So I found this article today, on the top 10 money saving pantry essentials, and frankly was appalled at MOST of the suggestions this article makes. Follow them, and you are well on your way to insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, and even diabetes.
Here's their top 10 suggestions, and my top 10 improvements that are friendly on the wallet and your health!
Yikes! Not only is this refined white flour product completely devoid of nutrition, how hard can it be to add a little baking powder and salt to your whole grain flour for baking?
My Suggestion: whole grains
Buy these in the bulk section. Millet, quinoa, brown rice, barley, oats, kasha etc. Whole grains are far superior to that white flour in nutrition, fiber content and flexibility. They can be cooked whole as a side dish, salad base, or breakfast cereal. Grind whole grains fresh for making your own unique baked goods. Ground oatmeal makes a delicious flour for baked goods. Or add whole grains to soups and stews. Please soak all whole grains before cooking them to reduce nutrient inhibitors like phytates.
You could do worse than raisins, but they are pretty high in sugars , and frankly, I don't really like raisins.
Buy them in bulk, and when they are on sale. Almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds etc. Nuts are high in minerals like calcium and zinc, rich in vitamin E and good fats ( as long as they are fresh nuts, and not rancid) and incredibly high in fiber and protein. Chop them, toast them, toss into stirfries, whole grains, on top of stews, soups, salads and cooked veggies. Or eat them by the handful for a snack. You may spend a few extra bucks on the nuts, compared to raisins, but the health benefits far outweigh the slight extra expense. Plus a little goes a long way, and you don't need to eat many nuts to feel satisfied.
8. Garlic & Olive Oil
I can't really argue with this one. Garlic does make most things taste good, and olive oil is a good fat rich in omega 9 fatty acids, so it doesn't interfere with your Omega 3:Omega 6 fatty acid balance.
My Suggestion: More Spices
In addition, I'd suggest investing in bulk spices (not the expensive kind in little jars). Spices are the variety of life, and unique combinations of spices can make a ho hum dish unique, flavorful and give an ethnic flair to what you are eating. Try cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, sage, oregano, mustard seeds, rosemary etc.
Canned soups are dreadful, usually full of preservatives, additives, sometimes even high fructose corn syrup. Commercially processed canned goods are also very low in nutrient content.
My Suggestion: Homemade bone broth (freeze for later use)
For this, you'll need to plan ahead. Whenever you buy chicken, buy it with the bones. Save those bones in a plastic bag in the freezer until you've collected quite a few. Or invest in some nice organic beef bones from the butcher ( you'd be suprised how cheap bones can be). Crack your chicken bones (a nut cracker works, hammer, etc), and cook in several quarts of water with a splash of vinegar (to draw out the minerals from the bones) for 24-36 hrs in your crock pot. Add onions, garlic, seaweeds, and spices to give the broth more flavor and nutrtion. This broth is incredibly mineral rich, and full of rich flavor from the bones, and spices. This can be frozen in jars, or ice cube trays (store in a plastic baggie once frozen), and added to anything you might cook. Cassaroles, whole grains, soups/stews, and more.
6. Pasta Sauce
Again usually loaded with not so good things like corn syrup and preservatives, but if you can find a good brand, than go with it.
My Suggestion: Canned tomatoes
Definately more versatile than Italian flavored pasta sauces, canned tomatoes can be used to create your own delicious sauces with vegetables, chile w/ beans, as a soup base (either cooked or gazpacho), mixed into cassaroles and more. Usually these are pretty safe as far as no corn syrup and additives/allergenic ingredients, but read the label to be sure!
Tuna ain't bad, and canned fish is usually affordable and an excellent source of protein.
My Suggestion: Canned salmon and sardines
In addition to Tuna, canned wild salmon and sardines can be very affordable and nutrient rich. Wild Salmon and sardines also have the benefit of being lower in possible mercury contamination, and have an excellent omega 3 fatty acid content, and is a rich source of calcium (if the bones are included in the can). A 16 oz can of wild alaskan salmon runs about 2$ at my local Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, you get three or four times as MUCH actual product than those small dinky cans of tuna, and it is just as versatile as tuna. If you like sardines, stock up on those as well to add to salads, soups, crackers or whatnot.
4. Oatmeal- Eh, oatmeal is overrated for breakfast. Sure, it has fiber, but it certainly lacks in the protein and satisfaction ratings. I don't know why people say oatmeal sticks to your ribs, it flows through me like a fruit smoothie. If I eat cooked cereal for breakfast, I"m hungry an hour later.
My Suggestion: Eggs
Eggs are an incredible powerhouse of nutrition, and are one of the cheapest sources of high quality protein out there. At 6 g of protein per egg, a few scrambled or fried eggs for breakfast will stick with you a lot longer and keep you satisfied, and help prevent mid morning munchies. Check out this study on eating eggs for breakfast and weight loss.
Eggs can also be added to other foods, used in baked goods, boiled and added to salads, turned into egg salad, stirred into your oatmeal at the end of cooking to up the protein content and satisfaction factor. Eggs for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner!
Eggs are also chock full of nutrients, the yolk is one of the richest sources of B vitamins, and is also rich in lecithin and choline ( as long as you eat it slightly runny) which are excellent for brain health (good for mood, depression, memory and more!) Eggs have received a bad rap over the last few decades, but don't underestimate the mighty egg. Especially when you are pinching your pennies. A dozen free range eggs runs about $2.50 here. 4 eggs will provide roughly the same amount of a protein as a 4 oz portion of more expensive free range meat, and a dozen can last several days, and they keep so well!
Whole grain brown rice certainly isn't a bad food, and is perhaps a smart thing to keep around, but eating rice every day can be a recipie for disaster when accompanied by things like pasta, oatmeal, and raisins at every meal.
Use rice occasionally, but don't make it your staple of every meal.
My Suggestion:Peanut butter/tahini or other nut butters
Add protein, vitamin E, calcium, healthy fats, and fiber to your diet with nut butters. Peanut butter isn't for everyone, but it is one of the cheaper nut butters. I use tahini most often, as it is also affordable, and so rich in mineral nutrition from calcium and has lots of vitamin E. Nut butters can be a simple spread for sandwhiches, toast, or stirred into whole grains or soups. Make simple delicious sauces and dips ( spicy Thai peanut sauce, or Tahini lemon and garlic sauce) these can go on top of salads, cooked greens, whole grains, meat, eggs and more. Use nut butter as a quick snack on top of apple or carrot pieces. Add a dollop to smoothies too. Another versatile and nutritious pantry staple that won't break the bank, but offers so much more than simple carbohydrates.
2. Beans & Legumes
Hey beans are a good food, and cheap. I won't argue with this suggestion. My only comment will be that you learn to cook dried beans, and expand the repitoire to include less common ones like split mung dal for variety. Dried beans are way cheaper than canned, and often have better nutrient values. Beans are a great source of fiber and protein, and nutrients like zinc and B vitamins. Beans, once cooked, can be turned into so many foods. Add beans to soups, stews and cassroles, turn them into salads with mixed roasted vegetables or greens, and vinegar and olive oil. Make hummus or bean dip, burritos, bean cakes topped with salsa and more. Get creative! Beans don't have to be boring!
Another simple carbohydrate here, with even less value than whole grains like brown rice or oatmeal. Pasta is highly refined, and made from flour with very little nutrient value whatsoever. Pasta is basically empty calories, that is cheap and easy. Nutrient density is my nutrition mantra, and pasta just doesn't pass the test.
My Suggestion: Greens
Dark, leafy bitter greens in lieu of pasta. Yes, indeed. I top my greens with any sort of sauce you could dream up to put on pasta, tomato, pesto, alfredo, hollandaise, etc. Greens are one of the most nutrient rich foods we can eat, chock full of calcium, magnesium, iron, vit C, vit K and more. Rich in fiber, Greens like kale, spinach, chard, and collards are often very affordable fresh, and are so easy to prepare. I like to buy several different bunches of various kinds, and then take them home and chop them all at once, wash, and then store in a bag in the fridge. This makes greens easy to grab and cook at every meal. Sautee with garlic and onion, steam, throw into soups, add to cassroles, eat them at every meal. A daily intake of 3 cups of cooked leafy greens will provide close to 900 mg of calcium, top them with tahini or almonds and increase your calcium intake that much more. Honestly, greens take no more than about 5 minutes to cook, so there is no excuse that they are complicated to prepare. Buy them prechopped at the store if you don't have time to wash and chop them yourself ( you'll pay for that convienence though). If the bitter taste of greens is unfamiliar to you, use sauces to improve the flavor. Lemon and garlic with olive oil is simple and tasty on steamed kale, or top with your favorite tomato sauce.
So, there you have it, my top 10 budget friendly pantry essentials! Do you have other ideas and suggestions? I'd love to hear them!