Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Pantry essentials for making healthy changes

If you're anything like me, you need practical, hands on advice/tips to help make changes in life.  Its an enabler to take me from thinking, 'yeah, I want to do that', 'thats what I want to incorporate into my life' to actually taking the steps and making the changes.

If you are in the situation whereby you read blogs like mine because you want to follow an actively healthy lifestyle, but months on you are pretty much eating the same foods, cooking the same way and exercising the same amount, then we need to shake things up a bit!

I will be starting a new program shortly through my new Facebook page which will take us all on a journey together to make positive changes, step by step.  So this post is a nice lead in - getting the foundations right and removing temptation.  But more on that later!

Different things work for different people, but for me, if there is temptation in our house, in the form of 'sometimes foods', I find the battle much more difficult and those foods seem to have such a loud and persuasive 'voice' that I can't always argue against!  And therefore I never buy chips, lollies, sweet biscuits, cakes, chocolate, dairy desserts etc.  Don't even stop to look at them in the supermarket aisles and just don't have them around me.  Why play that game when you don't have to?   And then on the flip side, I make sure I have plenty of nutritious ingredients surrounding me.  Pantry staples are things like chia seeds, amaranth puffs, linseeds, sunflower kernels, sultanas, corn puffs and nuts to snack on and cook with.  Having these in the pantry makes me use them, not just read about them and think 'oh yes, they sound good'!!

So I thought it might be useful to write down what I always have on hand in my pantry, fridge and freezer to give you a good start for stepping in the right direction.  Of course, there will be many other great foods that I won't have listed, as well as things that you may not particularly like the taste of, but think of it as a template for you to build on.  And please don't feel overwhelmed and worried about having to go out and spend $400 on everything at once.  Add one or two things each week to your shopping trolley - ideally replacing some of the foods you know you shouldn't have in the weekly shop!!

Ideally I would take a pic of my pantry and point out my 'must haves' but opening it up this afternoon, well, lets just say I don't want any photo evidence of the state of it at the moment!!!  



Nuts and seeds

  • Chia seeds
  • LSA mix (linseeds, sunflower seeds, almonds)
  • Flaxseeds
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts/Cashews

Why these guys?  Well I don't need to tell you how nutrient dense each of them are (giving you fiber, omega 3, antioxidants incl vitamin E, mono and polyunsaturated fats, protein, magnesium, calcium, zinc and the list goes on) and the major plus about that is you only need a small amount to get the benefits, making them quite cost efficient.  They are all so easy to incorporate into so many recipes.  Pimp your muffins, smoothies, pancakes, cakes, vegetables, stir fries, bikkies, casseroles, salads with one or a mix of these foods and you'll be boosting your bodies nutrient levels in no time!
Oh, and they can all be purchased at major supermarkets so you don't have to make special trips to the health food store.

Grains and legumes

  • Basmati/doongara rice
  • Brown/red/black rice
  • Quinoa
  • Rolled oats
  • Barley (if not Coeliac)
  • Red lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Polenta

As you can imagine, being Coeliac, rice dominates a lot of meals in our household.  I don't get caught up in the negativity surrounding 'carbs' and we don't restrict them around here.  I just chose good quality carbs that are not highly refined and that are in their most natural state to retain maximum nutrients.  Basmati and Doongara rice varieties are the most widely recognised lower GI (Glycaemic Index) varieties, although a recent study has found a lot more varieties also ranked lower GI.  I would say, though, that basmati is the most cost effective of these.  Brown, red and black bring with them extra fibre and the red and black varieties specifically provide antioxidants similar to those in blueberries and red cabbage due to their colour.  Brown is widely available and I have just seen black now stocked in Woolworths, as awareness increases.  But if you have an Asian grocer nearby, all varieties are available there and probably a bit cheaper too.
Add interest and colour to your next rice salad by cooking all four varieties!

Quinoa is the perfect food for vegans and vegetarians due to the complete protein composition only found otherwise in animal products.  But don't let them have all the fun!!  I have brought Quinoa on board probably about a year or two ago and now use it in salads, soups, bread among other things.  It can be used pretty much the way you would use rice, and cooks just as quickly too!  It is now widely available in supermarkets however if you start using a fair bit of it, going online and buying in bulk will work out at around half price!

Oats are so healthy - great for your heart - and really versatile.  Porridge is such a great way to start the day for both young and old, and thrown into your favourite bikkie, slice or muffin recipe can boost the nutrition value as well as the satiety level.  Rolled oats are a lower GI to that of the 'quick cooking' variety simply because they have been processed slightly less however really, if you don't have the extra time to spare for the longer cooking needed, the health benefits are apparent in both so still pop them in your trolley! 

As I've mentioned in a previous post, lentils can extend meat in dishes, making them more cost effective as well as bringing different nutrients such as fiber.  Red lentils cook so quickly so no need for pre cooking or soaking like some other dried legumes.

Chickpeas are high in fibre and protein and not only can be used in savoury dishes (dips, veggie patties, soups, salads) but due to their nutty flavour, are actually a great nut substitute (helpful for those with allergies or when needing to make things for schools or child care centers with a 'no nut' policy) and therefore can be used in bikkies, slices and energy balls!  In the recipe book I developed last year for McKenzie Foods, I even developed a chocolate spread (with nutella in mind) using chickpeas as the base!

Polenta (corn meal) is great for kids - my boys love it made with milk and cheese.  The instant variety takes just minutes to prepare and can be eaten like mashed potatoes or chilled then cut into wedges to make polenta 'chips'.  When I make 'fish nuggets' for the boys, I coat pieces of flathead fillets in a mix of GF plain flour, polenta and a natural lemon pepper salt free seasoning.  They love them!


  • Extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Rice bran/olive oil spray
  • Organic cold pressed coconut oil

I've spoken about fats in a previous post, but just to quickly say that I use a variety of oils for different purposes.
Olive oil for salad dressings (don't buy those ready made salad dressings - they are so over priced for what they are - plus a whole heap of hidden ingredients such as sugar and additives that you dont need.  We just drizzle olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice and sometimes a bit of salt over our basic mid week salads. How easy is that?!)

Sunflower oil for cooking with, a good source of omega 6.

Rice bran/olive oil spray for greasing pans or when baking vegetables.  Gives an even coat without having to use a lot.

Coconut oil for making our own cereal, chocolate crackles, and in some Thai and Indian dishes.


Organic shredded coconut/coconut cream - Organic to avoid the sulphur preservative.  I use shredded in sweet baking but it also can be toasted in a dry pan with some cashews and sprinkled on top of Thai stir fries, or tossed with sauteed potato cubes and a bit of tamarind paste, salt, fresh coriander and a sprinkle of rapadura sugar to make a crunchy delicious side dish. 

Raw cacao powder - packed full of antioxidants among other benefits, raw cacao powder is an ingredient I have recently started using in smoothies, energy balls, muesli bars, ice cream (!) and whatever else I can throw it in that doesn't require baking (to retain the antioxidant levels)

Raw honey - I've discussed this in an earlier post, and whilst this ingredient is not a friend of those avoiding fructose, if that's not you, use this natural sweetener instead of sugar.  It is sweeter than sugar which means you don't need to use anywhere near as much of it to get that sweet hit.  If you're not lucky enough to have easy access to a local producer, health food stores sell raw, cold processed honey which you need in order to gain all the benefits honey has to offer.

Herbal teas - Some, like chamomile, are calming.  Some, like peppermint, dandelion and ginger, help with digestive issues.  And some, like the berry mixes, have a sweet note that can help kick those sugar cravings.  Try a cup before deciding if you still really need that chocolate bar!

Small tins good quality tuna in olive oil/springwater - these are great for throw together meals.  If you need a quick dinner, cook up some pasta and toss in a tin of tuna, a handful of baby spinach leaves and a squeeze of lemon and cracked pepper.  My favourite lunch is a salad made in less than a minute by tossing together a tin of tuna (I buy Sole Mare), roughly chopped tomato, ripped parsley leaves from the garden (or baby spinach leaves), a small tin of 4 bean mix drained and a few splashes of vinegar.  YUM!  Keeps me satisfied all afternoon too.

Corn/rice thins - These are such a great snack spread with peanut butter (if you can make your own - AWESOME!), cream cheese and grated carrot, avocado with a sprinkle of salt and sumac, cheese and tomato or vegemite and cream cheese.  Being a Coeliac means that sandwiches are not the easy lunch solution they are for non-Coeliacs!  Financially because loaves of GF bread cost upwards of $6 for a small loaf, but also because the bread really doesn't lend itself well to fillings due to its crumbly nature.  Corn thins are a way around this as they are really reasonably priced and taste delicious topped with a multitude of different toppings, including the salad mix I mentioned above.  Whilst it may be tempting to buy the flavoured ones, next time you pick up a pack, compare the length and contents of the ingredient list of a flavoured vs plain pack and perhaps you will agree that the toppings above are much more favourable (and identifiable!).

Minimal process sugar (rapadura/coconut) or natural sugar substitute if preferred (ie stevia) - I speak a bit about sugars in this post, and whilst I try not to use a lot of sugar, I do have a bit of a sweet tooth so it is nice to know I am getting some nutrients with my sugar when using rapadura or coconut sugar.  Yes, they are much more expensive than buying a bag of sugar from the supermarket, but remember you wont be using much so it won't be an ingredient you'll be buying as often!!!!

Wholemeal flour (if not Coeliac) - Whilst I don't obviously use much wheat flour around here, when I do I like to use wholemeal flour, or at least a good percentage of, as you are getting the benefits of more of the grain and more fibre than the white stuff!

Frozen berries - Ah yes, pretty sure I've banged on about these a few times before, but they really are a staple in our freezer. Generally I have a few packs on the go at a time. We use them in smoothies, to make cordial, on top of natural yogurt with a drizzle of pure maple syrup, blueberries by themselves as a snack, and in muffins and cakes. They are packed with antioxidants and many other vitamins and minerals as well as fiber! Hard to believe really given they taste so good!

I hope this has given you some ideas to boost the nutrition in your household?! As I said earlier, don't go and empty your cupboards and fill them with this stuff straight away...it almost certainly won't work for you. This is a lifestyle change and especially if you have others in the house more reluctant to change than you, you will need to make small changes gradually!

Apologies for the long post but as always I hope it will result in a small change in your house, as it has in ours! I'd love you to share your 'pantry changes' with me.....



  1. We did a detox diet recently and this resulted in us feeling heaps better, not being addicted to sugar and restocking our pantry! Jess

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