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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

8 Healthy Pantry Staples You Need To Have

Whether you want your family to eat healthier meals, reduce your grocery bill, add convenience to your kitchen or all of the above, there's every reason to have a pantry well-stocked with healthy food staples.   While most of us aren't going to fully escape high fat or low-nutrient foods, adding healthier ingredients to your pantry and using them for cooking is an easy way to make family meals more nutritious.  Need some ideas?  We've compiled a list of our favorite pantry staples that we consider healthy, versatile, easy to find and easy to store: 

8 Healthy Pantry Staples:

  • Black beans - high in fiber and folates, this inexpensive legume is available in cans or dried.  Black beans are such a versatile food - we use them to add heartiness to soups and salads, in various rice and bean sides and as an addition to many of our favorite main dishes as a healthy way to reduce the amount of meat we need.  While canned black beans are convenient to use, dried black beans are easy to store, prepare and can be seasoned to your family's tastes.
  • Oatmeal - this is another high fiber food that is also low in calories and fat.  Oatmeal's other claim? It can also help lower cholesterol.   In addition to being a filling breakfast food, oatmeal can be used as an ingredient in breads, cookies and other desserts.  We also use oatmeal to make healthy homemade granola.  There are many theories regarding whether steel cut, rolled or quick cooking are best, but in my opinion all of these are good choices. Since oatmeal has a relatively long shelf life, try buying it bulk and storing it in an airtight kitchen storage container, rather than buying single serve packages.  Experiment with adding in your own flavorings, such as infused sugar, granola or homemade jam. 
  • Dried fruit - raisins, dates, figs and other dried fruits such as apples and apricots store well, are loaded with nutrients and are perfect for snacking or cooking.  While dried fruit can be enjoyed by itself, it also compliments many other foods such as cereals, nuts, cheeses, desserts, candies, pastries and breads.  Any dried fruit should be stored in an airtight kitchen storage container, and stores well either in the pantry or freezer.
  • Whole grain pasta - we tried whole grain pasta years ago, and I'm pretty sure I gave most of the boxes I had away.  The texture was grainy and the taste bland.  However whole grain pasta has come a long way since then, and it is a great way to pack the whole grain nutrients and fiber into a meal your family can enjoy.  Pasta is a perfect pantry staple - it stores well, is versatile and can be cooked and on the table in minutes.  While pasta can be stored in its original box or bag, we prefer to store it in airtight pasta storage containers for added freshness.  Try keeping multiple varieties (such as spaghetti, rotini, penne) on hand for main dishes, salads and sides.
  • Honey - this natural, nutritious sweetener can be added to tea, enjoyed on cereals, sandwiches, toast and in any number of recipes in for deserts through main dishes.  Honey is reputed to have many health benefits which we won't delve into here.  What we can say is that generally honey is sweeter and has more nutrients than granulated or other types of sugars.  Contrary to common belief,
    8 healthy pantry staples you need to have
    honey does NOT have an indefinite shelf life, but it will keep for a very long time if stored properly in an airtight container.  Learn more about honey, its nutritional benefits and get some great recipes at the National Honey Board's website, www.Honey.com.
  • Olive oil - this healthy oil is renowned for its taste and
    health benefits.  Quality olive oil is a staple in many kitchens and for good reason - it can be used to as a flavorful dip for breads, a dressing for salads and to enhance the flavor of many foods.  Olive oil should be stored in a cool (not refrigerated) dark location and kept tightly capped.    As its nutritional value lessens over time, look for a 'best by' date on the bottle and plan on using it within several months of purchase.
  • Potatoes - this inexpensive root vegetable has had a lot of bad press in recent years, but this tuber is loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals including potassium.  Whether baked, roasted, added to salads, soups, stews or other dishes, potatoes are perfect for adding healthy flavor and heartiness to any meal.   Potatoes are best stored in a cool, dry, dark location and away from onions, which can cause them to go bad faster.  If you do not have a specific bag or bin to store them in, a simple brown paper bag will do just fine.
  • Whole wheat flour - eating whole grains is part of a healthy diet, as recommended by the USDA and many others.  Whole wheat flour is perfect for breads.  For those used to cooking and baking only with enriched white flour though, cooking with whole wheat flour can be a stretch.   Some people (like my family) simply have a taste preference for white flour.  A good alternative?  Try whole white wheat flour.  It has all of the nutrition and health benefits of whole wheat, but a lighter color and taste.  Learn more about this and other whole grains at the Whole Grains Council website
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