If you’ve stored away your winter clothes and organized your closet, it’s time to spring clean your pantry.
Taking stock of what’s inside your kitchen cupboards – and then deciding what to keep and what to replace – will amp up the nutrition (and flavour) of your family’s meals and snacks.
Sort through your non-perishable foods. Check best-before dates on canned goods, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, crackers, peanut butter and condiments. Throw out what’s past its prime. (Best-before dates refer to quality, not safety; they tell you how long a product will maintain its peak freshness.)
Open bottles of cooking oils and give them a whiff. If an oil smells off, throw it out. Over time, unsaturated fats go rancid causing them to smell stale.
Once you’ve taken inventory of your pantry’s contents, make a grocery list of what’s missing and what you need to replace.
Must-have foods for a nutrition-minded pantry
Here’s a list of many staples you’ll find in my kitchen cupboards, plus how to store them for maximum freshness and nutritional value. Having them on hand makes it easy to throw together fast, healthy and flavourful meals.
I stock a few bottles of different oils: extra virgin olive oil (for salad dressings; high in monounsaturated fat), canola oil (for cooking; contains alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid) and grapeseed oil (for cooking and salad dressings; a good source of vitamin E).
My pantry is also home to a jar of unrefined coconut oil, which I use for making granola and curries. I also use it in place of melted butter on air-popped popcorn. Sesame and walnut oils are staples, too, but I keep them in the fridge.
To prevent throwing out unused oil that’s gone bad, I buy small bottles of oils which, when opened, will keep for three months (unopened, six months). Unrefined coconut oil lasts for 18 to 24 months but check the best-before date to be sure.
Store oils in a cool, dark cupboard.
Besides the usual red and white wine and balsamic vinegars, raspberry, sherry, champagne, apple cider and rice vinegars also have reserved shelf space in my pantry.
They’re key ingredients in salad dressings, marinades, even sautéed greens. I also add a splash of flavoured vinegar to steamed spinach. Opened vinegars keep for 12 months (unopened, two years).
Nut & seed butters
Peanut butter, almond butter and tahini are staples for toast, snacks, smoothies and dips. Once opened, regular peanut butter will keep for three months (unopened, six to nine months).
Once opened, natural nut butters – just nuts, perhaps a dash of salt – should be stored in the fridge to prevent their oils from separating. Here, they’ll keep for five to six months.
My staples: diced tomatoes, tomato paste, beans (black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans), low sodium vegetable and chicken broth, light tuna (I avoid albacore tuna which is higher in mercury), artichoke hearts (they’re great in salads and on pizza) and salsa.
If a canned good doesn’t have a best-before date, label its purchase date on the lid with a marker. Rotate food so the oldest is used first. The colour, flavour, texture and nutritional value (vitamins A and C) of canned foods deteriorate over time.
Unopened acidic foods such as tomato products, fruits and vinegar based foods last 12 to 18 months. Low acid foods including canned meat, poultry and fish, soups (except tomato) and vegetables maintain their quality longer, two to five years.
I keep raisins, dried apricots and dates on hand to add flavour, fibre and minerals to salads and whole grain pilafs. Of course, I snack on them, too.
I don’t stock ready-to-eat cereal (it’s just not my breakfast of choice). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t though.
Make sure your staple cereals are whole grain and have at least 5 g of fibre and no more than 6 g of sugar per serving (there are some than have no added sugar).
I do, however, stock large flake oats to make porridge and to sprinkle over yogurt. For a filling breakfast, I’ll mix raw oats with nuts and dried fruit, which I pour kefir over.
Pasta & grains
I stock a few varieties of dried pasta, both whole wheat and, yes, white (both have a low glycemic index). These days, pasta is a weekly Friday night dinner to fuel my husband’s long training runs for his next marathon.
My staple whole grains include brown rice and quinoa, but recently I’ve become hooked on farro and freekeh, which I use to make hearty soups and whole grain salads. Whole grains typically keep for one year, and longer if stored in the fridge.
I don’t eat crackers often, but when I do I make sure they’re 100% whole grain, have at least 3 g of fibre and no more than 200 mg of sodium per 30-g serving.
In my cupboard, you’ll find Wasa Crispbread, Ryvita Crispbread and Finn Crisp (they’re all low on the glycemic index scale). I also keep a box of whole grain Triscuits on hand.
Dried herbs and spices
Essential for adding flavour without salt or fat, herbs and spices also add polyphenols to meals, potent antioxidants linked to numerous health benefits.
Most dried herbs last up to three years and spices two to four years, but their potency diminishes with time. If their colour has faded and they don’t release an aroma when lightly crushed in your hand, they’re ready to be replaced.
Store dried herbs and spices in airtight bottles, away from light or heat.
With the exception of popcorn kernels (and trail mix and nuts, which I store in the fridge), I don’t keep a regular stash of munchies (too easy to overeat when a craving hits).
Better-for you snacks include roasted chickpeas, kale ships and seaweed snacks. Keep a bag of edamame (green soybeans in the pod) in your freezer.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.