Food & Drink

4 Steps to Stocking Up with Healthy Foods on a Budget

Slim pantry provisions? You’re not alone. There’s a true art to maintaining a diet of healthy foods on a budget. Here’s how.

The pantry is important. Whether you have a spacious walk-in or a few selected cabinets that serve the purpose, a well-stocked cupboard can make or break a weeknight meal or an impromptu lunch. Although fresh food is generally considered the base of a healthy meal, a busy—but clever—cook can prepare nourishing nosh with a few sensible staples. And the best part of utilizing a well-planned pantry is skipping the costly takeout meal, which is often loaded with fat, calories and sodium.

1. Assess the Damage

So what’s the skinny on a plentiful pantry? Getting rid of the “junk” is the first step in the right direction. Survey what is currently in your cupboards and purge any potential pitfalls. Packaged snacks such as cookies and chips are tempting and dangerous, even if they are intended for the children of the house. Just knowing they are available can lead to a remorseful decision by an adult, not to mention some super-hyper kids. Have one or two kid-friendly snacks on hand but stick to stocking smart choices for the entire family.

Use this assessment time to clean and organize as well. Get rid of any expired foods or items that have been sitting idle for more than a year. Check the labels of your current goods. If sugar or salt is one of the first ingredients listed, either pitch it or donate it to a local food pantry. Congratulate yourself on all your healthy foods too. They will take center stage on the eye-level shelves once you restock.

2. Clean and Reorganize

Make a clean sweep in more ways than one. Once you have pitched the pitfalls, take time to clean your pantry from top to bottom. A clean food area is pleasing to the eye as well as the mind. Sweep the floor and wipe down the shelves. Use clear containers to display food at a glance, provide easy access and remind yourself when to place a certain item on the grocery list.

3. Throw a Stock Party

Now is the time to fill your pantry with exciting options. Developing a healthy pantry doesn’t have to require a two-hour trip to the grocery store and a colossal food bill. Start slowly in your pantry progression so you can educate yourself about the food you are buying while keeping more cash in your wallet. Stick to purchasing the essentials first.

A well-stocked pantry typically includes four categories:

Produce: Not all fruits and vegetables need refrigeration. One of the healthiest and easiest canned foods to keep in the pantry is the tomato. Whether you buy them chopped, sauced, diced or whole, tomatoes are known to help prevent certain types of cancer and offer significant amounts of bone-strengthening vitamin K. Don’t forget marinara sauces and sun-dried tomatoes. Check labels to make sure only tomatoes, herbs and spices are on the ingredient list. Other canned produce that offers more bang for your buck include corn, green beans, olives, peaches, pears, pineapple and mandarin oranges. Stock some dried fruits to add to salads.

Proteins and nuts: Nuts are awesome pantry fare but should always be eaten in moderation. Keep a variety on hand, including almonds, walnuts, pine nuts and pistachios. Look for organic nut butters as well, making sure the only ingredients are nuts and perhaps a little salt. Don’t overindulge. If peanut butter is a potential pantry pitfall, then don’t buy it or keep it out of eyesight. Better yet, try powdered peanut butter. Made from roasted peanuts, most of the fat is removed in the pressing process. Mix the powder with water for a tasty treat or add to smoothies and baked items. Another major protein pantry player is beans. Black, kidney, garbanzo, cannellini and white beans all pack a good amount of protein and are filling. Beans are great served alone or added to other dishes. Also, keep cans of tuna, salmon and sardines handy for a quick salad or sandwich.

Whole grains and pasta: Go whole or go home when it comes to bread and pasta. Check the label and make sure your product contains “whole” grain or wheat. Other pantry standards are brown rice, couscous, oatmeal, barley, quinoa and bulgur. Use real popcorn kernels and prepare your treat the old fashioned way—with a skillet and a little oil. If you enjoy cereal as your morning meal, make sure to keep whole-grain and low-sugar varieties in your cupboard.

Food accessories: Condiments are key when it comes to eating healthy food. Stock your shelves with dried herbs and spices that carry a punch, such as garlic, curry powder, red pepper, cinnamon, dried basil, parsley and oregano. The sky’s the limit when it comes to spicing up your food, so pick your favorites and try new ones every so often. Keep extra-virgin olive oil on hand, as well as balsamic vinegar and reduced-sodium chicken broth for soups and sauces.

4. Cut the Pantry Price Tag

One of the most important reasons to keep a stocked pantry is to avoid buying expensive restaurant and take-out meals that are loaded with fat and calories. Here are just a few tips to help you save money and time:

*Buy in bulk wherever possible.

*Shop at discount and overstock stores for staples as well as some unique food items. Don’t forget to check the expiration dates.

*Don’t be so loyal. Store brands are often tastier than their fancy counterparts.

*Challenge yourself to make at least one dinner per week with only pantry items.

*Prepare meals using fewer ingredients. Make “Meatless Monday” magnificent with just roasted veggies and brown rice.

*Know what you like and what you don’t like. If you aren’t going to eat it, don’t buy it because it will only take up space and cash.

Everybody likes a well-stocked pantry. Use yours to your advantage by keeping your wellness and wallet in mind. With a clean sweep and the right staples, the makings of healthy, quick and tasty meals can be just behind the pantry door.

Story by Lisa Taranto Butler