After the bustle of the winter holidays, spring is a great time to take a closer look at your pantry and focus on stocking your shelves with healthier food options. But first, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few questions:
•What do you see when you open your cabinets, refrigerator or freezer?
•What are some staple foods you buy during every grocery store trip?
•Are these staple foods generally considered healthy or unhealthy?
•Does your budget keep you from buying healthier options?
Unfortunately, we don’t always make our food choices based on the desire to eat healthy. Often, financial factors and cultural practices may play a bigger role in the foods we buy and eat.
We often hear that “fresh is best.” However, given certain factors, it may not always be ideal for consumers to buy fresh foods. Knowing which foods are both healthy and convenient might help change the way we shop. For instance, while dried beans are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber and are a great source of protein, canned beans still can provide a healthy alternative. When beans from a can are rinsed, dried, and stored in the refrigerator, they provide great health benefits when added to soups and stews, used as a topping for salads, or eaten as a side dish. Let’s take a closer look at some other healthy food choices.
Best Shelf-Stable Foods
Have you considered cleaning out your cabinets of unhealthy foods? For starters, check for high-sodium foods, sugary snack foods such as baked goods and other sweets, sugary cereals, and sweetened beverages like juice and soda. Many of these processed, packaged foods are calorically dense but offer very few beneficial nutrients. Instead, stock canned foods that have low levels of salt, snack foods with limited amounts of added sugars, and low-calorie beverages such as flavored waters.
Here are some healthy foods to keep on hand:
•Lower-sugar cereal (less than 8 grams per serving)
•Steel-cut and old-fashioned oats
•Whole-wheat and whole-grain breads and crackers
•Wild rice, quinoa, barley, whole-wheat couscous
•Canned vegetables and soups that contain no added sodium or reduced sodium
•Olive oil and cooking spray
•Canned chicken, tuna and salmon (packed in water)
•Nuts and seeds
•Natural peanut butter or other nut butters
•Dried and canned beans and lentils
•Unsweetened applesauce and fruit cups packed in juice
•Popcorn and whole-wheat pretzels
•Sugar-free pudding and gelatin
What About Perishable Foods?
Foods that have to be stored in the refrigerator are often pricier, don’t last very long and can use up most of your food budget. To save on the cost of these items, buy them when they’re on sale, or purchase more store-brand items. With fresh produce, you can often save by buying fruits and vegetables that are in season. Another helpful tip is to review store ads before you shop and make a meal plan for the week based on which items are on sale.
Some common nutrient-rich foods to buy weekly are low-fat dairy items such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Consuming dairy regularly can be beneficial, since it’s loaded with essential nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium and protein. When selecting yogurt, however, be sure to choose varieties with less added sugar.
Eggs are another high-quality, economical protein source that are ideal to keep on hand for a variety of meals. Other nutrient-dense foods to keep in the fridge include vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, green beans and spinach. Purchasing frozen vegetables can increase the variety of foods you consume and help you save money when shopping. In addition, many frozen vegetables are preserved at their peak without added salt, making them a healthy, convenient alternative to fresh vegetables. Frozen fruits offer many of the same benefits as fresh fruits, but be sure to avoid frozen fruits that contain added sugar.
Common perishable items to buy regularly include:
•Low-fat yogurt, milk and cottage cheese
•Part-skim mozzarella, parmesan and feta cheese
•Baby carrots, cucumbers and celery
•Lean proteins, including eggs, fish and poultry
•Frozen fruit or yogurt bars
•Frozen mixed vegetables, broccoli and spinach
•Frozen strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
Don’t Sacrifice Healthy Options for the Sake of Convenience
With the seemingly steady rise in grocery prices, it can be challenging to stay within budget and still manage to have a variety of well-balanced, healthy foods on hand. However, it is generally more cost-effective and beneficial for your health to cook most of your meals at home and cut down on or eliminate processed and packaged foods.
When visiting your local market or grocery store, think more about shopping for foods that are both healthy and within your budget, rather than foods that simply offer mere convenience. Choose items that contain little or no added salt and sugar, and avoid unhealthy saturated and trans fats. Plan your meals for the week and make your list accordingly, and enjoy the savings in cost and benefits to your health!
Chunky Marinara with Pasta and Seared Chicken
4 cloves sliced garlic (or 2 teaspoons jarred, minced garlic)
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried basil)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
28 ounces canned, low-sodium, diced tomatoes (undrained)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
Nonstick cooking spray
10 ounces whole-wheat pasta (spaghetti, penne, rotini, elbow, etc.)
1 pound chicken tenderloins
Grated fat-free parmesan or mozzarella (optional)
- Prepare pasta according to package directions.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Lay tenderloins in dish, evenly spaced.
- Lightly spray chicken with cooking spray.
- Bake for 25 minutes, flipping over halfway through the baking time.
- Spray saucepan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes.
- Add all remaining ingredients, except the parsley. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to simmer for
- Spoon pasta onto plate and top with marinara and chicken. Sprinkle with grated fat-free parmesan or grated mozzarella (optional).
- Top with parsley.
Per serving: 287 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 108 milligrams sodium, 43 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber and 24 grams protein. Cost: $2.05 per serving. Recipe from the American Heart Association (recipes.heart.org).