Rethinking Your Pantry

Posted on Apr 17, 2013

In order to live a whole foods based lifestyle, you need to rethink your pantry. That means throwing away all of the addictive processed food and replacing it with ingredients that you can use to create meals. Let me phrase that another way. A meal shouldn’t come in a box or a can but rather a meal should be produced, in part, from things found in your pantry. And any thing in your pantry that you can sit down and eat mindlessly in front of the TV (chips, cookies, etc) needs to go.


So what’s in my pantry? (Excuse the horrible glare in the above photo. And no, I’m not showing the entire pantry. It is my family’s pantry, so it’s a bit more crowded than most.) I buy bulk grains and beans whenever possible and store them in jars.   Here’s a list of ingredients I try to always have on hand.

  1. Rice. Rice can go a long way and create a variety of meals. It is a staple food in most cultures. I prefer long grain brown rice for general use, but also often have arborio rice on hand for risottos and sometime even wild rice or basmati for variety. 
  2. Dried Beans. I prefer the taste and texture of dried vs canned beans. Plus with dried beans, I don’t have to worry about how long the beans have been sitting in a potentially toxic can. Dried beans are simple to cook but do take planning ahead. My favorite: Great Northern beans, black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils.
  3. Canned Beans. I know I just said I prefer dried beans, but I think every pantry should also have at least one can of beans on hand at all times for last minute week day meals or sick days. Just be sure to buy a BPA free can that is also low in sodium.
  4. Whole Grains. In addition to rice, I always have oats on hand (and extra in my freezer). Also good to have on hand: faro, barley, cornmeal, couscous, bulgar wheat.
  5. Pasta. I’m part Italian, so of course I always have pasta on hand. I recommend always having at least one short pasta and one long pasta. I prefer whole wheat for most things, but also often have a good old fashioned white pasta on hand. Eggs noodles (especially Amish) are nice during the winter, as well.
  6. Boxed Stock. I’d much rather use homemade stock than boxed and always try to have some homemade in the refrigerator or freezer, but this doesn’t always happen. Boxed stock comes in handy for last minute meals and sick days. Just make sure to buy a low sodium brand that has good ingredients.
  7. Canned Tomatoes. This is one of the only canned products I always have on hand (except for during peak tomato season). If you have canned tomatoes, you can make pasta sauces, add it to soups and stews, or use it in rice dishes. Just beware: because tomatoes are so acidic, it is very important to buy BPA free canned tomatoes. I also recommend organic.
  8. Tomato Paste. You can’t make a good marina sauce without it. Plus it’s nice to add to soups and stews.
  9. Kosher and Sea Salt. Always have extra on hand, because there’s nothing worse than the moment when you go to add salt to your pasta water and realize you’re out.
  10. General Baking Ingredients. Baking powder. Baking soda. Flours. Sugars.
  11. Nuts and Dried Fruit. Use it to make trail mix and granola/energy bars. Add it to salads. Nuts are also wonderful in pestos. Just don’t snack on large amounts.
  12. Dark Chocolate. This is a personal one, but I’m sure there are others out there who crave the occasional chocolate. Whenever I’m craving chocolate, one square of dark chocolate (around 70%) is all I need to satisfy the craving. Though I prefer the taste of milk chocolate, since it’s sweeter, it makes me crave more and eat more. Dark chocolate also has those wonderful antioxidants that are lost in milk chocolate.

Of course there are other things that I sometimes have on hand, such as tortilla chips for salsa and guacamole or crackers for hummus, but for things such as this, I follow two general rules. 1) They must be made of pure, simple ingredients and 2) If it’s the type of thing that makes you want to sit down and eat an entire bag/box in one sitting, don’t buy it.

Other useful things:

  1. Coconut milk
  2. Curry paste
  3. Extra soy sauce
  4. Popcorn kernels (Not the microwave kind. That has toxins in it.)