Prep Your Pantry for Success
I don’t know about you, but life can get a little hectic sometimes, and as much as we don’t want it to food can go on the back burner sometimes (no pun intended). We all live busy lives; we have jobs, families, friends, pets, bills to pay, houses to clean, lawns to mow, and activities to do. It’s understandable that we don’t always have the time to whip up a gourmet scratch-made meal every night. However, setting your kitchen up for success is a great first step to get you on your way to eating and cooking well with minimal effort.
A well-stocked pantry, although it may seem like a simple concept, is actually your secret weapon to cooking and eating well. Having the right items on hand can help you to whip up a simple (and delicious) dinner in 30 minutes or less without having to run to the grocery store or pick up the phone. Trust me, if I can get my hard-headed, picky, pain-in-the-butt boyfriend to enjoy a pantry prepared, I know you can too!
STEP 1 – ORGANIZE IT
The pantry is the area that can take a humble potato to the Spanish coast or turn some simple lentils into a spicy and savoury Indian dahl. Organizing is the first step as it will make finding items a heck of a lot simpler as well. Buying jars and containers, or repurposing used ones, is a really inexpensive way to keep things organized. I liked to store all of my dried goods (grains, lentils, nuts and seeds) in glass jars as it avoids sorting thru packaging, as well as unwanted spills in your cupboards. Adding labels is also a great tool to help you find items quickly. You can easily find them at your local kitchen supplies store for about 10¢ each, or pick up inexpensive stickers at a dollar or office supplies store. Labels are not only handy to help you find things in a hurry, but once in a jar some items can look very similar, and confusing cumin for cinnamon in your oatmeal is not a mistake you want to make!
STEP 2 – STOCK IT
Dried goods like grains, lentils and beans are not only cheap to buy but incredibly delicious and most importantly nutritious! The addition of some herbs and spices can really elevate the flavour and take your taste buds on a little trip around the world. Below are a list of my personal favourite pantry items that I like to keep on hand. There are many more options for some of these categories, but I keep these as my staples in order to keep me ready for a quick weeknight meal.
- Whole Grains: Oats, red quinoa, white quinoa, millet, buckwheat and rice
- Lentils: Red lentils, green lentil and puy lentils
- Beans: Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans and cannellini beans
- Oils: Coconut oil, olive oil, sesame oil and flaxseed oil
- Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts and pistachios
- Seeds: Pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, chia and flax
- Spices: Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, turmeric, cumin, paprika, chillies, coriander, saffron and curry
- Herbs: Oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, dill and bay leaves
- Other: Mustard (Dijon & Grainy), crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, coconut milk, tamari, honey, maple syrup, almond butter, nutritional yeast, onions, garlic, ginger root, sea salt (Celtic) and fresh pepper
In addition to the above, I also do keep a few condiments and sauces that can help kick dinner up a notch when you are in a hurry. Although many packaged condiments, dressings and sauces an be a danger zone for hidden and unwanted sugars, salts and preservatives, the following are pretty safe:
Harissa: A North African condiment made of a mixture of peppers, dried red chillies, garlic, caraway seeds, ground cumin and coriander, tomato purée, salt and olive oil. It’s commonly used as a condiment in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking, and is great added to stews and meat dishes. Check out my favourite recipe here.
Tahini: A Middle Eastern paste or sauce made from ground sesame seeds. It’s packed full of calcium (sesame seeds contain more calcium per ounce thank milk!), and is great for adding to hummus, dips and dressing. Check out some great recipes here and here.
Pesto: A sauce of crushed basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and, sometimes, Parmesan cheese. It’s commonly used on pasta, but is even better for roasting vegetables, as a marinade for chicken or fish, or creating a fresh dressing like the one here.
Broth: Although making your own broths are truly the best (and healthiest) option, store bought organic low sodium broths are helpful for whipping up a quick soup or stew. Vegetable, miso and chicken options are my personal favourites.
STEP 3 – GET CREATIVE
Once set up, your pantry quickly becomes your secret weapon to preparing simple homemade meals and eating well. It not only makes cooking from scratch a little less daunting but encourages a little child like creativity in us. I actually believe that one of the biggest contributing factors to not eating well is not necessary just lack of preparation but lack of experimentation. Eating a plain chicken breast with boiled quinoa and some steamed broccoli although nutritious does not necessarily get me excited about dinner. However, using your tool belt of herbs and spices you can transform those same ingredients into Moroccan roasted chicken with spiced quinoa pilaf and lemon tahini roasted broccoli – sounds a little tastier, no? And the truth is, it’s not that much more complicated.
So, get out there, prep your pantry and try something new. Next time you are at the grocery store, buy a new lentil or a spice to add to your pantry. Remember, don’t be afraid to experiment; cooking and eating are supposed to fun! And if it flops, no big deal, you can add it to my list of kitchen misses and chalk it up as a learning for the next time.