Give Your Pantry a Healthy Makeover
Spring Cleaning? Here's What to Toss and What to Buy
A well-stocked pantry is a must for busy people; it will save you over and
over again when you find yourself in a dinner pinch. And to stack the
healthful-eating odds in your favor, it's essential to stock your pantry with
great-tasting, healthy choices (the key phrase here is "great-tasting"
-- healthy food won't do anyone any good if no one eats it).
Giving your pantry a nutritional makeover is as easy as 1-2-3! Follow our
three simple steps to transform your pantry into one that will help you eat
light and right.
Step 1: Minimize empty-calorie foods the ones that deliver lots of
calories without much nutrition (vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, protein,
This doesn't necessarily mean eliminating them from your pantry entirely.
This might make you want them even more, thus leading you to overeat. You know
yourself best: whether "out of sight, out of mind" works for you, or
whether you do better in the long run if you have a few token empty-calorie
foods around. That way, you know they're there if you truly want them
(and are truly hungry) but they're not mainstays of your pantry.
The two infamous types of empty-calorie culprits are:
- Things with lots of sugar and other caloric sweeteners. Examples: soda and
sweetened drinks, cakes, cookies, pastries, pies, candy and chocolate bars,
frozen milk desserts, snack cakes, and cereal bars.
- Things with lots of added fats and oil. Examples: mayonnaise, chips,
microwave popping corn, crackers, cookies, pies and pastries, packaged muffins,
snack cakes, and mixes.
When possible, switch to alternatives to your empty-calorie favorites that
are, well, less "empty." Could you be happy with light mayonnaise
instead of regular? Can you drink a diet soda a day instead of a regular,
sugar-laden soft drink? Is there a higher-fiber, less-sugary breakfast cereal that suits you?
Step 2: Stock up on great-tasting, more-healthful alternatives for
foods you know and love.
For example, there are some reduced-fat chip options that taste terrific.
Some are truly low-fat, such as Baked Lays or Guiltless Gourmet brands. Others
have a little less, like Reduced-Fat Ruffles. Cape Cod reduced-fat potato chips
are less fat AND use canola oil.
Here are a few other healthy choices I tend to have in my pantry, some for
snacking and others for preparing meals:
- Canned, fat-free refried beans.
- Canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce (lower-sodium
versions are best).
- Bottled marinara sauce (choose one made with canola or olive oil, and which
contains no more than about 1 gram of fat and 400 milligrams of sodium per
- Brown rice (it comes in regular or a quick version by Uncle Ben's).
- Quick or old-fashioned oats. You can buy packets of microwave oatmeal --
Quaker Nutrition for Women -- that have added soy protein, calcium, and folic
- Whole-grain breakfast cereals. These should have a whole grain listed as
the first ingredient, at least 4 grams of fiber per cup, and not too much fat
or sugar. Raisin Bran is one of my favorites, with 7 grams of fiber, 1.5 grams
fat, and 19 grams of sugar per cup (whole wheat is the first ingredient on the
label; wheat bran is the third. Raisins are the second ingredient listed, sugar
- 94% fat-free microwave popcorn.
- Canned soups with more fiber (5 grams or more per serving) and less fat and
sodium than most, such as Campbell's Healthy Request Cream of Mushroom and
Chicken Soup, and Wolfgang Puck's Minestrone.
- Whole-wheat pastry flour. Substitute this for half the white flour in recipes to increase fiber and nutrients without a big
difference in flavor or texture.
- Splenda. This artificial sweetener can replace half of the sugar in most
bakery recipes, to cut calories without a noticeable difference in flavor or
- Salt-free seasoning blends (and individual herbs and spices). These are a
convenient way to add flavor fast when you're trying to cook without a lot of
added sodium. Check out all the Mrs. Dash flavors! And keep all your spices and
dried herbs in a cool, dry place to maintain freshness.
- An extra can of canola-oil cooking spray.