Spring is a good time to clean and declutter your kitchen cupboards. While you’re wiping down your cabinets and drawers, take some time to toss out expired foods, inspect all your dry goods for pantry mites, and re-evaluate the quality of the foods you buy. Many whole, highly nutritious foods can be stored in your cupboards, including whole grains, legumes, and dried fruit. If your pantry is stocked with refined grains, sugary cereals, and other unhealthy items, now is the perfect time to start fresh.
With the myriad of all-natural cereals made with healthy ingredients available at most supermarkets today, it’s easy to avoid sugar-laden cereals. When buying prepared cereals, the first ingredient on the label should read whole grains – not sugar. Avoid cereals containing artificial colors or flavors, and especially avoid those containing partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils. (For a great example of what not to buy, read the Ingredients label on a box of Froot Loops). Hot cereals, such as oatmeal, are great cupboard staples. Not just for breakfast, they can be used to prepare all sorts of other recipes and added to baked goods, including muffins, cookies, pancakes, even to smoothies!
Grains & Flours
Keep at least two different types of whole grains and whole grain flour on hand for baking or for use in recipes. Excellent grains to have in your cupboards include brown rice, millet, barley, quinoa, oats, bulgur, and whole wheat couscous. Pancake and waffle mixes now come in whole grain too.
Try different varieties of rice: basmati brown (instead of basmati white), wild rice, or a combination of various types of rice. Oriental stores and some large health food stores carry an assortment that you won’t find at your local supermarket.
Keep two or more of these stored in seal-tight containers in your cupboards: whole wheat flour, rye flour, spelt flour, kamut flour, and legume flour. After a month, move them to the refrigerator.
Most supermarkets now carry whole wheat, spelt, and rice pasta in various shapes and sizes. Try macaroni and cheese made with whole wheat elbow pasta, or lasagna prepared with spelt noodles.
Beans & Lentils
Stock up on dried beans and lentils. They can last a long time on a cool, dry shelf. Also stock up on canned beans for whipping up a wholesome, fiber-rich meal in minutes.
Nuts, Seeds, & Nut Butters
Buy only raw and unsalted nuts and seeds. If you buy them hulled (without the shell), it’s best to store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Examine the label of your peanut butter to ensure that it is free of partially-hydrogenated fats (trans fats), artificial flavors, and sugar. When restocking nut butters, try products made from nuts (and seeds) other than peanuts. Almond butter and sunflower seed butter are delicious alternatives.
Dried fruit makes a great snack and can be incorporated into trail mixes, recipes and cereals. Read labels carefully to avoid sulphites. Keep raisins and dates handy, and try dried pineapple, apricot, and prunes. Many recipes now call for date sugar, which can easily be made at home in less than half an hour. All you need are dates, an oven, and a food processer or blender.
Alternatives to cow’s milk can be stored in the cupboard until they’re opened (as long as they weren’t refrigerated when purchased). Try almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, oat milk, or organic soy beverages as a drink and in your recipes.
Sauces can be tricky. They might look healthy, until you read the ingredients. Choose only low-sodium sauces made with all-natural ingredients. Check the international section of your supermarket for interesting sauces, such as butter chicken (low fat is now available), peanut sauce, mole, tahini, and other sauces that can add zest to your meals.
You might be surprised by the amount of sodium found in canned and bottled tomato sauce. Read labels carefully. Look at the sodium value on the Nutrition Facts panel, and avoid sauces providing more than 165 mg per serving. Also avoid tomato sauce with added sugar.
The traditional pesto recipe is brimming with healthy garlic, parsley, and pine nuts or seeds. Unless you’re making it from scratch, take a look at the ingredients to ensure they are all natural.
Ah, the wonder condiment. Salsa should be made with only natural ingredients – tomato and diced onion, maybe a little cilantro and jalapeno pepper. It should also be sugar-free. You will find many ways to use it. Add it to scrambled eggs or substitute it for mayo in a tuna sandwich.
Herbs & Spices
Start a collection and watch it grow. Organic herbs are available at natural product stores. If you’re really keen, research how certain herbs and spices can improve the nutritional value of your meals. For example, adding pepper to turmeric potentiates turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects.
A splash of flavored vinegar can turn a hum-drum salad into a terrific meal experience. Vinegars can be stored for a long time and are available in various-sized bottles for convenience. Replace the vinegar in your vinaigrette or sauce recipes with balsamic, raspberry, or red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or brown rice vinegar. Watch out for sulphites, especially if you’re asthmatic.
As you’re cleaning out your kitchen cabinets, remember to recycle plastic and cardboard packaging. By the way, tea tree oil is an excellent disinfectant. Add a few drops to your washcloth before cleaning cupboards and countertops.
Tips for Buying Fresh Produce:
- Buy foods that are in season and locally grown
- Be sure to include dark leafy greens at each shopping trip
- Rotate your selection of vegetables and fruit. Try a new item each week (something you've never before tried or haven’t purchased in a while)
- Reusable produce bags will save you money on fresh produce. The ‘green’ and safe bags contain a mineral that absorbs and removes ethylene gas (a catalyst which accelerates ripening) slowing down the ripening process and prolonging the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. Each bag can be used about twelve times. (Source: Loblaws, Inc.).