As much as I try to plan my meals and be prepared, sometimes life gets in the way. When that happens I have two choices: splurge on delivery (rarely on something healthy), or throw something together with whatever I have in my pantry. It’s easy to choose the quick option for those nights when you can’t seem to get yourself into the kitchen to whip anything up. But using what’s in the pantry is something that I’ve been trying to do a lot more lately. So I asked Zach (or resident chef) to share his essentials for a well stocked pantry
Getting into good habits is hard. Keeping them is even harder. But the best way to start is to be prepared and make things as easy as possible. Prepping out your kitchen and pantry with the right items will make meal prep a snap. When you’ve had a long day at work, and the urge to grab takeout arrises, you’ll have everything you need in front of you to cook something delicious and healthy (and do it quickly and easily).
What to keep in the pantry:
Rice & Other Grains
Rice is super easy to cook and can make the perfect base for whatever flavors you want to pair with it. I also like to keep a few other grains around to mix it up. My favorites are barley, farro, quinoa, and cous cous.
I mostly use extra virgin olive oil, but it’s important to have a few options. Every oil has a different smoke point (the temperature where it starts to smoke, produces toxic fumes, and just tastes bad). Olive oil and coconut oil are my go-to for low temperature cooking and avocado oil is what I use when cooking on high. All three options are also great for making healthy dressings.
ZACH’S TIP: Buy your oils in bulk- they won’t go bad so you don’t have to worry about buying too much.
Oil and vinegar are the perfect base for a healthy dressing. Or just sprinkle some on top of your meals to add a little extra ‘zing.’ My favorites are apple cider, balsamic, and champagne. I use Bragg’s for apple cider vinegar and Colavita for balsamic.
ZACH’S TIP: Use a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar when making your own dressing.
Spices & Seasoning
Do yourself a favor and toss out the iodized salt. Use kosher salt or sea salt instead. Both are going to have a better, cleaner flavor that also means you won’t need to use as much. Some other basics to have are black pepper, granulated garlic, paprika, thyme, rosemary, and cayenne. There are some great sets of spices you can buy that will have all the basics you need. Or let the professionals do the thinking for you and buy premixed seasoning. Keep reading for a few of my favorites.
Some of my favorite spices:
A Middle Eastern spice blend that typically contains thyme, coriander, sumac, cumin, sesame seeds, and salt. I lived in Israel for a year and put it on EVERYTHING! Ever since then I’ve been hooked. You can find it a Middle Eastern market or sometimes at Whole Foods, but I buy this kind on Amazon.
If you want something with a ton of flavor try Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic. Obviously, it’s great on fish, but you don’t have to stop there. It’s delicious on chicken, steak, tofu, and even mixed into sautéed kale (don’t knock it til you try it). When I’m trying to prep healthy meals for the week I love baking chicken breasts smothered in this stuff.
I’m from Kansas City, home of the best barbecue in the world (that’s not up for debate – it’s a fact). As much as I love being in California, sometimes I need a little taste of home. One of my favorite barbecue joints in KC (short for Kansas City for those of you not from there) is Joe’s and luckily I can have their seasoning shipped to me wherever I am.
It doesn’t matter how healthy a meal is if it’s bland! For those of you who are creatively challenged in the kitchen keeping a few delicious sauces around will make your life a lot easier. Here are some of my go-to sauces that I always have on hand.
Have I mentioned I love barbecue? The seasoning mentioned before is easy, versatile, and lower calorie, but sometimes I just want something slathered in delicious sauce! You may have heard of the Jone’s Bar-B-Q sisters on season three of Queer Eye. When I’m back home I always try to stop by and grab some extra sauce for later. Now you can try it too! Head to their website and order a bottle.
A curry is one of the easiest meals to make. There are so many flavor options from Indian to Thai, mild to spicy. If you have an Instant Pot or slow cooker throw in some diced up chicken or tofu, some veggies, and a curry sauce. Cook it on low for a few hours and there you go! I currently love Madras Curry Sauce, and it comes in a few flavors which are all delicious.
I keep a few types of hot sauce in my pantry depending on what flavor I’m going for. I always have some Cholula for anytime I make Mexican food. While it’s not exactly a hot sauce, I also use a lot of gochujang. It’s a Korean fermented chili paste that adds a bit of heat and a ton of flavor to any asian dish. My favorite is Mother In Law’s, which can be found at Whole Foods and comes in many different flavors.
Canned foods aren’t just for emergency bunkers! They can be just what you need to bring a meal together. I always have a few cans of diced tomatoes and tomato paste around. I also love pinto beans, black beans, or chickpeas for a great source of protein (especially for any vegans out there). Last but not least, here is a comprehensive list of just about everything I typically keep stocked in my own pantry, fridge and freezer. Happy cooking and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.
OtherS TO ALWAYS HAVE STOCKED:
- Nuts- Almonds, cashews, and macadamia are my favorite
- Lentils- Easy to cook and super filling!
- Honey – Fun Fact: honey is the only food that never expires
- Chicken broth – Go with a low sodium version and then season it yourself to taste
- Soy sauce
- Onions, shallots, garlic
- RX Bars – by far my favorite bars!
- Dark chocolate chips (maybe you don’t actually NEED these, but I always like to have them around)
WHAT TO HAVE IN YOUR FRIDGE/FREEZER:
- Parmesan cheese- it lasts for months and a little goes a long way
- Frozen berries – perfect for an impromptu smoothie!
- Carrots – lasts a long time and makes a great snack
- Greek yogurt
- Ezekiel bread- if you’re going to have bread this is your best choice! Keep it in the freezer so it won’t go bad
- Shrimp – most shrimp you buy has been frozen anyway, so grab a bag from the freezer section and defrost it as needed
- Ground turkey – easy to cook and super versatile!