In part two of this series, we are tackling the pantry. Even if you don’t have a pantry per se, the cabinets, cupboards, or other places where you store your room-temperature groceries are all fair game.
I have found that for many clients, this takes up a large portion of the food items in their homes. Just look at any grocery store and you can see why. Essentially the center of the store is filled with items for the pantry. And as you may have realized, this is also the area that is filled with highly processed foods. Fresh usually means that it will spoil at some point, but “shelf-stable” items can sometimes last for years!
If you are trying to eat clean and you don’t want to put overly processed, fake foods in your body, don’t despair! I have a whole list of great food finds to help you stock a clean eating pantry.
1. Grains, Pasta and Seeds
- Grains – Even if you are following a gluten-free diet, grains are a great addition to your pantry. Last year was the start of the quinoa-craze because it is such an awesome grain packed with protein. But quinoa isn’t the only great grain to stock. Try grains like wheat berries and amaranth for alternatives to pasta.
- Pasta – I believe there is still room for pasta in a healthy diet, as long as you choose a whole grain type. Pasta can be a great blank canvas for lots of vegetables and lean proteins. Remember when cooking with pasta that you want it to be a side dish, not the main entrée, and choose a light sauce or make your own. Good selection and portion control are your keys to pasta bliss.
- Seeds – Chia seeds are the hottest new seed because of the omega-3 content and the ability to absorb fluid, thus creating a volume that helps you feel full. Used as a base in soups, desserts, or in a smoothie, they can add nutrition at little caloric cost. I also store flax seeds in my pantry until they are ground – then they go in the refrigerator. (Read Part One: Refrigerator Rehab to find out why.)
- Nuts are a great plant-based source of protein and can be a good source of omega-3 fats too. Yes, I keep some in the refrigerator and some in the pantry. Mostly, the ones in the pantry are for snacking or added to salads.
- Whether dry or hot, cereals are a great source of nutrition and fiber. You have to be choosy to find ones that have limited ingredient lists to eat clean. I love to have lots of old-fashioned oats in case I want a warm bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning or to use in making my own granola – crumbled or bars.
- Snacks are notorious for being full of enriched white flour (not good) and trans fat (even worse). So, you have to really search for the healthy favorites. Right now, I’m in love with Mary’s Gone crackers. They are gluten free but full of crunch. I also keep natural popcorn kernels (even my kids agree is much better than microwave popcorn bags), Ak Mak crackers, and Triscuits of all varieties. I try to keep some kind of homemade snack available like the homemade Larabars from 100DaysRealFood or my own trail mix. It’s worth it to have at least one item ready for smart snacking.
5. Dried Fruit and Fruit Sauce
- If you’ve never made your own granola bars with dried fruit or sprinkled chopped dried fruit on that warm oatmeal, you are missing out. Medjool dates, apricots, prunes, or dried apples are great in recipes. Of course, I wouldn’t be a mom if I didn’t have raisins in my pantry. (I also use them in that trail mix I mentioned.) Luckily, my kids have found a love for the applesauce pouches. Make sure to avoid those with added sugars or excessive fruit juice concentrate – just all fruit please! Applesauce or prunes are also great recipe substitutions for the fat and oil in baking. You won’t taste the difference, but you’ll have a moist baked good for fewer calories.
- Honey and maple syrup – I own sugar, but I prefer to use honey or maple syrup whenever possible. The flavor is much better and I can appreciate the sweetness rather than get lulled into a sugar rush.
- Oil, vinegar and wines– I have a variety of oils and vinegars in my pantry. For oils, I like to have a really good olive oil that I use on salads or anything fresh and a less expensive olive oil that I use in cooking. I also have a vegetable oil (I prefer canola) that I use for cooking at high temperatures, since it doesn’t smoke like olive oil does on high heat. I have a few flavored oils – rosemary is the best on potatoes! As for vinegars, I like a rice vinegar, red wine vinegar, and of course balsamic. Lastly, for the wines, I’m not talking about table wine, although I cook with those too. I like to have a Marsala and Sherry wines on hand for cooking. I know that some clean eating purists will say that alcohol is not allowed on the diet. However, when you cook with wine, the alcohol burns off, so you are left with the amazing flavor – nothing else. If you want to completely avoid it, a vinegar or broth might work just fine.
7. Broth, Tomatoes and Onions
- Broth and stock – I keep chicken, beef, and vegetables broths available and occasionally a stock, depending on what meals I’m planning for the week. Broths are easy bases for soups or to add flavor to all of those grains I mentioned above. I choose the ones with low or no added salt and no MSG. Making your own is perfectly fine too.
- Canned tomatoes – Canned tomatoes are an essential because they are inexpensive, can be used when fresh tomatoes are not in season, can be a substitute for store bought pasta sauces, or the base of an amazing homemade sauce or low calorie soup. You can even make your own ketchup with tomato paste and seasonings. (Tip: consider adding some pumpkin puree to tomato sauces for even more nutrition that no one will notice!)
- Onions and shallots – There are innumerable dishes that have onion as their base flavor. I keep red and yellow onions at all times. I also like to use shallots when you don’t want to overpower a dish, like seafood. Onions can also serve as an inexpensive and flavorful side dish just roasted with a little salt, pepper and olive oil. Yum!
8. Tea and Coffee
- Clean eating involves no or limited caffeine, but having decaffeinated coffee and tea is just fine. If a cup of coffee is synonymous with some kind of sweetener or flavored creamer, try breaking the habit by switching to tea. Sometimes those small switches to our routine can be enough to break the urge to eat (or drink) junk.
9. Beans and Meat
- Canned beans – The least expensive protein source in the grocery store, beans are often undervalued for their nutritional benefit. Beans are a good source of fiber, which helps you feel full on fewer calories – a dieter’s dream! Choose low sodium beans and rinse them well before cooking or eating. Or, you can opt for the dry variety.
- Canned meats –I’m not talking Spam, I’m talking about canned chicken or fish like tuna (in water, not oil). These can be cost-friendly ways of getting in those lean proteins. They can also be great for when you want to cook for one.
10. Other Mentionables
- Herbs and Spices – Dried herbs and spices not only give our foods interest and depth, but they provide antioxidants with no caloric contribution. Yippee! Sprinkle cinnamon on coffee grounds before brewing, add dried oregano to fresh salad greens, or try smoked paprika on your scrambled eggs.
- Chocolate – I’m not crazy. I know that there are recipes (and days) when you need chocolate. Yet, I am smart enough to know that foods that are hard to reach or those not visible are less often eaten. So, I keep all of my baking items on the highest shelf in my pantry, with the especially tempting items like chocolate chips, in a basket. Grocery stores use the same philosophy, putting the items they want you to buy at eye-level. Put the items you want to eat at eye-level (or kids items at their eye-level) and keep the temptations out of sight and mind!
- Gum – It sounds silly to mention gum, since I’m not quite sure that it qualifies as food, but I think it is an important tool, especially if clean eating is a new venture for you. I love chewing on a minty gum when I have the urge to snack or eat something sweet and I know that I’m not really hungry. I chew artificially sweetened gum, since I don’t want my dentist mad at me, but I look for those with xylitol – a more natural sweetener that also protects against cavities.
- Fruit bowl – Ok, not IN the pantry, but so important that it bears repeating. Keep a bowl of fresh fruit like apples, oranges, pears, and bananas on your kitchen counter. Since we eat what is visible and convenient, you’ll be more likely to snack on this than looking for chips.
Now that you know what to keep, go through your pantry and start getting rid of items. I know it can be hard to throw away food, but realize what unhealthy food costs you – energy, self-confidence or your health.
The New Year is all about clearing out the old to make room for the new. If you are working towards a new you, take the time to get rid of that which is weighing you down.
Want to print a FREE Clean Eating Sample Menu? Just head on over to Facebook and “like” DeliciouslyWell!
Tell me how you are creating a clean eating kitchen in your house. I’d love to hear from you!
If you missed part one, check out how you can rehabilitate your refrigerator to help you eat clean.