A kitchen cupboard filled with the right staples is the key to keeping things “clean” when cooking and baking at home.
Going from zero to (healthy-)hero can be a bit intimidating - especially if you have no clue where to start. I’m not talking about just “Oh shoot I’m out of pasta” - I’m referring to getting your pantry ready to master nutritious creations of all kind! Knowing where to start, and exactly what you’ll need, is obviously the first (and hardest!) step.
A dear friend of mine expressed the desire to have one of these “dream pantries” - you know, the ones you see featured in overly attractive health and wellness blogs.
Given that my experience with Meal Garden - both as an employee and as a user myself - has provided me with quite a bit of knowledge in this space, I decided to whip-up a “pantry care package” for this lovely inquiring soul.
*In full disclosure: she promised me some of her breath-taking succulent plant arrangements - so this was an exchange I was more than willing to get behind!*
Here’s what I put together for her, and what I recommend when it comes to bulking up your kitchen cupboards for creating meal plans that boast green-leaf health ratings.
1) Go-to sweetener: Coconut sugar
- I like the caramel and slightly nutty flavour it adds to dishes like fruit crisps. It's also less processed than refined sugar and has a lower GI.
- It’s ideal for creating crumbles - when you still need the coarse texture of sugar and thus sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, stevia or agave just won’t cut it!
2) Go to flavour-enhancer: Nutritional yeast
- These flakes of deliciousness do a fantastic job of adding a hint of cheesiness to just about anything.
- I like incorporating some into cauliflower rice, sprinkling it on top of salads or stir-fry’s, and it’s the staple ingredient in a good old VEGAN MAC & CHEESE!
- High in B12, is a "complete protein," low in fat and sodium, is free of sugar and gluten, and even contains iron.
3) Go-to smoothie-bowl topper: Cacao nibs
- No smoothie bowl is complete without this powerful chocolatey addition!
- Since raw cacao is not as sweet as chocolate, this ingredient is even more versatile - making it a staple you can even add to savoury meals.
- Cacao beans are one of the best dietary sources of magnesium, are loaded with fibre, iron, antioxidants, and have been shown to improve your mood.
4) Go-to “binder”: Psyllium husk
- Psyllium husk is often used in gluten-free baking as a binding agent, essentially for the same reason it’s used as a laxative (i.e. it’s lubricating and bulking qualities). Gluten has a ‘bounciness’ to it; which is why gluten-free baked goods can end up flat or unpleasantly dense. Adding some psyllium can help put a little more bounce or moisture back into the gluten-free version.
- I add it to smoothie bowls to help thicken them up!
- It’s most commonly known as a laxative, but also boasts benefits for heart health, diabetes, and for weight-control.
5) Go-to thickener: Chia seeds
I like to “sprout” them, which releases the “enzyme inhibitors” that are used to protect the seed - this soaking (and thus sprouting) process makes them more digestible.
I add a tablespoon to coconut water for an on-the-go energy drink (literally the best post-yoga fuel ever!).
You can also coat your fish and chicken with chia seeds to add a nice crunchy texture (combine with gluten-free flour and herbs/seasonings of your choosing).
Rich in fiber, omega-3 fats, protein, vitamins and minerals - chia seeds have even more Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon.
6) Go-to flour: Spelt
Grains that are sprouted are converted into a “living food”, meaning that they contain more vital nutrients that are more easily absorbed by the body. Sprouted flour digests as a vegetable not as a starch.
I like spelt because it’s a flour that I find maintains a good consistency and holds up well as a replacement to regular wheat in baked recipes. It’s also much lower in gluten than wheat, and even has twice as much Vitamin K!
7) Go-to grain: Barley
While most people tend to think of barley in savoury main dishes - or as a side to a fish/meat/vegetarian protein - I like to switch it up and do barley breakfast porridges. Pearl barley does take quite a bit of cooking time, so I tend to make a large batch and will prep ahead 4-5 breakfast bowls for the week ahead (just store in mason jars and pop in the fridge). This article explains how to cook it with the intention of having it as either a sweet or savoury breakfast. Or you can just pop some into the oven with milk and let it cook on a low-temperature all night like in the following recipe.
8) Go-to egg-replacer and baking-enhancer: Ground flax seed
Ever go to bake something...think you have all the ingredients...but then come to the sad realization that you’re out of eggs? Game over...until now! Mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water and you’ve got an egg replacement that can also help turn baked goods recipes into their vegan counterpart.
9) Go-to fat: Ghee
The secret to why my banana bread is so dewy and rich? Now you know folks!
10) Go-to dried fruit: Mulberries
Every pantry needs some dried fruit...it’s a sweet addition you can use a topper for things like yogurt, cereal smoothie bowls, in baked goods, or even in “no-bake” bars/balls.
Unfortunately, most dried fruit is ridiculously high in sugar, white mulberries, though, contain less than half the amount of sugar found in raisins and significantly less than dried figs, cranberries, and bananas.
11) Go-to tea: Chaga
Okay, this is more of a bonus “luxury” item I included just because I’m ‘Friend of the Year’. Perhaps not a pantry “staple” - but hey, who doesn’t love a good tea?
Steep these immune-boosting mushrooms in hot water for about 10 minutes, and the outcome is similar to green tea, but a little more “woodsy”.
So next time you’re at the grocery store, keep your pantry in mind...filling up on the right go-to stock items helps to keep cooking and baking at home all the more healthy!