March is Nutrition Month! Dietitians across Canada want to help bring nutrition back to the table and show people how easy it can be to plan, shop, cook – and of course enjoy – nutritious and delicious meals. We all know that life can be hectic, and when time gets tight, nutrition is often one of the first things we let fall by the wayside.
This year’s theme, Best Food Forward: Plan Shop Cook Enjoy! fits in so well with my philosophy about food and nutrition. What I’ve learned is that people don’t relate to nutrients, people relate to food. So what’s the point in advising a person to eat fatty fish twice per week if they don’t know how to cook fish?? Exactly, there is no point. So helping to guide people with planning, shopping and cooking is the key to providing the tools to live a healthy lifestyle.
A common question that I’m often asked is “what types of foods should I keep on hand in my fridge and pantry that are versatile?” With the right foods in your kitchen, you can put together a meal that’s more nutritious, lower calorie, and less expensive than take-out pizza. The following is my list of must-haves for a healthy and budget-friendly fridge and pantry:
Must-Haves for the Cupboard:
Canned Beans: fast and easy; excellent source of protein; use in soups, stews, pasta, baking
Canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines): excellent source of protein and healthy fats; use in salads, on melts with toast and cheese, casseroles, sandwiches, fish patties
Lentils: excellent source of protein, cook quickly and don’t require advanced prep; use in soups, stews, curries, salads, baking
Nuts: good source of protein; rich in healthy fats; use in salads, baking, cooking, or simply eat on their own
Dried fruit: the perfect natural energy boosting snack! Use in salads, oatmeal, trail mix, homemade energy bars/balls, desserts
Quinoa: high in protein; cooks quickly; doesn’t require advanced prep; goes with many flavours including sweet and savoury dishes.
Rolled oats: packed with fiber; they make the perfect breakfast and are also excellent when used in baking muffins, loaves and cookies
Cocoa powder: adds chocolatey flavour to baked goods, oatmeal and coffee, without adding sugar.
Oil: use unsaturated oils such as olive and canola in baking, salad dressings and cooking; canola, vegetable, grapeseed, and peanut oils are excellent for cooking at high temperatures because they have a high smoke point.
Vinegar: there are many different types & flavours; contribute lots of flavour without needing to add extra salt. Use with oil in salad dressings or as a dip for bread
Spices: add flavour to foods with spices, instead of using salt and sugar. I commonly use: cinnamon, ginger, garlic salt, coriander, basil, paprika & chili powder.
Honey: use in baking, sauces, marinades, to sweeten coffee/tea and plain yogurt
Must-Haves for the Fridge:
Eggs: inexpensive; easy-to-cook; versatile; lean protein; have a shelf life of about three weeks
Milk or alternatives: our best source of calcium and vitamin D! Use for cooking oatmeal (instead of water), cereal, creamy sauces, lattes or simply steamed/microwaved with vanilla or hazelnut extract sprinkled with cinnamon.
Hummus: high in protein; use as a dip for vegetables and crackers or as a sandwich spread
Capers & olives: have a long shelf-life and deliver a delicious punch of flavor to dishes. I love mincing capers and using in salad dressings with olive oil, vinegar, and Dijon mustard.
Garlic: purchase whole or minced in a jar for convenience. Use in salad dressings or saute with onions and other veggies
Mustards: Mix into marinades, dips and dressings for a punch of flavour
Peanut Butter: Excellent source of protein; use in sandwiches, spread on fruit or add to smoothies as a protein source
Plain yogurt: use in marinades, dips, dressings, desserts, parfaits, and as a fat substitute in baked goods such as muffins, cakes, or brownies to reduce fat and calories.
Salad greens: purchase pre-washed in sealed bags if convenience is a factor. Use in salads, sandwiches and for garnish
* My freezer is my best friend and it can be yours too! I keep my freezer well-stocked with leftovers, bread, quinoa, sauces, chocolate and nuts, to name a few. (Note: because nuts and some grains, such as quinoa, naturally contain oil, they can go rancid if kept at room temperature for too long. So if you buy these foods in large amounts, store them in the freezer).
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