The first step for healthy cooking is to stock nutritious foods and products in the pantry and refrigerator. Cooking a meal fast seems to be the mantra in most homes. A good stock of nutritious food is the best way to keep healthy without wasting precious time.
“When all the nutritious materials are already there in the pantry, cooking a healthier meal is less expensive and less time consuming, when compared to ordering a pizza or going to a drive-in restaurant," says Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research. Remember to stock the favorite spices too, as most of the cuisines have their own set of spices.
Salad dressing and sauces:
- Salad dressing: Opt for light dressings that use canola oil or olive oil. This can be used for salads, marinade, dips, sandwich spreads, or as a dressing for pasta salad.
- Stir-fry sauce, sweet-and-sour sauce, hoisin sauce: These are ideal for many Asian recipes. Most of these products are low in fat but high in salt content. One should remember not to add any more salt to the recipe if you are adding these.
- Marinara and pizza sauce: Opt for those products that contain zero saturated fat and trans fat. It would be ideal if it is made of olive oil. One can make varieties of Italian recipes with red sauce – be it lasagna, spaghetti, chicken parmesan or pizza.
- Salsa verde, enchilada sauce, taco sauce, and red salsa: These sauces are ideal for Mexican recipes. Have these in your pantry and you can quickly make enchiladas, tacos, chili rellenos, or quesadillas for meal.
- Tomatoes and tomato sauce: Canned tomatoes are a must for many of the dishes like casseroles to stews and chili.
- Beans: It is a must have in salads, stews, casseroles, chili and Mexican entrees.
- Refried beans: These are ideal for making Mexican cuisine entrees, and for making nachos, Mexican dips or a side of beans and cheese.
- Broth: Broth can be used as a substitute for fat. It is also good for adding moisture without adding more calories.
- Broth or vegetable-based soups: Cook up a hearty meal with a healthy sandwich and a side soup. Soup can also be a great side dish for a meal.
- Chicken and fish: Opt for canned meat with less of fat. Water-packed fish and meat are good options. They can make casseroles, soups, sandwich fillings healthier.
Whole wheat or whole grain blend pasta: Opt for the whole grain variety of rotini, penne, medium shells, extra-wide noodles, linguine or spaghetti to add to casseroles, Italian entrees, soups and stews.
Brown rice: Cooked or uncooked, brown rice is good for Asian dishes, casseroles, soups, and stews or as a whole grain side dish.
Whole grain breakfast cereal: Varieties of whole grain cereals with high-fiber content are available in market. This can be used as a healthy breakfast or a snack. Add it as a crunchy topping to the yogurt or fruit for a twist.
Nuts: Nuts are good sources of healthy fatty acids and phytochemicals. Use it as a snack, or use it as a topping on yogurt, fish or casserole dishes.
- Shellfish, cooked and deveined or raw: These are ready to be added to any recipe. They are ideal for seafood salads, green salads, pasta dishes, chowders, casseroles, and Mexican or Asian-style entree or simple stir-fry.
- Grilled fish fillets: This can be made into an entree or a fish fillet sandwich.
- Lean turkey burgers or 9%-fat beef burgers: Lean burgers can be made within no time if you have these in your stock.
- Chicken or lean meat, individually frozen: Just thaw and use it as an ingredient in any of the dishes or main course.
- Vegetables: Stocking vegetables ensure that you can have at least one vegetable for the meal every day. Corn, spinach, broccoli florets, green peas, whole green beans, and mixed vegetables can all be used directly. Microwave them and they are ready to be used as a side dish, or added to an assortment of dishes, such as stews, casseroles, chowder, chili, quiche and stir-fries.
- Fruits: Keep berries, cherries, and peaches in the freezer and add it your meals, snacks or make smoothies, pancakes, muffins, nut breads or any fruit dessert. These fruits can also be used as a topping to French toast, waffles, yogurt, and hot or cold cereal.
- Potatoes: Mashed, diced or shredded, it is handy as a side dish or as an ingredient in dishes like shepherd’s pie or casseroles.
- French fries: Opt for products with less than 4 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving and bake them to make a healthy meal.
Healthy choices in your refrigerator:
- Lettuce or baby spinach in bags: Be it sandwiches, wraps, or burgers, these greens are very handy in making them within no time. You can also think of soups and stews, omelettes, frittatas, and casserole, when you have baby spinach to toss into it.
- Tomatoes: They are a must have for omelettes, green salads, pasta and other whole grain salads, sandwiches, wraps and burgers.
- Favorite fruits and vegetables: Having them ready in the kitchen will encourage eating more of vegetables and fruits. Keep them in the counter or in the crisper, it is a healthy grab-and-eat healthy snack.
- Skim or 1% milk: Decrease calorie intake with reduced calories, cholesterol and saturated fat grams in milk. Some of the best options are non-fat milk or 1% milk.
- Reduced-fat cheese: Sliced or pre-shredded cheese is ideal sources of calcium and protein. It is a must have in favorites like pizza, sandwiches and burgers.
- Low-fat yogurt: have a cup of low-fat yogurt to get the recommended calcium and protein. Have it as a snack or add it to smoothies. It can also be used as a substitute for fat in muffins, cakes or brownies.