How to Stock a Healthy Kitchen
For those who have decided to embark on a healthier journey, learning how to stock a healthy kitchen might seem daunting. Don’t worry about throwing everything away and starting fresh– that can be expensive and stressful. If you swap out all your regular foods and suddenly have all new foods in your pantry, you might face a bit of a new ingredient conundrum.
Our suggestions below will help you build your healthy pantry slowly, adding in a few new things at a time. If you are really new or not sure of how to begin, start with one new product each week. Maybe this week you make some homemade polenta, and maybe next week you make some fresh beans. Incremental changes like this make it easier to adapt new habits, and makes it so much more likely that your new foods will become new favorites.
Know your Grains
Check out your local health food store or Whole Foods Market and hit up the bulk bins. The bulk bins are often the least expensive option in the store, and it gives you the ability to try out new grains with little commitment. You can stock up on your favorite grains (my staple is brown rice) and try new grains like quinoa, millet, black rice or polenta. Now that healthier foods are becoming more accessible, it’s easy to find quinoa and brown rice at any store. And if you can’t find something locally, you can always order online!
If you are a baker, it’s also a good idea to learn about different flours. Spelt, almond, chickpea and flour mixes are fun to experiment with in the kitchen. While it is tempting to swap out regular all-purpose flour with your newest favorite, know that each flour has unique properties that work well in some recipes and not so well in others. When you experiment, do so wisely and with guidance from a trusted recipe or source.
Bulk up on Beans
Beans are kinda the joke of healthy eating, but their affordability, versatility and deliciousness is no laughing matter! Beans are a cheap and easy form of vegetarian protein and one that is a foundation of a healthy pantry. My favorites are chickpeas (for hummus, salads and pastas) and we usually have a rotation of black beans, adzuki beans and a variety of lentils.
To properly cook beans, soak overnight in more water than you think (about 4 cups/1 cup beans). Drain and rinse, then cover with fresh water. Add to a stockpot or slow cookier, and simmer until soft. This is usually about 30-45 minutes for chickpeas and mung beans, and about an hour for black and other beans. Lentils cook quickly, so no need to soak them. Just rinse and cook– about 15 minutes for red lentils and 30 minutes for brown or black lentils. You can also make simple sprouts from beans! The favorite at our house is mung bean sprouts, because these are really easy to sprout and you don’t need much equipment. Check out this tutorial for sprouting mung beans from No Meat Athlete and some ideas for how to use mung bean sprouts from Vegan Richa.
Add some global flavor
Look to the cuisines of Japan, China, India and Thailand to find delicious flavors in your kitchen. Some of the staples of healthy cooking include quality soy sauce (watch out for corn syrup, preservatives and MSG in the regular grocery store brands), miso, brown rice vinegar, curry paste, tamarind, and toasted sesame oil. These condiments are versatile and not too expensive, and can take any dish from meh to yum!
Other staples in my kitchen include canned coconut milk (for baking, soups and curries), apple butter (instead of sugar-laden jam) for breakfast, good organic pasta sauce and some organic jarred sauce, for those can’t-get-myself-to-cook nights.
Finally, maybe the most important condiment in the healthy pantry is nutritional yeast. Don’t let the boring name deter you, this stuff is pure magic. It’s a yellow powder that you can think of as a vegan Parmesan cheese: sprinkle it on popcorn, veggies, grains, beans, and stir into sauces and dressings. Check out the turorial for how to use it on Vibrant Wellness Journal.
Bring flavor with quality spices
Having a well-stocked spice selection is important, but don’t stress about having every single spice in your home. Start small: choose organic herbs and spices (at some stores you can buy them in bulk!) and keep them in glass jars to keep them fresh. Ignore the spices at the regular grocery stores: these are overpriced and often stale. The core spices that I recommend to newbie chefs are cinnamon, Indian curry powder (a mix of spices and herbs), chili powder (also a mix of spices and herbs), coriander, cumin and Italian seasoning. These blends and spices will get you through most recipes and help you add a bit of flavor to your everyday dishes.
Stock up with healthy sweets
Natural sweeteners are the foundation of healthy swaps. Ditch the bleached white sugar (potentially made from GMO sugar beets) and potentially bleached with chemicals. Richer in flavor and nutrition are alternative sweeteners: coconut sugar, date sugar and even stevia for sugar -free options.
Choosing recipes that use maple syrup or honey allow you to give your body a healthy, sweet treat. Honey and maple syrup also work great for sweetening coffee or tea, or on toast for a quick, sweet snack. (Shown above are the Maple Tahini Cookies from the link above!)
Quality snack foods are key to those trying our healthier diets. There are always times when you need food NOW, and having healthy options is a saving grace. Tortilla chips with salsa, pre-made hummus with rice crackers or carrot sticks, rice cakes with natural nut butters, and even healthy boxed cereals will do in a pinch. Now there are ‘healthy’ versions of everything: granola bars, fruit snacks, and even candy bars. These are fun for treats, but watch the high sugar content and make sure it truly is healthy.
What’s your favorite healthy pantry staple? Anything we missed in this post?