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.
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!