Are your pantry shelves lined to the edge and piled high with items you’ll never use? Maybe you have some unhealthy things lurking about, too. Your pantry doesn’t have to look like you’re ready to feed the neighborhood in case of an emergency. A well-stocked pantry loaded with healthy food and convenience is just a few simple steps away.
Out with The Old
Your first step to raiding your pantry should be to clean and organize it. That includes searching for, and tossing, items that have expired, bags with tears, items with unknown expiration dates, old spices and nuts and dented cans. And let’s face it, if you still have items from New Years 2011 that you intended to incorporate into your diet but didn’t, it’s probably time to toss them.
Ditch Empty-calorie Foods
Pantry space is prime real estate! Don't waste it on a lot of items that simply offer empty calories (meaning they don’t provide you with much nutritional value like protein, fiber or vitamins and minerals). If that's what lines your shelves, think twice about keeping those items. Things that fit the bill: soda and sweetened drinks (particularly those with high fructose corn syrup which may promote weight gain); certain snack cakes and crackers; sugary cereals; and packaged muffins and pastries.
Fling Foods with Trans Fats and Saturated Fats
Trans fats hide out in many processed foods, which sometimes end up being our go-to, favorite snack foods. Trans fats are used in products to help extend their shelf life. They can also limit yours by increasing your risk of developing heart disease. They raise your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower your “good” cholesterol (LDL).
Again, consider foods like cereals, crackers, cookies and other snacks. Read the labels and be on the lookout for items that list “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” ingredients as one of the first on the list. These are saturated fats, which can also increase your bad cholesterol and contribute to heart disease. If you really want some snack items on hand, look for reduced-fat items, which usually have lower saturated and trans fats included.
Determine What Can Be Donated
Community food banks are always in need of healthy, nonperishable food items. Maybe you purchased some things in bulk because they were on sale, only to find out you could never possibly use them all. Or maybe you thought you might try a new recipe and stocked up on a few things, but nothing ever materialized. If you have quality items you know you won’t use but don’t want to waste, consider donating them to your local food bank. Just make sure the items are in good condition and haven’t expired.
Shop & Stock
It’s good to have pantry staples – if they are, in fact, good! They can help you put together convenient, healthy meals and even rethink what you might want to keep from your shelves. Here are five items (maybe a few more) that fit the "good staples" bill:
1. Canned organic tomatoes (look for low-sodium versions), healthy jarred pasta sauce, and beans (fat-free refried beans, garbanzo beans, cannellini beans, black beans). Dried beans are usually lower in price and sodium, but take more prep time. Check out a few that don’t.
2. Whole-grain breakfast cereals full of fiber and low in sugars. Read more about what to look for in your cereal.
3. Grains like bulgur, quinoa and barley, to name a few, and whole-wheat pasta for healthy go tos.
4. Extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and dried herbs and spices (spices add flavor without fat or calories).
5. White tuna packed in water (check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s info on tuna), canned salmon, anchovies and sardines (great for sandwiches or adding flavor, protein and omega 3s to pasta dishes). Take a look at Organic Authority’s favorite BPA-free canned foods.