Ass Bean Burgers
Summer Lentil Salad
2) Diced tomatoes.
Regularly CK will demand pasta for meals and diced tomatoes make for an easy and quick base for pasta sauce and chilis (just add your beans, veggies and spices!). With this in mind, Tomato Sauce and Tomato paste are good staples to have as well.
Recipes to try:
Spunky Spaghetti Sauce
Veggie Fiesta Joes
The spaghetti sauce also freezes really well so all you need to is pop into the microwave to defrost while cooking your pasta. Dinner under 15 minutes!
I typically keep brown rice, brown and wild rice blend, quinoa, and couscous around. Again, very nutritious, filling, and versatile. Your best bet (and biggest bang for your buck) is to stock up at bulk food stores like Bulk Barn and get yourself some pretty (and cheap) jars from the Dollar Store to store them and refill as you go.
Recipes to try:
Wild Granny Beets Salad
Coconut Curry (coconut milk is also a great pantry item to keep in stock)
4) Herbs and Spices!
Forget deep frying and pounds of butter, these little guys pack more of a flavour punch without racking up the cholesterol and saturated fat content. To be honest, I’m a little out of control in this department, but here’s a few that I ALWAYS have on hand:
Sea salt, pepper, basil, dill, garlic, thyme, sage, Italian Seasoning, coriander, paprika, cumin, garam masala, cayenne, pepper, parsley, cinnamon, and turmeric. You could definitely add to or edit this list using your preferences, but these are the ones I reach for most often.
Dilly Potato Salad
Garam-Masala Sweet Potato Fries
5) Oils and Vinegars:
These are the “bread and butter” to my cooking. A good olive oil and veggie or canola oil are great for cooking and dressings; Sesame oil is great for adding flavour to Asian-inspired dishes. The vinegars I like to always have available are: Balsamic, Red Wine, Cider, and plain ol’ white. Having these on hand will give you the ability to create simple vinaigrettes in a pinch!
Recipes to try:
6) Baking ingredients.
I know this isn’t conducive to the “quick” aspect to this post, but I do stock baking ingredients on a regular basis for whenever the mood to bake strikes me which is usually when I’m at my busiest. Baking is a fantastic procrastination tool, FYI.
Flours: Whole wheat and pastry flour
Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Cream of tartar
Sugars: Brown, white and cane sugar
Flax: I don’t usually store eggs, so flax eggs are a quick and easy replacement for most recipes. Add 1 Tbsp ground flax to 3 Tbsp of water, stir and let thicken before adding to your wet ingredients. This makes 1 “egg”.
However, I wouldn’t recommend making custard using this method. If you want custard, buy eggs.
I didn’t really go into condiments, but having assorted items like dijon mustard, ketuchup, bbq sauce- whatever you like to have on hand will be useful to add flavour and speed to your meals at minimal calories. Just avoid the mayo if low-cal/low-fat is your goal 😉
Over the past little while, I’ve learned that meal planning and keeping my pantry well-stocked is the best way for me to eat healthy in my busy schedule. There is only one (!) time where I’ve succumbed to fast food out of necessity this summer, the reason being an unexpected 18 hr work day. Not bad!
I hope you take these tips to heart and share my passion for taking the to give yourself and your loved ones healthy homemade meals as much as possible.
Question: Are my tips helpful to you? Did I leave out a pantry item you constantly use and love? Feel free to share!