There’s no better time than spring to have a look inside your pantry and stock it with the healthiest of essentials. Below are some of my top picks for variety and nutrition and some suggestions on how you might use them.
‰ Beans, peas and lentils: try adding these to soups, salads and pastas for an extra protein boost, or enjoy them on their own for a meatless meal. These legumes can also be blended with olive oil, garlic and lemon for a tasty bean dip. Fill your cupboard with canned or dry black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lima beans, chickpeas, yellow and green split peas, or green and red lentils.
‰ Canned and bottled vegetables: eat these veggies as a traditional side dish to a supper meal or add them to sauces, pastas, soups, stews and casseroles. Look for low-sodium options and choose different colours of the rainbow for variety and nutrition. Try green beans, orange carrots, yellow corn, white potatoes, red tomatoes and purple beets.
‰ Canned fish: choose tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines or salmon packed in water. If available, look for low-sodium choices. Eat canned fish with crackers for a snack, a fish sandwich for a lunch, and serve up tuna or salmon casserole for supper.
‰ Whole grains: consider barley, couscous, millet, bulgur and quinoa as as alternative to cupboard staples brown rice and whole grain pasta. Whole grain oats, also a nutritious staple, work well for baking or a hot breakfast in the morning. For any time of day, mix up your sandwiches by using alternatives to whole grain bread such as whole grain tortillas, pita and English muffins.
‰ Nuts, seeds and their butters: aside from enjoying them on their own, add unsalted, plain nuts and seeds to yogurt, hot cereal or salads. Think outside the peanut and go for different butters like almond, cashew, pumpkin seed or sunflower seed butter.
‰ Canned and dried fruit: look for those with no-sugar-added and varieties not packed in syrup. Canned and unsweetened dried fruit (sorry, but yogurt-covered dried fruits don’t count!) are versatile snacks that can be enjoyed on their own, or great in a homemade trail mix, salad, yogurt parfait or hot cereal. Like the veggies, go for colour and pick up canned peaches, pears, pineapple, apricots or mandarin oranges and raisins, dried apricots, apple rings or cranberries.
‰ Milk and alternatives: skim milk powder can be used in baking, or simply add the required amount of water to powder for a glass of milk. Ultra-high temperature (UHT) milks or milk alternatives like fortified soy, almond, rice, flax and hemp milks can be used just like cow’s milk in smoothies, over cereal or in cooking and baking. Unless you pick them up in the refrigerated section, they’ll be shelf stable.
‰ Last but now least, every pantry should have some basic cooking and baking staples. Whole wheat and whole grain flour, spices like cinnamon, black pepper, chili powder and garlic powder, molasses, and vegetable oils are also a must for any kitchen.
From now until next Thursday, April 24, all Dominion locations in St. John’s and Mount Pearl, as well as Kevin’s No Frills in Paradise, will collect food and funds for the Community Food Sharing Association for distribution to local food banks in the city and across the province. In other communities across our province with Dominion, No Frills and SaveEasy locations, food that is donated at each store will go directly to one or more designated food banks in that community.
Food banks provide our neighbours in need with food essentials, so consider donating non-perishable food items the next time you’re picking up groceries. The pantry staples I’ve listed are great for your cupboard, but they make excellent nutritious additions to a food bank, too.
Last week’s column should have said brominated vegetable oil (BVO), and not the element bromine, is used as a flame retardant.
Amanda O’Brien is a registered dietitian in St. John’s. Contact via www.recipeforhealth.ca.