One of the most important things you can do for your health is to cook more of your meals at home. I know the challenges, but I feel very strongly that this one thing is the most essential thing you can do to support your immediate and long-term health goals.
It isn’t enough to WANT to cook more meals at home. You must prepare yourself for success.
Setting up your pantry (or small cabinet dedicated to pantry staples) is the #1 key to success. Literally, your pantry will make or break your health resolutions this year.
Here’s how to get started:
#1 Take Stock and Purge. Is your pantry the food version of your junk drawer? Do you even know what’s in there? Before you do anything else, you need to take stock of what you have and toss anything that is stale, expired, or that you simply don’t use. You know that case of crackers you bought because your kids couldn’t go a day without eating them and then, as soon as the case arrived, they decided they hate that kind of cracker? It’s time to get rid of them. Anything that isn’t expired, donate to a local food pantry. In order to be successful, you must have an organized pantry.
#2 Plan for the Unexpected. I always have at least 2-3 meals worth of items in my pantry (and freezer) at all times. Let’s face it, cooking dinner every night isn’t about high-end ingredients, fancy sauces, or glamour. It’s about getting something with nutritional value, that your family will eat, on the table. Things come up, friends stay for dinner, you forget to defrost something, you get home later than expected, when you have a stocked pantry, you never have to worry about these sabotages.
Action item…Spend a few minutes and write down your 2-3 go-to pantry meals right now and make a list of any pantry ingredients you need to buy.
Here are a few of my standard pantry meals, to inspire you:
- Pasta with pesto sauce and chickpeas (we’re on an arugula pesto kick right now).
- Rice with black beans and sauteed (frozen) spinach.
- Quesadillas or burritoes (usually with leftover meat/veggies in my fridge).
- Shrimp and broccoli with coconut curry sauce over soba noodles
#3 Jazz it up. Just because weeknight meals aren’t glamorous, doesn’t mean you have to eat exactly the same thing over and over again. You’ll be surprised by how different your regular recipes taste simply by switching out an ingredient.
Try one of these to help jazz up the mundane:
- Flavored olive oils (citrus or truffle are yummy!)
- Jarred pesto
- Different whole grains (quinoa, amaranth or millet)
- Alternative spices (turmeric, saffron, herbs de provence, curry powder or paste)
#4 Know your needs. I keep a list of the things I use most and always make sure to add them to my grocery list when I am running low.
A few of my family’s staples include:
- Canned and dried beans
- Jars of tomatoes and tomato paste
- Canned tuna and wild salmon
- Olive oil
- Variety of noodles
- Nuts & seeds
- coconut milk
- Nut/seed butters (tahini, almond and peanut butters)
- Stuffed grape leaves and artichoke hearts in oil
- Dried fruit (dates, apricots, raisins, prunes)
*note: I consider my freezer to be a second pantry, and stock it accordingly…
- Frozen fruit
- Frozen veggies (spinach, kale, broccoli are standard)
- Raw cheese (yup, I keep a stash in my freezer)
- Frozen wild shrimp
- Bone broth
- Corn tortillas
I often joke that dinner at my house is like an episode of the game show Chopped. At least once a week, I pull out random containers from leftover meals, pair them with pantry staples, and create a masterpiece (well, at least something my judges deem edible). It definitely takes some practice but it’s a skill that I teach my clients to save money and support health.