Do you ever feel lost when it comes to meal planning, confused about how to choose healthy grocery items, or wasteful with your kitchen inventory at times? One solution to these very common predicaments is having an organized pantry - a pantry with an easy, functional system that makes life so much easier in the kitchen. I refer to this level of organization as my “kitchen therapy”. It takes away the stress from menu planning, saves me money on my grocery list, and ensures my food choices are healthier options. So the question is, how can you make this organized pantry happen in your kitchen too?
Well, it all begins with an analysis of your current system, review of your existing inventory, and a little bit of a makeover. As a dietitian with a strong love for delicious, yet healthy recipes, and a busy schedule keeping up with full-time work and two very busy preschooler boys, I put a lot of time and effort into integrating a system that supports a life-long organized pantry.
I am delighted to share with you my tips and tricks on how to stock and utilize your pantry with everything you need to follow a healthy menu for all ages and stages. It all begins with dividing your pantry into selective sections, to help create a system that guides a well-stocked pantry set up, and can be easily integrated into any kitchen.
Vegetables and Fruit
According to Canada’s Food Guide, vegetables and fruits should make up half of your plate with all of your meals and snacks. If you think about it, that adds up to quite a lot of produce, and therefore, a shelf-stable back-up supply in your pantry is a great call.
For vegetables and fruit that are non-perishable, they can be preserved with either salt (i.e. sodium) and sugar, and so it is important to pay attention to the amount of these nutrients potentially added to these products. Health Canada offers some tips on how to limit highly processed foods, for more information, check it out HERE.
How to choose lower sodium products? Check out these easy strategies listed below:
Look for health claims that specify “low sodium”, “sodium reduced” or “no added salt”
Choose products with less than 15% Daily Value sodium, or compare similar products, and choose versions with less sodium
How to choose lower sugar products? Check out these easy strategies listed below:
Look for health claims that specify “no added sugar” and choose products that do not include ‘sugar’ listed within the first 5 ingredients
Choose products with less than 15% Daily Value sugar, or versions with less than 8g sugar per servings (usually anything above this amount is from added sugars)
Let’s put these recommendations into practice, here are some examples of vegetables / fruit you can add to your pantry:
Vegetable chips: kale, beets, mushrooms, edamame beans. Check out the Healthy U Kale Chips for some inspiration!
Canned / pickled vegetables / jarred versions: sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper, beets, artichokes, asparagus, beets, eggplant, mushrooms, pickles, diced tomatoes
I would encourage you to try my favourite, Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes - this version adds so much flavour to any recipe calling for diced tomatoes! Check out the Healthy U Greek Feta Shrimp recipe for some inspiration!
Look for fruit packaged in WATER, and not syrup (e.g. peach, pineapple, grapefruit). Here is an example of a fruit cup packed in water check out Dole’s Fruit Cups Packed in Water.
Choose applesauce that is unsweetened, as it is already naturally VERY sweet
Check the ingredients list for dried fruit to make sure there is not ADDED sugar. Dried fruit is extremely sweet naturally, as it is very concentrated in sugar once dehydrated.
Protein plays a very important role in building strong muscles and helps our body perform its daily functions. When protein is broken down, it is a nutrient source that keeps us running the longest. Research has shown that increased protein intake can help with satiety (i.e. fullness), superior to other macronutrients, such as fats and carbohydrates.
So the next best question is, how much protein do you need each day? Generally, the Dietary Reference Intake suggests that the average person needs 0.8g / kg / day (60-80 g per day). According to Canada’s Food Guide that translates into a ¼ of your plate consisting of protein and dairy sources at all / most eating times.
Protein food sources are found in beans, lentils, dried peas, tofu, tempeh, edamame, nuts and seeds and their butters, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, soy milk, cheese and yogurt. Dietitians of Canada explain protein in more detail, and great suggestions to boost your intake HERE.
When choosing non-perishable protein items, like packaged vegetables, choose products with less than 15% Daily Value sodium, or compare similar products, and choose versions with less sodium.
A couple of ideas to add to your grocery list:
All types of nuts (shelled and unshelled types), ideally, these are unsalted versions
All types of seeds (shelled and unshelled types), also ideally unsalted - but this list extends beyond sunflower seeds, you can also include hemp seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds
Legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans - and you can stock up on different stored versions:
Canned, make sure to rinse before using
Dried, this is the most cost effective type
Roasted chickpeas, lentils, edamame beans, such as this one: Roasted lentils & chickpeas - 3 Farmers
Lentil or chickpeas pasta, such as Chickpea - it is OH SO GOOD, and loaded with protein
Canned tuna, in oil / water or even flavoured versions, such as Clover LEAF Lemon & Pepper Flaked Light Tuna
Starches and Grains
According to Canada’s Food Guide, ¼ of the plate should be from grain or starch sources, and ideally whole grains! Dietitians of Canada has a very informative handout on “All About Whole Grains that can orient you to the world of whole grains.
How to choose whole grain products? Check out these easy strategies listed below:
Look for health claims that specify “good, high or very high source of fibre”, and Canadian Digestive Health does a great job at explaining this in more detail HERE.
Choose products with more than 4g fibre or more than 15% Daily Value fibre per serving.
Choose products with less than 8g sugar or less than 15% Daily Value sugar per serving.
A couple of ideas to add to your grocery list that meets this criteria include:
Bread products, Stone Mill
Oatmeal, higher protein, Triple Berry Oatmeal
Granola bar, Simply Protein Bars
Healthy grains: quinoa, whole-wheat couscous, bulgur, or buckwheat
Baking and cooking recipes from scratch all depend on a well-stocked pantry! Over the past few years, newer and healthier products have become available in our food market. Here are my top recommendations to include in your pantry for a boost in nutrients, including fibre, protein, iron and calcium:
Need a new baking recipe? Personally, I would recommend our Healthy U Healthiest Banana bread!
Tapioca / arrowroot flour
Ground flax seeds
Did you know that flaxseeds can be used as a substitute for eggs when baking? While it’s not for everyone, it can be handy if you run out of eggs. Simply mix 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed meal with 3 tbsp of water. Mix together, and let sit in your fridge for 15-30 min, allowing it to set up and thicken.
Unsweetened coconut flakes
Maple syrup and honey, simply because they are less processed than white sugar / brown sugar versions
Nuts / seeds
Plant-based milk, such as almond or coconut milk
Make sure to get fortified plant-based milk as this is an excellent way to get calcium as well as other nutrients. Almond Breeze Almond milk, Elmhurst Cashew milk or Silk (which have different types of milks).
Sweet and Salty Snacks
Whether you are a sweet or salty person, snacks are a great way to keep a portable energy source close by! By following a healthy eating schedule that includes eating within 1-2 hours of waking up, and 2-3 hours thereafter - this often incorporates 2-3 snacks throughout the day. Ideally, these snacks are also balanced in accordance with the Canada’s Food Guide.
I have included some convenient healthy snack options below, but don’t forget to build balanced snacks, which can be accomplished by including 2-3 food groups.
So, do you feel inspired to start label reading, add new items to your grocery list, and incorporate healthier alternatives in your pantry? There is no better therapy to calm the mind from meal planning stress than an organized pantry!