Keeping a Healthy Kitchen
A lot of your discipline in eating clean and maintaining a healthy lifestyle comes from what you have on hand in the kitchen. It can be intimidating and confusing for new “clean eaters” to get going on their pantry and freezer staple stock. I often get complimented on how well stocked my pantry is and really it is just years of phasing out the bad and bringing in the good. I have been through phases of buying too much or too many different products and ended up wasting a lot of flours, spices or seeds because I just couldn’t get through it all before the sell-by date. Now I am more penny wise and also savvy about what I buy when. If I were to start fresh from now then this is how I would do it.
This is not a vegan / paleo specific list. It’s a gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free pantry that just so happens to be 95% vegan. I do keep grains and legumes so it does not fit 100% into the paleo lifestyle, although it is also a pretty close cupboard :)
1. START BY CLEANING OUT!
This is the hardest part. “But what if so-n-so comes over and wants some Marmite on a rice cracker” said no one ever. Be brutal. Chuck out that Black Cat peanut butter, your secret marshmallow stash and all those preservative-filled, sugary, evil sauces, jams, spreads and salsas. If you want to move into a healthier space then you won’t WANT to be eating that stuff anyway. I have held on to Tumbles, my favourite onion relish or golden syrup for the just-in-case times, but the truth is those times shouldn’t be a priority at all. Either those products end up going off or you end up eating them when you aren’t supposed to (which is always!).
So ya, clean up and toss out. If you don’t want to waste anything then give them to people that are (unfortunately) not on the same page as you and would enjoy polluting their system with refined sugars and tons of preservatives.
2. STOCK UP:
I am going to put a list together now of the things that I like to have on hand in my pantry cupboard 24/7. There will be variations during the months, sometimes you might need to get a more specific spice for a dish or different kinds of beans and so on. This is not in a particular order, although I would most likely tend to prioritise this way.
1. Olive Oil: Most people already keep this in the cupboard, but if you don’t already then olive oil is perfect for quick dressings, sautéing or roasting.
2. Coconut Oil (Virgin Organic): For all kinds of frying, coconut oil is less sensitive to heat than other oils so it doesn’t oxidize as easily, making it perfect for cooking. Obviously you can use it in baking, in smoothies and also on your hair and skin!
3. Salt: Anyone that knows me would question why I didn’t put this first. It’s true – I do tend to use too much salt… something I am working on. I prefer pink Himalayan salt, but it’s up to you.
4 . Tomato paste or canned chopped tomatoes: I cook a lot of Italian-inspired dishes, which means a lot of tomato. Obviously home-made fresh tomato puree wins every time, but for convenience I like to have a couple cans in the cupboard anyway.
5. Coconut milk: This is a tough one for South Africans because most coconut milks here contain a bunch of crap that we don’t want to be drinking/eating. Be sure to read the ingredients and avoid the ones that contain sugar and sodium (preservative).
6. Apple Cider Vinegar: If you have read my “How to Improve your Monday” post – this is in there. I like to also add it to smoothies, sometimes cook with it, add it to dressings and countless other benefits in the kitchen (and around the home!).
7. Herbs & Spices: This can be fairly subjective, but there are a couple basics that I really feel everyone needs.
– Tumeric: in curries, in smoothies, in tonic shots – this spice is just TOO GOOD for you.
– Basil: Cause. Basil is the best.
– Oregano: Italian – duh.
– Cinnamon: also so many health benefits – add it to your oats, smoothies or baking.
– Cumin: I like curry a lot, and I really enjoy the flavour of cumin… it deepens almost any dish :)
– Cayenne Pepper: Another spice that has an endless list of health benefits. Also – if you are out of chilli, it’s a great substitute.
Obviously now you can go crazy and get all the spices (which I tend to), some of my other staples include: Nutmeg, Thyme, Parsley (although I like fresh better!), Paprika, Cardamon, Bay leaves, Rosemary, Sesame Seeds, White Pepper (since I am allergic to Black Pepper).
8. Smoothie stuff: I say “stuff” since this is another super subjective pantry element. I like to keep honey, vanilla essence and a number of different powders (Mostly Superfood Powders). At the moment I have the Hemp Powder, Superfood Shake and The Real Thing Green Powder. But this changes from time to time. I like Maca Powder when I feel like a gazillionaire, Lacuma Powder and Moringa Powder too.
9. Chia seeds: These guys are the best addition to a breakfast. They fill you up and they are obviously considered a superfood. I keep a steady supply to make porridge or dessert, plus adding to my muesli or smoothies helps sustain me through to lunch time!
10. Nuts: For snacking. Pick your favourite and keep some in the cupboard for when you’re on the go or just peckish and you need a filler.
11. Canned chickpeas: Chickpeas are my ‘go to’ for any on-the-fly meal. If you’re out of fresh produce, or a “hero” for your dish – chickpeas can always step in and save the day. I have dried chickpeas as well, but the convenience of the can is why these are on the list as well.
12. Dried lentils, chickpeas and beans: Home-soaked is always better.
13. Rice or corn cakes: This is not ideal – it is a processed product that contains zero nutritional value. But for a quick snack these guys have saved me numerous times. Slap on some nut butter, or hummus and cucumber and you’re good to go.
14. Brown rice: I eat a lot of rice during the week for lunch. It is easy to cook, you can add a bunch of different fresh things and you can have a delicious salad ready in minutes.
15. Gluten-free pasta: Again, this is not my first choice for a starch, but when I am out of sweet potato or too lazy to wait 45 minutes to roast some then a quick pasta sauce and some gluten-free penne comes in handy.
16. Nut butter: I LOVE peanut butter. I know it’s not paleo and a lot of people consider it to be rather unhealthy, but the good old organic peanut butter with no added slat or sugar is delicious. I also love Jozi’s Nut Butters and I usually have one of their more flavourful varieties in my cupboard. Great for a quick snack – just spread on a rice cracker or dip a carrot in!
17. If you bake OFTEN, then you will want to get some healthy flours. I do not bake regularly enough to warrant baking staples. Obviously you have the usual suspects (baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and maybe even Xanthan gum) which keep forever and most people who bake already have. The flours are very recipe dependent and when I used to buy stock Coconut, Tapioca or Almond flours I found I wasn’t using it quick enough and I would end up wasting a lot. So I tend to stock the top shelf (diagram of my pantry layout below! :) ) as and when I need.
So that’s the pantry! Fresh stuff and freezer I also am nowadays trying to be more as-and-when because I find it works better to do weekly – you can mix it up more often and usually less goes to waste.
For interest sake my fridge ALWAYS has spinach, sweet potatoes, hummus (store-bought = convenience again), olives, lemons, avo (when they aren’t a million Rand) and capers. You can make a mean Mediterranean-style salad or pasta with those ingredients and nothing more.
My freezer always has an assortment of fruit for smoothies (read more on that here) as well as some frozen veggies and whatever meat I have bought for the month – although I am trying to cut down on animal products on the whole.