Happy New Year friends! We have passed one of the most challenging times of our lives and are still struggling to work through the uncertainty for 2021. In spite of this ambiguity, our health is still one thing we can improve and make plans to either continue or begin the personal health journey.
In my last blog “Practical Tips To Master Your Health Goals during Holidays,” I mentioned to not only empty your pantries of tempting food that might derail you from your health goals but also load up your pantry and refrigerator with foods that will help you stay on target. So to get things started, let us look at these nine essential items that might prove to be your best friend in sticking to your journey.
Grain-derived products are a staple to most of us. They provide substance and base to so many of our dishes. Making changes in this segment of your pantry might be the easiest adjustment as there are numerous varieties of products available to suit your lifestyle. So here are some of my favorites grains for the pantry- brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, whole corn kernels, and whole-grain bread/tortilla/wraps/pasta. Due to the higher fiber content, these items have a much higher satiety value as compared to their more processed counterparts. However, I do also keep ready to cook versions of these items for quick-fix meals. When buying ready to cook grains, make sure to look at the food labels to make sure they do not have higher sugar, salt, and fat content.
- Lentils and beans
Lentils and beans are my favorite way to add bulk to my dishes. Whether it is adding beans in my soups or making bean burgers/quesadillas, or adding cooked lentils to my salad, these products have never failed me. It is abundant in proteins and contains great amounts of fiber as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Keeping dry lentils and beans are most economic and it lasts longer. You can menu plan with these and cook them in a slow cooker or instant pot for later use. However, for convenience, you can also get no/reduced sodium canned beans.
- Canned or dried meats
This group is a no-brainer. Canned meats are not only nutritious but they are also very affordable, time-saver, and convenient to travel with. The only factor to consider while buying these products is to get low sodium/fat options. Find canned meats that are not preserved in oil but water. Add your seasonings to make it tastier. When you buy canned items with high sodium/oil/sugar, you cannot remove those and they contribute to unnecessary calories to your daily meals. The second factor to consider is to add a variety of meats (chicken, tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, etc.) as a staple and find newer ways to use these products.
- Frozen fruits and veggies
These are your nutritional powerhouse group. Frozen fruits and vegetables are perfect for healthy smoothies, yogurt parfaits, breakfast bowls, stir-fry, steamed vegetables, riced vegetables, baking casseroles, etc. They last for a very long time and compared to other processed versions, it holds more nutrients. They are nearly as nutritious as whole fruits or vegetables freshly harvested from the farm.
- Healthier snacks
Most of us need help in improving this section of our pantries. Let’s be honest here, not all products that claim to be healthy are actually healthy. So make sure to read your nutrition labels and ingredients list. Your whole wheat bread should not have anything other than 100%/whole wheat flour as a first ingredient. Here are some of my recommendations for snacks- low-calorie popcorns, whole nut butter, brown rice cakes, whole grain crackers, canned fruits in water (no added sugar), roasted nuts and seeds with limited sodium, protein bars (try making homemade bars!), healthy trail mix (more preferably homemade), low sugar dried fruits, and dried low sodium jerky.
- Dairy goodness
Low-fat dairy products are a great go-to snack or dessert option. They are well suitable to combine with other groups I talked about. In addition to low-fat milk, here are the options that can be used- low fat plain Greek yogurt for making dips, marinade, and salad dressings, flavored yogurts for parfaits and frozen yogurt bars, cottage cheese on oatmeal with fruits/vegetables/rice cakes/toast/crackers, and low-fat cheese sticks.
- Non-dairy options
This group has come a long way. We have several options available for individuals who want to follow a non-dairy lifestyle. Soy-based products (tofu, soy milk, tempeh, miso, etc.) and nuts and grain-based products ( almond, cashew, flax, rice, and oats milk) provide diverse textures, flavors without the fear of lactose sensitivity. However, it does not mean that they all are low-calorie options. Make sure to use unsweetened or low-fat, sodium, and sugar options. Remember, you can always add your own flavors based on your preference. I also want to acknowledge eggs here too. They are a convenient source of protein. You can also use liquid egg whites to keep the protein content high without the excess fats coming from yolks.
- Salads and pre-cut veggies
I am a big proponent of chopping vegetables for salads and use fresher vegetables when possible. However, there are days when it is not reality. Some days I do rely on pre-cut salads from the grocery stores to reach daily vegetable servings. It also stops me from drive-thru foods. So to some extent, I do recommend this option for pre-cut salads and other vegetables.
- Cereals and oats
You are having a long workday sitting in front of a computer and need a snack. Most likely you will gravitate towards high-calorie snacks. I have been there too friends. In my opinion, eating healthy cereals with low-fat milk and frozen fruits/nuts or making old-fashioned oats in the cooktop/microwave with some fruits and low-fat milk/water can pull us out of cravings and satisfy hunger. It has always worked for me. I hope it works for you too.
These are just a few of my recommendations, you can start with this and make your pantry must-haves that keeps you on track with your health goals.