Give Your Pantry a Healthy Makeover

Give Your Pantry a Healthy Makeover

A well-stocked pantry is a must for busy people; it will save you over andover again when you find yourself in a dinner pinch. And to stack thehealthful-eating odds in your favor, it''s essential to stock your pantry withgreat-tasting, healthy choices (the key phrase here is "great-tasting"-- healthy food won''t do anyone any good if no one eats it).

Giving your pantry a nutritional makeover is as easy as 1-2-3! Follow ourthree simple steps to transform your pantry into one that will help you eatlight and right.

Step 1: Minimize empty-calorie foods ? the ones that deliver lots ofcalories without much nutrition (vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, protein,etc.).

This doesn''t necessarily mean eliminating them from your pantry entirely.This might make you want them even more, thus leading you to overeat. You knowyourself best: whether "out of sight, out of mind" works for you, orwhether you do better in the long run if you have a few token empty-caloriefoods around. That way, you know they''re there if you truly want them(and are truly hungry) but they''re not mainstays of your pantry.

The two infamous types of empty-calorie culprits are:

  • Things with lots of sugar and other caloric sweeteners. Examples: soda andsweetened drinks, cakes, cookies, pastries, pies, candy and chocolate bars,frozen milk desserts, snack cakes, and cereal bars.
  • Things with lots of added fats and oil. Examples: mayonnaise, chips,microwave popping corn, crackers, cookies, pies and pastries, packaged muffins,snack cakes, and mixes.

When possible, switch to alternatives to your empty-calorie favorites thatare, well, less "empty." Could you be happy with light mayonnaiseinstead of regular? Can you drink a diet soda a day instead of a regular,sugar-laden soft drink? Is there a higher-fiber, less-sugary breakfast cereal that suits you?

Step 2: Stock up on great-tasting, more-healthful alternatives forfoods you know and love.

For example, there are some reduced-fat chip options that taste terrific.Some are truly low-fat, such as Baked Lays or Guiltless Gourmet brands. Othershave a little less, like Reduced-Fat Ruffles. Cape Cod reduced-fat potato chipsare less fat AND use canola oil.

Here are a few other healthy choices I tend to have in my pantry, some forsnacking and others for preparing meals:

  • Canned, fat-free refried beans.
  • Canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and tomato sauce (lower-sodiumversions are best).
  • Bottled marinara sauce (choose one made with canola or olive oil, and whichcontains no more than about 1 gram of fat and 400 milligrams of sodium per1/2-cup serving).
  • Brown rice (it comes in regular or a quick version by Uncle Ben''s).
  • Quick or old-fashioned oats. You can buy packets of microwave oatmeal --Quaker Nutrition for Women -- that have added soy protein, calcium, and folicacid.
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereals. These should have a whole grain listed asthe first ingredient, at least 4 grams of fiber per cup, and not too much fator sugar. Raisin Bran is one of my favorites, with 7 grams of fiber, 1.5 gramsfat, and 19 grams of sugar per cup (whole wheat is the first ingredient on thelabel; wheat bran is the third. Raisins are the second ingredient listed, sugaris fourth).
  • 94% fat-free microwave popcorn.
  • Canned soups with more fiber (5 grams or more per serving) and less fat andsodium than most, such as Campbell''s Healthy Request Cream of Mushroom andChicken Soup, and Wolfgang Puck''s Minestrone.
  • Whole-wheat pastry flour. Substitute this for half the white flour in recipes to increase fiber and nutrients without a bigdifference in flavor or texture.
  • Splenda. This artificial sweetener can replace half of the sugar in mostbakery recipes, to cut calories without a noticeable difference in flavor ortexture.
  • Salt-free seasoning blends (and individual herbs and spices). These are aconvenient way to add flavor fast when you''re trying to cook without a lot ofadded sodium. Check out all the Mrs. Dash flavors! And keep all your spices anddried herbs in a cool, dry place to maintain freshness.
  • An extra can of canola-oil cooking spray.
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