The Pantry –
Your secret weapon to produce quick and healthy meals.
Because quick meals demand a fully stocked pantry I try to buy items at my local warehouse (bulk) store. I also find good deals and often better deals at the regular supermarket. I watch the ads for my staples to go on sale and then I stock up!!
I use both dry beans and canned beans. Beans in a can are definitely more convenient but they have sodium. If possible I buy no salt added but they can be drained and rinsed with water which removes some of the sodium before cooking. I like them all; chick peas (also called ceci beans), black beans, kidney beans and cannellini (white beans). I use chick peas and black beans the most so I tend to keep a minimum of 6 cans of each on hand at all times.
Roasted Red Peppers
Pasta – I buy mainly whole wheat varieties and I always buy when it’s on SALE! I have found that store brands are just as tasty as the national brand, especially with the whole wheat varieties. If you like whole wheat pasta and are looking for the most nutritionally sound choice look for those that say 100% whole wheat or whole grain. I tend to stick with: linguini, angel hair, rotini and penne. I would just buy what shape your family likes, most of my dishes can use any type of noodle that you wish.
Quinoa – In you haven’t tried it yet, TRY IT!!! It totally rocks! It is hands down my favorite grain. It’s an ancient grain, loaded with protein, gluten free, satisfies your appetite, keeps you full longer and is, in my opinion, a super food. I know, I know, I am over-the-top here but it’s great and I find a new fun dish to use it in every week.
Whole wheat or regular cous cous, brown or white rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice – please buy the store brand in rice, the one in the bag as it’s much cheaper. Quick cooking (instant) rice is great in a pinch as it cooks very fast and is hard to mess up!
Olive oil – primarily I use extra virgin as I really don’t like to mess around with buying different types. I tend to prefer the taste of California olive oils the best as they are rich and nutty. I recommend if you are new to olive oils to try different ones as it gets used ALOT. I always buy this in bulk and have at least 2 giant sized bottles on hand. Buying small bottles really adds up in the long run. I promise, you will use it!
Canola oil – my other oil, it tolerates higher cooking temperatures and I like it for dishes that do not need the flavor that extra virgin olive oil provides. It is cheaper than olive oil and I always buy the store brands.
Flavored olive oils – I tend to use them for making salad dressing and marinades. I’m currently testing them out for roasting vegetables and the verdict is still out on whether they really add more flavor. I like garlic, spicy pepper and basil the best.This is an area I’m still exploring so I’ll keep you posted.
Vinegars – balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider
frozen veggies – I like them, they’re still full of nutrients, have a good price and are super convenient. Buy what you like, most of the dishes I make can use any frozen veggie. I typically keep peas, corn and broccoli/cauliflower blend. Frozen artichokes are also really good.
Chicken breasts or tenders
Black bean burgers
Pre-made hamburger or turkey burger patties
All-natural, preservative free chicken and turkey sausage
shrimp – frozen shrimp is great and I stock-up when it’s on sale, what a treat!
These are great for creating quick meals, appetizers and snacks on those days that you do not have fresh meat on hand. I’m also a recent fan of frozen salmon burgers; they’re great on a salad or as a main course.
Of course you can also make your own burgers and freeze them in individual serving sizes. Chicken breasts and ground meats also freeze well and can be defrosted in the refrigerator when you need them. Meat should not be defrosted on the counter-top; I know it’s tempting but it leads to bacteria. Stick to refrigerator or microwave defrosting.
One of my favorite things is to go to the local produce market, farmer’s market or corner stand and see what’s fresh and in season. I love supporting local business and farmer’s markets are a great place to do this.
Become familiar with your local produce market. We go typically 2-3x/month and stock up as our local market is very reasonably priced. We drive a bit of a distance to get there but that’s half the fun I think. In fact, I’ve turned my friends on to the whole experience of going to the produce market and now we plan days to go together. If we can’t go together, we typically pick things up for each other.
The market doesn’t always have everything so we take what they have. Meaning, I don’t go in with a specific list to the produce market. I pick and choose what looks the best, and is a good price. I then plan my meals around what I’ve purchased.
Usual suspects for me include:
Peppers – red, yellow, green, chilis, jalapenos, I love them all
Lettuce – my faves for salad are boston, red leaf, arugula, baby spinanch and romaine
Berries – strawberries and blueberries are usually the most reasonably priced. Berries are great on top of cereal or oatmeal in the morning or in a smoothie anytime or as an unexpected treat on top of a salad.
Onion – red and vidalia (sweet) are the ones I use most.
Mushrooms – they go in everything
Sweet potato, Yukon gold potato and red skin potato
Citrus fruits – I always keep lemons and limes on hand, stock up when they’re on sale. They store very well in the produce drawers in your refrigerator. They add so much flavor and brightness to your dishes. I use every part of them, zest, juice and even the peel. I love limes so much that I decorated with 100s of them at my wedding! Almost three years ago in case you’re wondering, lol.
In season veggies – cauliflower always comes home when it is a good price as it stores very well. Carrots, broccoli and green beans are usual suspects.
In season fruit – personal preference here. I love to grill fruit in the summer especially pineapple and peaches – so yummy! Anything else that looks good including melons.
This sounds like an overwhelming amount of food and like alot of money but if you use the above tips you will really be able to learn how to purchase produce for your family very economically.
I think taking your kids to the market can be such a wonderful experience as well. My God-Daughters love to go. When kids see all the beautiful colors and varieties of fresh food they are so anxious to get home and help prepare and ultimately eat all that great food.