Building a Better Pantry

In our previous posts, we have shared quick and easy meal ideas and how to meal plan for your busy weeks. However, we know planning isn’t always possible and there is nothing more disappointing than wondering, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” after a long day. Whether you are planning to cook a large meal or looking for a quick snack, having a well-stocked pantry and freezer is key to making mealtime happen no matter what. We share EatLove’s favorite essentials to get you started, so you can easily whip up a nutritious meal in no time!

DRIED SPICES

Aside from salt, dried spices are the foundation of flavor to boost up taste in any meal without adding additional sodium. Start with a handful of your favorite spices and after experimenting, continue to add to your collection. These are best used within a year as the flavor can mellow overtime. 

  • Garlic powder
  • Cumin
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Curry
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary

OILS, VINEGARS & SAUCES

Another level of flavor that can be layered on in cooking. It is the base for marinades and make excellent salad dressings. The simplest way to dress your greens is with an equal mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Store your oil away from direct sunlight to preserve freshness. Sauces like ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and hot sauces should be stored in the fridge once opened.

  • Extra virgin olive oil – best for drizzling and salad dressings
  • Avocado or grapeseed oil – suitable for high heat
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Soy sauce
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise
  • Hot sauce

CANNED GOODS

These are a lifesaver! Ready made stocks can be the foundations for soups and stews. Coconut milk can create curries and adds flavor when cooking rice. Canned fish and beans make an easy protein option to complete your meal. Keep an eye out for salt content on the nutrition labels, and opt for low-sodium when possible.

  • Low-sodium stock (chicken, beef, vegetable, etc)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Coconut milk
  • Canned fish, such tuna, sardines, and anchovies
  • Canned chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)
  • Canned black beans

DRY GOODS

Whole grains are packed with B vitamins, fiber, protein, and minerals, and are a healthy way to add bulk to soups and stews, or can be enjoyed as a side dish. Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit make a quick snack or can be sprinkled over salads or oatmeal for an extra crunch.

  • Steel cut oats
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Lentils
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews)
  • Seeds (chia, sunflower)
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries)

FROZEN FOODS

Don’t forget about freezer items! This is a great way to have protein sources on hand. Also, frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious, if not more, as their fresh counterparts. They are picked at their peak of ripeness before they are flash-frozen to preserve all their nutrients. Include a few of these in your icebox:

  • Frozen chicken tenders – smaller size thaws and cooks faster
  • Frozen salmon fillets
  • Frozen mixed vegetables
  • Frozen fruit (berries, mangos, or your favorite fruit)

We hand-picked a few recipes from our collection that you can make with our pantry essentials:

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken
Pantry Essentials: frozen chicken tenders, cashews, rice

Red Lentil and Rice Soup

Pantry Essentials: lentils, rice, vegetable broth
Pantry Essentials: lentils, rice, vegetable broth

This is only the beginning of your pantry list. As you continue to meal plan and cook, your list of items will grow, and you will know what to always have on hand for your favorite meals. What is your must have pantry or freezer item? Comment below!

Julie Shimko, MA and Minh Nguyen, MS RD

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should (and CAN) Embrace Meal Planning

1. Feel more organized

Meal planning automatically makes you feel like a champ. You’re getting yourself and your family set up for the week. Wahoo! It’s the best well-kept secret among those people that love to eat good food but don’t have a whole lot of time. Ever notice how no one really talks about their meal planning? Sure, you’ll see a pretty Instagram photo of your friend’s meal, but not their beloved weekly plan. Meal planning is so beneficial, but does require some thought upfront. Check out our previous blog post on how to “Set Yourself Up for Success in the Kitchen,” to make sure you have the essentials to get started.

2. Save $$

It’s not rocket science. Dining out and ordering take out cost more than home-cooked meals. As a registered dietitian, I often hear the complaint that “healthy food is too expensive.” There’s no denying that some produce prices can seem daunting, but there are some ways around that. Take one of Leanne Brown’s Good + Cheap meal plans for a spin, and feel good about your dinners and your budget. Did I mention that most of our meals on EatLove cost less than $4 per serving? Time to get a bigger piggy bank.

3. Cut down on food waste

This goes along with #2, saving money. Let’s talk scary stats for a second. The average American family throws away $2,200 a year in food waste (1). I could think of a lot of fun things I could do with $2,200 instead of throwing it down the drain. Be right back, Hawaii is calling my name… Luckily, our plans are optimized to make every ingredient count. If you plan your meals strategically, you’ll use up all your produce and avoid that feeling of guilt when you find that container of berries rotting in the back corner of the fridge. Oops.

4. Less stress

grocery list iphoneStressed about lack of time to prepare a delicious and nutritious meal that the whole family will enjoy? Stressed about how much your grocery bill will cost? Stressed that you need to accommodate your son with a food allergy AND your daughter who is a vegetarian? Put the stress aside and accommodate all those needs by updating your taste profile here.

5. Grocery shopping won’t be so overwhelming

I’m going to level with you here: the last place I want to be on a Sunday night is a crowded grocery store. I’ll admit it, I don’t love grocery shopping. I barely even like shopping for clothes. That said, grocery shopping is a whole lot more bearable – dare I say – even enjoyable – when you have a clear list and can zip through the aisles like a pro. Be sure to bring your EatLove grocery list via printout or on your smart phone.

6. Figuring out what to eat after work on the fly is mentally draining

Save brain power and breathe a sigh of relief when you realize you’ve already got dinner covered tonight. And the next night. And the one after that.

7. You’ll have a more balanced diet

When we throw things together last minute, or don’t have anything in the fridge, it’s likely going to be less nutritious and well-rounded than a carefully well-thought-out meal. As Errick Mcadams said, “If you keep good food in your fridge, you’ll eat good food.” Just ask any college student who’s survived on pasta for weeks at a time. Our meal plans will also tally up the amounts of fruit and vegetable servings, so you can easily meet your nutrition goals.

8. Look forward to your leftovers

No more sad tacos or boring sandwiches here. Our plans will calculate how many servings of leftovers you’ll have depending on your family size.

9. Spend more time with family and friends

Okay, so maybe you need to put in a little bit of time to plan your meals one day per week, but it will pay off in the long run. According to the USDA, Americans spend 33 minutes in food preparation on an average day (2). However, many working mothers prefer to spend less than 15 minutes to prepare a meal (3). Imagine the time saved each week if each meal took less than 15 minutes to prep? Woah. Instead of struggling in the kitchen, you’d be free to watch your teen star in their soccer game or help your eight-year-old with their homework. With our easy all-in-one weekly prep schedule, you’ll not only save time, but your kids will also learn skills to last a lifetime. Interested? Get started today with this meal plan from Garlic + Zest. Average prep time: only 15 minutes.

10. Your future-self will thank your past-self

Have you ever completed a project that took a little time up front, but afterwards thought to yourself, “Thank goodness I did that, my life is so much easier now!” You’re welcome, future-self. Though we typically have efficiency tools to help us be more productive at work, we don’t necessarily use them at home. In addition to helping you choose your meals for the week, EatLove offers a simple weekly prep schedule so you can plow through a list of slicing, dicing, and chopping ahead of time on Sunday.

Did I convince you to embrace meal planning yet? I hope so. Drop me a line on Twitter to let me know what YOU cherish most about meal planning.

Love the idea, but not sure where to start? Luckily, we’ve got you covered there too. Happy planning!

References

  1. Flick, L. (2015, April 22). America’s $165 Billion Food-Waste Problem. Retrieved February 3, 2016, from http://www.cnbc.com/2015/04/22/americas-165-billion-food-waste-problem.html
  2. Hamrick, K.S., Andrews, M., Guthrie, J., Hopkins, D. and McClelland, K. (2011, November). USDA: How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food? Retrieved February 3, 2016, from http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/149404/eib86.pdf
  3. Freeland-Graves, J.H. and Nitzke, S. “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 113 (2013):307-317.

Starter Pack for the Beginner Cook

Did my last post convince you to start meal planning? Did I ignite a fire in you to get back in the kitchen? Are you brimming with confidence and motivation to cook up your new recipes this week? If so, congratulations!

On the other hand…

If you’re excited, but also somewhat skeptical of your own cooking skills – never fear, we’ve got you covered there, too. Being a new cook in the kitchen can be a fun, yet daunting experience. It’s hard to always feel confident when your foodie friend just “whipped up” yet another gorgeous plate. “It was so easy, all I did was buy 40 ingredients for this one dish and spent all afternoon in the kitchen!” After one too many “Pinterest fails,” burnt popcorn, and Easy Mac microwave explosions (hypothetically, of course), it can be easy to doubt yourself. Luckily, you don’t need to be a “top chef” to cook a nice meal for you and your family.

Anyone can learn to cook. I firmly believe that.

On a personal note, less than 8 years ago, I didn’t even know how to cook chicken in the oven. When it came to group dinners, I was tasked with mincing garlic and onions. That’s it. My more “advanced” chef friends took care of everything else. Flash forward 1 year ahead, and I was spending my summer teaching children ages 8-13 how to cook. (Disclaimer: they might be better garlic mincers than me.) Flash forward again, 3 years later, and I’m leading cooking demos for over a hundred people. I’ve come a long way from mincing garlic and onions.

If you consider yourself to be a novice-level cook, we’ve put together some quick & easy plans to get you started.

Plan 1: Quick & Easy: EatLove Starter Plan from EatLove

Blueberry Smoothie with Almond Butter Toast

Complete with breakfast, lunch, and dinner that the whole family will love. Average hands-on prep time is just 13 minutes! You got this.

Added bonus: You’ll eat over 5 servings of vegetables today.

Plan 2: Quick & Easy Weekday Starter Plan from A Dash of Megnut

One Pot Sweet Potato, Tomato and Kale Rice Skillet

This plan is easy enough to put together during the week. Average hands-on prep time is 20 minutes per recipe. This meal plan has a short grocery list too – only 9 fresh ingredients needed.
Added bonus: Get over six servings of vegetables with this day’s plan. Wowza!

 

Plan 3: Getting Started: 2 Simple, Low Carb Dinners from Maria Ushakova

Chicken Breast Topped with Spinach and Goat Cheese

If you’re exploring a low carb diet but not sure where to start, these two dinner recipes are both simple and delicious. Average hands-on prep time is just 13 minutes.

Added bonus: You’ll fill up on lean protein with these dinners.

Bottom line

Don’t… lose hope in the kitchen if you’re a new cook.

It gets easier. It even gets fun.

Do… involve the whole family and make it a new experience you can all treasure together. Share the tasks of chopping, sautéing, and plating. Your foodie friends will never know what hit ‘em.

Set Yourself Up for Success in the Kitchen

This is the first of many articles part of the Getting Started series designed to help you find the joy in food and nourish your family in a way that works for you in 2016.

Above all, food should bring you joy. Nourishing your family shouldn’t be a chore, it should fit seamlessly into your lifestyle. However, many life barriers tend to get in the way. With meal planning taken care of, prep schedule organized, and total cook time managed, you would actually be free to spend that extra time with the people that matter most.

With the fresh start of a new year, perhaps you’ve resolved to cook more meals at home, spend more time with your family, or simply eat a more balanced diet. It can be a daunting task, but there are a few simple ways to get started so that you can set yourself up for success. It all starts in the kitchen.

  1. Get Organized

    • First, toss out what you don’t need (e.g. mismatched Tupperware) or any items that have expired. Next, group objects by purpose and assign them to specific cabinets (e.g. a cabinet dedicated to bakeware or cutting boards).
    • Make room for a clear prep space. Even if you live in a tiny city apartment, make enough room for a cutting board. If your kitchen lacks counter space, consider a rolling island. They save space and are great for holding appetizer platters during dinner parties.
    • Every few weeks, go through your inventory to keep on top of your pantry and equipment staples.
  2. Take Inventory of Your Pantry

    • Lemony Chicken Orzo Salad
      A tasty way to incorporate whole grains into you diet.

      There are numerous healthy pantry staples that you’ll want to stock up on. For now, we’ll review some of the basics to get you set up, but stay tuned for a future blog post elaborating on these staples.

    • Let’s start with the grains.The Dietary Guidelines recommends that we “make half our grains whole.” This means that out of all the grains you eat in a day, at least half should be considered “whole grains” vs. processed or refined grains. These recipes from EatLove are a great way to add more tasty whole grains to your family meals.For starters, make sure to have whole grain pasta, brown/wild rice, quinoa, and oats in your pantry. For baking, you’ll also want to include whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour (or gluten-free if needed).Arrangement mit Hülsenfrüchten/beans and lentils
    • Another important pantry section would be our canned and dried goods. Canned or dried beans are an inexpensive nutritional powerhouse and extremely versatile. Canned tuna or salmon make for a great pantry protein. Canned tomatoes can be tossed into soups and stews and dried fruit (e.g. raisins, prunes) can make for a quick snack.
    • Our pantry wouldn’t be complete without our cooking oils or spices. Stock up on heart-healthy oils such as canola oil or extra virgin olive oil. Spices will vary per each family’s taste preferences, but some common ones may include dried basil, oregano, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, and of course, salt and pepper.
    • Other miscellaneous pantry items may include honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, nuts, breadcrumbs or panko, mustard, vinegar, and low sodium soy sauce.
    • Once you feel your pantry is fully equipped, organize your pantry shelves as you would a library, with food items grouped by category.
  3. Clean Out Your Fridge

    • Have you heard about choice architecture? Many workplace wellness cafeterias will use this nifty design to nudge you to make a healthy choice. For instance, when you grab a cold beverage from the case, you may see water and other low calorie beverages at eye level. Whereas the soda and juices may be placed further below. Without even realizing it, you may be more inclined to grab the water.
    • Apply this concept to your fridge, and plan to keep fresh produce front and center, and less healthy options below, to gently nudge your family to make better choices.
  4. Don’t Forget About the Freezer

    • Frozen fruit and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh, and can come in handy when you need to whip up a healthy meal in a pinch. Stock up on frozen fruit (e.g. berries), frozen vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, corn, peas), and even frozen shrimp for a lean protein staple.
  5. Survey Your Equipment

    • Avocado ShakeThink about the recipes that you plan to cook in the next few weeks.Contemplating tackling slow cooker recipes to keep warm? Finally jumping onboard the smoothie train? This will help identify what you still need (e.g. slow-cooker, blender) vs. what you already have at home. Stay tuned for a post elaborating on kitchen equipment essentials.
  6. Get Everyone on Board

    • Lastly, get the whole family involved in your kitchen organization. This way, everyone will be able to move seamlessly about the kitchen, easily finding what they need. This translates into more helping hands during food prep, less mess, less chaos, and more fun food memories.

At EatLove, we truly believe that a simple, enjoyable 30-minute dinner with your family can be an everyday reality. Whether you’re looking for a hearty dinner or a well-balanced breakfast, we’re cooking up something for you.

Sources: United States Department of Agriculture. All About the Grains Group. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/grains. Accessed 12/23/15.