Keep It Simple Series: Building Your Healthy Pantry


Hello and welcome to the first part in my keep it simple series!  Also welcome to my very first video.  I won’t lie and say that I’m not nervous about this whole endeavor, but I am excited to add a new dimension to my blog.  I hope that is able to connect me better with my readers.

Today’s video is about building up your healthy pantry/freezer.  I’ve talked about this before, but I wanted to give everyone a little reminder as well as inform any new readers that I might have.  This video is going to be a little longer than the rest of my videos in this series, but I wanted to make sure that I hit all the important parts.

So without further adieu, here is the debut of the Keep It Simple series!


How To Stock Your Kitchen

For some of you, eating healthier is a whole new ball game.  You’ve never done it before and now you’re wondering what to buy at the grocery store and what to keep on hand in your kitchen.  You were used to shopping and eating one way and now that needs to change.  You can’t continue buying junk food and expect to lose weight or be healthy.  But what do you buy?  What are things that “healthy” people fill their pantries and fridges with?  I am going to share four simple things that I always keep around and are easy to incorporate into meals for healthy dishes.

Fruits and Vegetables


Let’s just start with the obvious one and get it out of the way.  Yes, I always have fruits and vegetables in my kitchen.  For the most part I buy what’s in season because it’s cheaper and tastes better, but I also buy carrots, bananas, frozen vegetables, and potatoes year round.  If you want to eat better, start adding more of these foods into your meals.  Your mother was right, eat your vegetables because they’re good for you!

Grains and Beans


At the moment I have a variety of beans, including chickpeas, pinto, black-eyed peas, and split peas, on my shelf.  I also have two kinds of oatmeal, millet, quinoa, brown rice, pasta, popcorn, and polenta.  All of these are great add ins to many meals as well as a food foundation to top with sauces, vegetables, meat, and more.  Most of the grains that I keep on hand are very easy and quick to cook so they can be made for a tasty week night meal.  I like the taste and texture of dried beans better than canned, but they do take longer to prepare because you have to soak them to cook them.  If you don’t have the time to do that, there are plenty of good brands of canned beans.  Just make sure to read the ingredient list and rinse them well before you use them.  The other reason that I like having a plethora of beans and grains on hand is that they are cheap.  I buy all of these things from the bulk bins at Whole Foods and most are less than $2 a pound.  If you don’t have a store with a bulk section these foods are still cheap.  You can get a one pound bag of lentils or brown rice for .99 cents!  That is some good and cheap eats.

Canned Goods


I always have at least one can of tomato paste, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes on my pantry shelf.  These can be used for stews, soups, sauces, toppings for meatloaf, salsa, or anything else that you can think of for tomatoes.  I buy the no sodium added kind and make sure that there is nothing but tomatoes on the ingredient list.  These are also pretty cheap because I buy the store brand at Jewel.  One other canned good that I usually have on hand is full fat coconut milk and pumpkin.  Again these can be used in so many dishes, from sweet to savory and can be found for fairly cheap prices if you look around.

Herbs and Spices


I have a huge herb and spice collection and it is bound to get bigger.  I love making my own blends, like taco seasoning, and trying out new flavors in dishes.  Herbs and spices are a very important part of my cooking because they help take food to the next level.  Many people complain that healthy food is bland and boring, but it doesn’t have to be if you have a handful of spices around.  Try classics like oregano and basil, or branch out with spices like curry or garam masala or berbere or harissa.  Experiment with different flavors and find ones that you like the best and kick up your meals a notch.  I’m fortunate to live in Chicago near The Spice House and buy most of my seasonings there, but Whole Foods sells theirs in bulk as well and many grocery stores have a large and good selection.  As with any food though make sure you read the labels because some companies add in chemicals to keep the spices from clumping in transit.

There you have it.  Four staples of the Dawson household.  I use these things on a daily basis to create healthy meals and they are a good starting point for stocking a healthy kitchen.  Of course I have more than just this food in my house, but I would say that most meals that I make are based on or incorporate these foods.  Don’t feel overwhelmed if you are just starting out.  Build your healthy kitchen slowly and find things that you enjoy and will use regularly.  There is no wrong way to create your own healthy stock of food!

How To Eat Well, Quickly

There seems to be this notion that in order to eat well you have spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  People associate healthy food with an elaborately planned and executed meal, but I am here to tell you that doesn’t have to be the case.  Sure, you can spend a lot of time preparing a wonderfully delicious and healthy meal and on the weekends I myself like to spend some extra time in the kitchen.  But 90% of the time, I want to get a meal on the table in under an hour.  Most of you probably have busy lives with jobs, kids, spouses, and a million other activities going on.  You don’t really have time to be spending over an hour getting dinner ready every night.  Meal prepping can be a huge help in this area and I have talked about it many times before.  But sometimes you are left trying to get healthy food on the table in a hurry with no planned or prepped meals at hand.  Rather than reach for the take out menu or head to your nearest fast food joint, I have some items that you can keep on hand to whip up a healthy meal in no time.



Keep a box of your favorite pasta in your pantry and you will always have a quick meal at hand.  I like to keep brown rice pasta or corn pasta well stocked at all times (sidenote: I get my pasta from Aldi.  It is under $2, gluten free, and has an ingredient list of one.  It’s awesome).  You can keep it simple and make your traditional pasta and tomato sauce or you can get creative and try making your own sauce out of pesto or avocado or even salsa.  Pasta is a great canvas for adding things like roasted vegetables, beans, or eat and it’s a great thing to help tie together a meal of odds and ends you may have hanging out in the fridge.  Make sure to read the label of your pasta and know what’s in it.  There are a ton of different kinds out there, so whether you’re gluten free or looking for a heart healthy version you’re bound to find pasta that works for you.



Beans are just as versatile as pasta and can be even cheaper.  I have a variety of dried beans like chickpeas, black beans, and cannellini beans that I keep on hand at all times.  You do have to think a little bit ahead with dried beans because they need to be soaked and then cooked.  If you don’t have the time for that though, you can stock your shelves with canned beans.  Make sure that the only ingredients are beans and water and that you drain and rinse the beans before you use them.  Beans can pretty much be added to any dish.  Try them in soups or stews, in stir frys, on top of salads or pasta.  You can saute them with some leafy greens like collard or kale.  Or mash them up and puree them for a dip or spread for breads and crackers.  Beans add protein and fiber to any meal and are quick and cheap.  All wins in my book.


I always have eggs in my fridge because they are delicious and cheap.  There are so many different meals that you can make with eggs and they aren’t just for breakfast, although breakfast for dinner is awesome as well as quick.  Try a frittata or an omelette for dinner and add in your favorite vegetables and seasonings.  Poached eggs are simple and go pretty much on top of anything from pasta to vegetables to salad to soup.  Seriously, put eggs on anything and it is an awesome meal.

Frozen Fruit & Vegetables

At any given time I have at least 4 bags of frozen vegetables in my freezer along with a bag of frozen bananas.  The bananas get turned into tasty desserts, but the vegetables are great when I need a quick side dish or need to up the vegetable intake of any dish.  Some people think that frozen isn’t as healthy as fresh but that just isn’t true and frozen vegetables can save you a lot of time at dinner.  They work great in stir fry or added to grains and pasta.  I know at my grocery store you can buy big 5 pound bags of vegetables.  This saves money and you can just portion out what you need for that meal and put the rest back in the fridge.  It’s also a nice way to get a variety of vegetables no matter what season you’re in.



Ah the humble potato.  Most of the time people only think of potatoes in the form of french fries, but they are a really versatile food.  You can bake them, roast them, boil them, mash them, put them in a stew (Lord of the Rings reference anyone? Yup, I’m a nerd).  Try making a baked potato and then loading it up with things like beans or vegetables or salsa or leftover meat.  Now you have a quick and delicious dinner in less than 30 minutes.  And don’t just limit yourself to russet potatoes, try sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, or red potatoes.  There are so many different kinds and you can put them in anything.

Soup and Salad


Olive Garden has it right with making a meal out of soup and salad (and breadsticks, but we won’t go there).  Yes, there are a few good brands of canned soup out there, but most of the time they are loaded with sodium and unpronounceable ingredients.  It’s really easy to make your own soup and a lot healthier too.  Start with sauteing whatever vegetables you have on hand (onions, garlic, carrots, celery, parsnips, leeks are all good), then add in water or vegetable/chicken broth and seasonings, next try adding things like beans, cooked meat, brown rice/quinoa/millet, or potatoes.  Simmer everything for about 15 minutes and if you want stir in some leafy greens, like kale, at the very end.  Simple soup and all in one pot.  Salads are another great meal, all you need is some cut and washed greens and toppings.  Again, beans, meat, more vegetables, nuts/seeds, dried fruit, hard boiled eggs, are all great things to add to your salad.  And if you really don’t have time to cut up your own lettuce, just grab a bag of pre-cut lettuce at the store. Just don’t pour a huge amount of store bought dressing all over your delicious, healthy salad.  Try making your own with any of these recipes.

Good food doesn’t have to take a long time or a lot of brain power.  All the things I listed here are things that I usually have on hand and can be thrown together quickly.  So don’t panic if it’s dinner time and you realize you have no idea what to put on the table.  If you keep a few of these items in your kitchen, you’re never far away from a tasty and wholesome meal.



Simple Vegetable Millet

This meal was made on a Sunday night using whatever I had on hand.  I literally looked in my fridge/freezer/pantry and just pulled random things out that I thought might taste good together.  I never said the way I cook was glamorous, but this turned out really tasty and it was quick to put together.  I used millet but you could easily use quinoa or even brown rice, although you might need to cook for a little longer to make sure the rice is done.  Feel free to add whatever vegetables or leftovers you have on hand to this dish and make it your own!

Simple Vegetable Millet

photo (61)

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 cup vegetable broth or water
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce (I used some leftover homemade tomato sauce, but you can use store bought too)
  • 3/4 cup uncooked millet/quinoa/brown rice





  1. In a medium sauce pan, saute the onion and garlic with a little olive oil.  Once the onions are soft, add in the cumin and coriander and mix well.  Add in the broth, vegetables, and tomato sauce and bring to a boil.
  2. Add in your millet/quinoa/brown rice and stir everything together.  Cover your pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook for about 15 minutes (a little longer for rice) until all the liquid is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork and serve!

Try this version out first and then experiment with different flavors.  I think another good one would be to use Asian inspired flavors like ginger, five spice, and soy sauce.  Make sure to make enough for leftovers because this is even better the next day. Enjoy!

Kitchen Nightmares

Life doesn’t always go according to your plan.  In fact, it likes to do it’s own thing regardless of what you would like to happen.  This concept has always been a source of struggle and stress for me.  I am a person that likes to plan and organize and know exactly what is going to happen.  I tend to get a little anxious (ok, make that a lot anxious) when things do not go according to my plan.  This is something that I have been working on and one of my goals this year is to be able to go with the flow more.  Well, life heard that and decided to throw me a curve ball this week.

Last Sunday my oven broke.  I know this might not seem like a huge problem to some, but I rely heavily on my oven.  Not only do I use it for dinner every night, on Sunday I usually do a lot of my meal prep for the week so that I have easy access to healthy food no matter what.  I was a little stressed last Sunday when I realized AFTER I had made a bunch of things to put in the oven that it wasn’t getting hot.  I was even more stressed when the repair guy came on Monday but wouldn’t be able to actually fix the oven until Tuesday.  And I might have had a small meltdown Tuesday night in the middle of cooking dinner when I realized that the oven was no longer regulating the temperature and my food was burning to a crisp, error codes on the oven were shouting at me, and all the smoke detectors were going off at once.

Luckily, my oven did not catch on fire... yet

Luckily, my oven did not catch on fire… yet

Yes, it has been a little bit difficult here in the Dawson kitchen this week.  My oven is still broken, but after my panic attack on Tuesday, I took a deep breath and realized everything was going to be just fine.  I could still eat and eat well, I would just have to get a little creative.  This is where having a well stocked pantry and freezer come in handy as well as having some know-how in the kitchen have really saved the day.  I wanted to share some of the tips and foods I had on hand so in case you have a kitchen nightmare, you can also have a back up plan and won’t have to worry about eating well.

Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers.  This was a big help to me this past week.  I usually make bigger dinners and use the leftovers for lunches or sides for other meals.  Having those extra servings of food helped to round out some of the meals I made this week so that my husband and I had full meals even without the food I usually prep on Sunday.  I also have a freezer full of soups, stews, and chilis that I have made in my slow cooker.  Again, it was really helpful to be able to pull a healthy meal out of the freezer and heat it up.  I’ve said it many times, leftovers are your friends and they have certainly saved my butt this week.

Beans, grains, and legumes, oh my!  Having a good stock of dried/canned beans, grains, and legumes like lentils on hand is another great way to make filling healthy meals.  You don’t have to use an oven to make these and they fill you up with tons of healthy fiber.  Plus they are easy to throw into any meal, and you can season them to your liking.  I usually always have black beans, chickpeas, white beans, and lentils on hand and throw them into anything from frittatas to lettuce wraps.  If you don’t have time to use dried beans, canned works well too.  Just make sure you read the label and rinse the beans before you use them.

Be flexible on cooking methods.  I learned this week that there are actually a lot of ways to cook things the way I like without using the oven.  For instance, I usually roast sweet potatoes in the oven but found out they taste just as delicious cooked in a cast iron skillet on the stove top.  Sauteing vegetables in a little EVOO tastes just as good, if not better, than roasting them in the oven.  I had to step out of my comfort zone and go to other methods of cooking this week and it has worked out pretty well.  Friday night I came up with a really yummy collard green wrap that I cooked on the stove top with a homemade sweet and sour sauce.  I would have never thought of that if I had my oven working.  Don’t be afraid to experiment in the kitchen and broaden your cooking skills.  You never know when you might have to switch things up.  Plus, it’s fun to eat your regular foods in a different way!

While I am really hoping that my oven will get back to normal this week, I have learned that I can survive (for a little while) without it.  I didn’t have to totally derail my healthy eating or go hungry just because my normal method of cooking wasn’t an option.  The same goes for you  Just because something may come up in your day to day healthy eating plan doesn’t mean you have to throw your hands in the air and resort to McDonald’s.  Take a second to assess what you have, be a little creative and flexible, and come up with a new eating plan for the time being.  If life were always easy, we would never learn that we have it in us to rise above the problems thrown at us.  Pretty neat lesson to learn from a broken oven, huh?

Have a great Monday everyone!