A couple days ago, I posted a question on facebook about what you might like to read on this blog. Many of you seemed interested in reading about my favorite foods and kitchen staples, and since a kitchen and pantry stocked with healthy items is key to living and eating well, I thought it would be a good topic to cover.
When working with clients on healthy changes in their nutrition habits, I am often surprised (even though I shouldn’t be) by what foods people have not tried and do not use on a daily basis — foods that I consider pretty “common” in my life, and that I utilize all the time. It is easy to forget that only a few short years ago, this “normal” of mine was completely different, and I would have written a staples list that looked something like this: pasta, cereal, bread, cow’s milk, Chef Boyardee, Kraft Mac N Cheese boxes, hamburger, chicken breasts, creamed soups, cheetos, lunch meat, cheese, and a family size gallon of ice cream (chocolate chip).
While I do still admittedly stock pastas, some cereal (mainly for my husband, the Cereal Eater), and sometimes bread (fresh baked whole grain, or Ezekiel – frozen), the rest of my list has changed dramatically over the past few years. I rarely shop in the middle of the grocery store, and when I do, it’s generally for something which I can’t find an organic or health-market version.
When I’m introducing new clients to healthy foods, or walking them through a pantry raid (buh-bye Cheez-Its!) or a grocery shopping tour, I will often give them a list of my pantry and kitchen staples. This list is categorized by type and section of my kitchen (pantry, baking goods, vegetables, condiments, etc), and covers pretty much everything I could think of that I routinely stock.
Since I don’t want to lose your attention, I’m going to break down just a FEW of my staples into a couple blogs to give you an idea of the kinds of things I routinely turn to in my cooking and eating on a regular basis! This blog will cover a few favorite items from my fridge (fruits, veggies, etc). Please excuse my first item from qualifying in the “fridge” list, but it couples well with the fruits/veggies.
Okay, so I don’t store bananas in my FRIDGE, but I figured I’d include them with other fruits and veggies I always keep on hand in this list. I always have bananas in my kitchen. I will often intentionally buy the brown/spotted ones, or wait until they get really ripe at home, then peel and break them in half to store in a bag in my freezer. Always always always have frozen bananas. It’s great for emergency “banana ice cream,” adding great texture and natural sweetness to smoothies, and coining and dipping in chocolate shell (mmmm). For a fun snack idea, slice a fresh banana lengthwise and spread with almond or peanut butter and a few chocolate chips. Banana split!
Pretty standard fruits, but I always have them as well. They’re easy grab-n-go snacks, and have a long life in the fridge! I use oranges a lot in my juices, and love apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon and dipped in peanut or almond butter for a snack. Peel and chop up an orange and throw it in a raw kale salad for a delightful citrus flavor with a strong green.
Kale is my all-time favorite green vegetable! I almost always have kale on hand… and if I don’t, it’s because I’ve just eaten it all up and need to buy some soon! I put kale in everything from smoothies, raw salads, on top of pizza, stuffed in wraps, thrown in stir fries, torn into soups, and as a big steamed or sautéed pile on my plate. Kale chips are also a favorite snack of mine!
These are pretty standard greens in my fridge. Believe it or not, I don’t use them primarily for salads (although yes, I do make delicious salads with them, too – like the one in this picture)! Primarily, I use both these greens in smoothies and juicing (spinach more for smoothies, romaine for juices). They’re so light and fresh and leave me feeling fan-freaking-tastic every time.
This is my go-to milk. I use it in everything! Smoothies, gravies, baked goods, shakes, dressings, soups, and just as a cold glass with a cookie! I love how creamy almond milk is as compared to other milks, and the store-brand (HyVee) around here is only $2.49/half gallon. Compare that to $4.99/half gallon for “good quality” (organic, hormone-free, “grass fed”) cow’s milk, and it’s a considerable savings. Sometimes, I freeze almond milk in ice cube trays and then use for blending up deliciously thick and creamy shakes – combine with some silken tofu and you have a thick “Frosty” treat.
I have tried other nondairy milks — like soy, rice, hemp, coconut “beverage”, and oat – and like the texture and taste of almond best. Soy has a slightly sweet flavor (even unsweetened), and should be used moderately, rice milk is kind of watery but has a mild taste, hemp milk is thick and creamy but very expensive, coconut milk “beverage” (the kind in the carton) is very coconutty and thinner than almond milk, and oat definitely has a strong OAT taste, which may not be great in all dishes. Almond wins my vote.
I use nut butters in smoothies, on whole grain toast, swirled into oatmeal, in baked goods, blended into dressings/sauces, as a dip for fruits and veggies (apples, carrots, and celery are common for me), and of course by the spoonful. If you’ve never tried almond butter, you seriously need to go buy some (or make some) immediately. Seriously. Go. Now. ;)
Keep raw nuts and seeds fresh by storing in the fridge or freezer — the Omega fatty acids in nuts go rancid on the shelf after a few months, so its important to keep them cold in airtight containers and they will last for upwards of a few years! I always have these raw nuts and seeds on hand for baking, cooking, and snacking: walnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds. When I first starting cooking and baking more plant-based, I didn’t have this variety in my kitchen all the time! So, it seemed like an uncomfortable (and expensive) shift to start stocking these regularly. However, now that they are “staples” in my kitchen, I use them often and buy intermittently, so the price doesn’t seem as shocking all at once.
I know it can seem overwhelming trying to transition to a healthy kitchen and pantry all at once, so make changes as you can, with foods that you enjoy. Try new recipes each week that may utilize foods or ingredients you don’t typically stock, and then set a challenge to use those unfamiliar foods or ingredients in another way later on that week or next! These items would not have become staples in my life if I only depended on them for the occasional recipe that calls for it. Familiarize yourself with fresh foods, and get creative.
After all, if you have healthy foods on hand (and DON’T have the crap food — like Cheetos or cream-of-mystery-stuff soups) then you won’t turn to the old patterns for comfort and ease. You’ll have to eat the good stuff, or it goes to waste (which really pisses me off when I waste food, so it’s a good motivator to eat it!).
Watch and subscribe for my next post which will continue the theme of this one — Favorite Pantry Foods! You’ll get some insight into the things I regularly keep on hand to throw together healthful meals and snacks on a regular basis.
What are you favorite fridge foods? Do you share any of mine? Share your thoughts below!