Good Foods For Your Pantry

eating well Sep 13, 2011

I’ve talked a little about patterns of eating recently and also about eating for fat loss.

After all that I couldn’t help but feel I got a little ahead of myself. All of that stuff is fine and dandy until you think about your eating environment.

Especially at home, but even at work.

Yes, I know a lot of you keep things in your desk to snack on.

If you don’t have good food accessible as often as possible, it’s hard to develop certain eating skills.

See we all have good intentions to eat better, but as a general rule of thumb if you have it at home (or at work) you’ll eat it.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve personally craved something only to discover it wasn’t in the house.

A blessing in disguise. Frankly I’m too lazy to go out to get it just for a one little craving.

You likely won’t either. It’s just too much work. We want satisfaction now and if it’s not easy to obtain, we’ll either find a better substitution or we’ll ignore the craving until it goes away.

*Unless of course, you’re at the grocery store during your craving. Which is a good reason not to go grocery shopping hungry.*

Instant satisfaction is the name of the game when it comes to cravings. Your environment has the biggest impact on the success of those cravings.

The easiest way to manage that is to look at your pantry and decide what’s supportive and what isn’t. What you might call a ‘Kitchen Purge.’

Knowing that, I wanted to elaborate a little more on the foods you might want to keep handy, more often.

What to Keep In Your Pantry

As always I like to focus on the things you should keep around, rather than the things you know you shouldn’t keep around.

Come on, be honest, you already know that chips, cookies, etc… aren’t helping you. No need for me to say so.

Here’s a rough guide to what I like to keep around. You can choose to notice the things that aren’t on the list, if you want.

Lean Proteins

Cottage Cheese for Your Pantry/Fridge
Throw some fruit or vegetables on here and boom, instant snack.

Meats/Dairy/Legumes – To provide amino acids for tissue repair:

  • Lean Ground Meat (Beef, Bison, Pork, Turkey, Chicken, etc…)
  • Chicken or Turkey Thigh/Breast (Other Poultry like Ostrich or Emu too)
  • Pork Tenderloin/Chops
  • Lean cuts of Steak, Lamb, Bison, or other Roasts
  • Fish – Canned Tuna/Salmon or any fresh/frozen fish
  • Eggs and/or Egg Whites (Yolks carry most of the nutritional value)
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Dried or canned (Non-BPA cans preferred) legumes like chickpeas or lentils, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Navy Beans
  • Non-Fat Cheese (Milk Based Cheeses are not as flavourful, but are much higher in protein, things like Ricotta are also high in protein, but check labels…)
  • High Protein Yogurt (Probiotic Better, Regular Yogurt ok though, watch sugar content and look for higher protein varieties like Liberte 0%)
  • This is last for a reason, it’s a supplement not a replacement: Protein Supplement (Mix it up, try Vega, Hemp, Rice & Pea Protein in addition to traditional Whey and Casein or other milk blends)
  • You can buy a lot of this on sale if and when you like; a lot of these can be frozen

Vegetables/Fruit

Frozen Berries for Your Pantry
Great for flavouring water, adding to greek yogurt or cottage cheese or even protein shakes.

To keep you healthy so you can train:

  • Frozen spinach or other leafy greens
  • Fermented vegetables (onions, cucumbers, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc…)
  • Mushrooms (Canned and/or dried)
  • Prepped garlic
  • Frozen ginger
  • Tomato (Canned and/or bottled)
  • Frozen Vegetables (Mixed or specific types you prefer, good in a pinch, but will get watered down due to freezing, good for stews/chili)
  • Frozen fruit like berries (Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Blackberries) or tropical fruits like mango/pineapple/bananas
  • Canned fruit/veggies are options for last minute food preparation but watch for added sugars
  • I always keep citrus around for flavouring water and food, pre-packaged pure lime/lemon juice can be convenient

Healthy Fats

Healthy Fats For Your Pantry
For salad dressings, medium heat cooking and olives add plenty of flavour to many dishes.

To keep you healthy so you can train and add good calories:

  • Nuts (Macadamia, Coconut, Walnuts, Almonds, Cashews, Pecans, etc… watch serving size, think a thumb-ful or two per day. Maybe more, if you’re a bigger guy not eating many carbohydrates)
  • Seeds (Sesame, Sunflower, Hemp, Chia, Flax, Pepitas [pumpkin seeds], etc…etc…)
  • Quality and ideally Virgin (when possible) Oils (Olive, Avocado, Flax, Macadamia, Grapeseed, Coconut, Ghee, Butter, Hemp, Toasted Sesame, Peanut, etc…)Use the appropriate type for the job…
  • Fruits like Avocado or Olives
  • Frozen Fish/Fish Oil
  • Coconut Milk
  • Natural Peanut/Almond/Nut Butter (Or other tree nut butter, great in shakes with ice, milk, and chocolate protein)
  • *Higher fat cheese can sometimes be put into this category too, look at the labels.
  • You can buy a lot of this on sale if and when you like; I would freeze or refrigerate some things (like nuts so they don’t go rancid) and keep quantities small on the oils so they don’t go rancid – obviously some of these also need to be refrigerated too

Grain Based Starchy Carbohydrates

Starchy Grains for Your Pantry
Almost every culture on earth has a staple starchy carbohydrate component. Rice is a staple in Asian cuisine.

Provide some good micronutrients and aid in performance and recovery:

  • Rice (Brown maybe preferred but white is better for certain foods)
  • Corn (even tortillas in parts of central America)
  • Oatmeal (Steel Cut and/or Rolled Quick Cooking, no sweeteners)
  • Quinoa (White, Red or Black all are good – Only complete plant protein next to Soy)
  • Edamame for the freezer (also a complete protein – soy)
  • Amaranth
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Buckwheat
  • Wheat Bran or Oat Bran
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Spelt
  • Non-Flour or Sprouted Grain breads/flours (Something like this)
  • You can buy a lot of this on sale if and when you like, grains keep really well, though you may want to keep them away from the sunlight or possibly frozen if you have huge quantities

Other Starchy Foods

Starchy Foods for Your Pantry
Ignoring the onion, squash and potatoes would have been the bulk of the Americas diet in season, while maize/corn would be stored for later in the winter.

All lot of these foods would store well over winter but also be eaten in season while a grain would be stored as they store even better.

Great grain-alternative starchy carbs:

  • Pickled or dried Beets
  • Split Peas
  • Green Peas/Beans (frozen or canned)
  • Potatoes/Sweet Potatoes (keep well)
  • Squashes (Butternut, acorn, etc… all keep well)
  • Carrots (keep well)
  • Rutabaga (keeps well)
  • Turnips (keeps well)
  • And other root vegetables, especially if you have a cool place to store them…
  • Look for BPA-free cans. Frozen is fine and often picked peak nutritional value.

Non-Caloric Beverages

Beverages for Your Pantry
Low hanging fruit for a lot of people is removing liquid calories from their diet.
  • Green Tea (I especially like Matcha)
  • Black Tea
  • Black Coffee
  • Water
  • Herbal Teas (check labels)
  • Corn/Bean tea (Korean usually and delicious)
  • Citrus (mentioned above) for low calorie flavour
  • Ginger (fresh preferred)

Spices

Spices for Your Pantry
To loosely quote Trevor Noah, colonizers travelled the world in search of the spices of life.
  • Black and White Pepper
  • Sea Salt – Not really a spice… (Fleur de Sel is particularly nice, while regular table salt or kosher salt is great for soups and basic seasoning needs)
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg (I prefer whole)
  • Basil
  • Cardamom
  • Oregano
  • Chili Powder
  • Cumin
  • Curry Powder
  • Coriander
  • Fennel Seed
  • Paprika
  • Turmeric
  • Bay Leaves
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Garlic and Ginger Powder (though not as good as the real thing, use as a backup)
  • Thyme
  • Star Anise
  • Chinese Five Spice
  • Chili Flakes (for adding heat to dishes)
  • Cloves
  • Rosemary
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Dried Chilis (Ancho, Chipotle, Guajillo, etc…)
  • Mustard or Mustard Seed (awesome for making dressings in a pinch)
  • There are more..see below….

Vinegars

Vinegars for Your Pantry
Mix with quality oils and mustard for quick salad dressings. If a food tastes like it’s missing something and that something isn’t salt; It likely needs acid.
  • Basic White
  • Red Wine
  • White Wine
  • Rice Wine
  • Apple Cider
  • Sherry (better than balsamic, which is sweet)
  • Rice
  • *Balsamic, if you have the money to shell out for the real stuff

Miscellaneous Items:

Pastes for your Pantry
Making stuff taste good without excessive calories is the name of the cooking game. Here are things I like to keep around for various dishes.
  • Unpasteurized Honey (when you do want something sweet)
  • Maple syrup (when you do want something sweet)
  • Agave Nectar (if you’re into that…)
  • Pure Vanilla Extract or Vanilla beans
  • Tamari (or Soy Sauce, Tamari is just without the Wheat)
  • Miso Paste (delicious…)
  • Gochujang (Korean Spicy paste, also delicious but read labels for excessive sugar)
  • Curry Pastes (technically there is no such thing as curry, only curry plants/leaves, but thanks to the English it’s common vernacular…)
  • Canned Pumpkin (100% pure, avoid pumpkin pie filling…)
  • Vegetable, Chicken and Beef broths (I use organic cubes, for simplicity, but packaged work if you check labels)
  • Fish Sauce
  • Mirin
  • Chinese Cooking Wine
  • Dijon and Grainy Mustard
  • Lime and/or Lemon Juice (see above)
  • Sriracha or other hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot, Cholula, very low or no calories

Note on Milks

Milks For Your Pantry
Difficult to classify but can be useful for various reasons. Dairy especially is great for muscle gain/building objectives.

Generally milk falls into a separate category. People often (in my opinion) make the mistake of believing Almond Milk or other ‘plant-based milks’ are a ‘health-food,’ which is kind of like saying Special K is a ‘health-food.’

It isn’t necessarily ‘healthy,’ just because it’s plant based. One of the most nutritious foods available to us is wild fish.

There is a wide discrepancy between various Milks. Rice and Soy milk for instance are quite high in simple carbohydrates. They are mostly water.

While Whole and 2% Cows Milk, along with Hemp, Almond and Coconut Milk have more fat generally.

Skim Milk has an interesting balance of carbs and protein with little fat.

Excellent as a recovery drink from intense exercise or for muscle building objectives. However, I’d probably stick clear if weight loss is your objective.

I have a whole write up on dairy here.

Milk is complicated, ideally though they are consumed with other whole foods. Coconut milk in curries or shakes for instance, is a nice touch and introduces a lot of healthy fats.

As to whether or not ‘Vegan’ or ‘Vegetarian’ (I prefer the term Plant-Based Diet) is the way to go. I think that for the most part, people should eat more veggies than they do.

At the same time, I think animal products get a bad rap from things like the China Study and the ethics surrounding consuming meat.

Move Towards Your Goals, Not Away From Them

Instead of focusing specifically on what to eat, or having an ethical debate, I’d rather you think of how you’re eating. How does it apply to you? How does it work for you?

The intent here is to reinforce what you should be focusing on eating, rather than focusing on what you should be ‘avoiding.’

One of the major pitfalls of all dieting programs, is telling you what you ‘can’t eat’ rather than focusing on what you should be eating.

Keeping these foods around (or some variation thereof) ensures that you always have plenty of options for quality meal prep at home.

Taking things a bit of a step further, the new Canadian food guide is actually pretty damn good.

It lacks some nuance, but then so does this article. It’s a starting point, then you determine nuance as it’s relative to you.

Canadas Food Guide Pantry
Not a bad piece of public health recommendations…

This is more of a recommendation for the average person who likely isn’t all that active.

If you’re more active you need more food and probably more carbohydrate rich foods. You may even need more protein-rich foods. We all don’t eat enough vegetables most of the time.

Food preference will play a role. Maybe even religion or cultural eating approaches too.

If you need a hand with the nuance of eating, leave a comment or send me a note.

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Darren Beattie

A former University Strength & Conditioning Coach. Now aspiring tech entrepreneur and developer exploring fitness and nutrition to deep specific levels.

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