When was the last time you really took stock of your pantry? Harness the momentum of spring cleaning: Fling open your kitchen cupboards and freezer, and take a good look at the contents.
A "clean" pantry isn't just tidy -- it's stocked with whole foods you can turn into healthy meals.
These tips can help you get started. They're from Michelle Dudash, RDN, author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.
Lean proteins: Keep canned or dried beans and lentils, shelf-stable tofu, canned tuna and salmon, and garbanzo, black, and white beans.
"Look for one with just nuts and possibly salt," Dudash says.
Semi-healthy snacks: She recommends 100% whole-grain crackers and tortilla chips. And stick to fresh fruit and vegetables, paired with lean proteins.
Dried fruits: "No-added-sugar dried fruits have lots of fiber, potassium, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals," Dudash says. They're great for snacks, salads, and baking.
Tomato products: She recommends whole and diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and a simple marinara with very little added sugar.
Whole grains: Keep a variety on hand for high-fiber sides. Dudash recommends brown rice, quinoa, freekeh, and oats. Quick-cooking whole grains can also be handy in a pinch.
Cooking oils: Stock extra-virgin olive oil, organic expeller-pressed canola or grapeseed oil, and coconut oil, which is nice for high-heat cooking.
Vinegars: "These never go bad, even if they have flakes floating in them." Four to stock: white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, and balsamic vinegar. "They pump up the flavor in your recipes with few if any calories and help you cut back on sodium."
Low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth: Add flavor to pilafs, soups, and sauces.
The "fake" stuff: Throw out the most highly processed foods -- those with artificial sweeteners, dyes, and refined white flour. Also chuck frozen meals with a jumble of fillers and preservatives.
Anything expired: Most oils can go rancid after a year or two, and spices lose their flavor. "You can use them, but you won't get the full benefit of nutrition or taste," Dudash says.
Rarely used condiments: These take up a lot of fridge space, so purge the ones you don't eat or cook with often, she says.
Veggies: Keep frozen veggies such as peas, corn, and shelled edamame on hand to add to almost any meal to boost the fiber and nutrition.
Chicken breasts and shrimp: These are perfect proteins to stock for made-in-minutes meals.
Leftovers: Making your own "frozen food" ensures you'll never get stuck in a rut.
Smoky Mediterranean Beet Burgers
Frozen cooked brown rice and canned lentils make these smoky veggie burgers a snap to make. Use disposable kitchen gloves when forming patties to keep your hands from staining red.
Makes 6 servings.
1 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium beet, peeled
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp mustard powder
¼ tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp kosher salt
1 cup cooked short-grain brown rice
1 cup cooked green lentils
1 cup walnuts
2 tbsp golden raisins
¼ cup rolled oats
½ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
3 oz feta cheese
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
6 100% whole wheat burger buns
(140 calories or less)
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a small sauté pan, heat oil and cook onion over medium-low heat until soft and golden. Add garlic, and cook 2 more minutes.
2. Grate beet using a box grater or the grater attachment in a food processor. Add into a food processor fitted with a blade attachment the grated beet, onion/garlic mixture, spices, rice, lentils, nuts, and raisins. Pulse until combined. Add egg and pulse again. Add oats and pulse a couple times. Let sit in the fridge for 10 minutes to set.
3. Meanwhile, prepare yogurt topping by combining ingredients and set aside.
4. Form beet mixture into six patties, approximately ¾ cup each (kitchen gloves are helpful here) and place on prepared pan. Bake until heated through (about 10-12 minutes). Then, turn on the broiler and broil for 2 minutes on each side.
5. Place burgers on toasted buns and divide yogurt topping among burgers.
Per serving: 538 calories, 25 g protein, 65 g carbohydrate, 21 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 41 mg cholesterol, 17 g fiber, 9 g sugar, 665 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 36%
All-Purpose Salad Dressing
Customize this vinaigrette according to your taste -- mustard, shallots, and a combination of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar give your dressing a French flavor. Dried oregano, minced garlic, and red wine vinegar are excellent on Greek salads.
Makes 8 servings.
½ cup olive oil
3 tbsp vinegar (red wine, balsamic, white wine, sherry, or a combination) or lemon juice
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp honey or sugar (optional)
1 tsp mustard (optional)
1-2 tsp minced garlic or shallots (optional)
2 tsp dried herbs, such as oregano, basil, or dill (optional)
1. Add all ingredients to a glass jar with tight-fitting lid and shake up until fully blended. Unless you add mustard and garlic or shallots, you can store this for several weeks in your fridge. If you add fresh ingredients, store in the fridge for up to one week.
Per serving (2 tbsp serving with all optional add-ins): 116 calories, 1 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 1 g sugar, 148 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 99%
Raspberry Chocolate Crumble
Frozen raspberries and dark chocolate chips are the perfect combo for something sweet. Almond flour keeps carbs low, but you can swap it out for whole wheat pastry flour for an extra 9 grams of carbs per serving.
Makes 4 servings.
2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed (or use fresh)
1½ tsp arrowroot powder or cornstarch
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp dark chocolate chips
½ cup almond flour or cashew flour
½ cup rolled oats
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
⅛ tsp salt
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine ingredients for fruit mixture in a medium bowl and set aside. In a small food processor, pulse together almond or cashew flour, oats, coconut oil, maple syrup, and salt until small clumps form. Divide fruit mixture among 4 ramekins. Top each with 2 tablespoons of the topping.
2. Place the ramekins on a rimmed sheet pan, and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is browned.
Per serving: 237 calories, 2 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 7 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 76 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 49%