The recent front cover of Time magazine caught my attention with a huge headline of “How to Eat Now” and when I saw it was about home cooking AND written by Mark Bittman, I knew I had to give it a read. In the same week my teenager had to write an essay on what her cultural identity was, and along with some other influences, she wrote about having home cooked meals every night in comparison to her NYC cousin who has take out almost every meal. I find these things serendipitous as I had been wanting to share my tips for what a whole foods pantry should look like as I get this question asked alot. Bittman did such a concise job of nailing the basics that I think I will defer to his list and add in as I see fit.
First though it’s important to know why you want a kitchen stocked with real food. Bittman, a best selling food writer, is one of my heroes as he has always been an advocate of whole foods eating while keeping it simple so it does not surprise me that he summarizes it best: It’s good for you, it’s good for your family, and it’s far easier than you think.
It’s good for you and you family because the conviviality of being around your dinner table eating with the ones you love is comforting, relaxing, promotes sense of pride and accomplishment of a meal well prepared by one’s own had, and is the number 1 way to combat diet related diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease. I recently wrote a blog post on cooking with your kids that segues right into this topic; Kids in the Kitchen: It’s Fun, Builds Self Esteem, Promotes Life Long Healthy Eating, and Some Surprising Insights if you’d like to take a read. Did you know that home-cooked food is about 200 calories less than if you were to eat out, and if you are like the average American this could translates to 200-600 extra calories a day between your 3 squares and snacking, most of these calories being nutritionally worthless.
Don’t get sucked into thinking that all those food TV shows are the real deal. They may offer you some inspiration, but more than likely they will actually intimidate and discourage you. Our lives do not take place on a sound stage with a zillion prep chefs, creative food writers and crafty cameramen to make it all look perfect. Instead, turn off the TV and a little preparation is really all you need to get started and remain consistent in eating at home. These stock-the-pantry tips from Bittman and a word in here and there from me, and you’ll be rolling up your sleeves and chopping and stirring away before you can say “What’s for Dinner? Real Food!”
THE WHOLE FOODS PANTRY:
Spices: sea salt; a black pepper grinder; dried basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, dill, red chiles; ground cumin, cayenne, mustard, nutmeg, cloves and ginger; smoked paprika; chili powder; curry powder; cinnamon; allspice
Oils and Condiments: extra virgin olive oil for raw preparation-think salad dressings and olive oil for cooking, coconut oil for high heat cooking and great for baking, sesame oil, grape seed oil (or canola), apple cider, wine, rice and balsamic vinegars, soy sauce (or tamari), mustard, ketchup, fish sauce, mayonnaise, hot sauces
Should Always Be In Pantry: white rice (and/or brown), canned beans, your favorite two dried beans, favorite two whole grains, can/carton of chopped tomatoes and sauce, tomato paste, coconut milk, chicken and vegetable broth, canned tuna and salmon, peanut butter, your two favorite pasta noodles, jar of black or green olives, nuts and seeds, honey, maple syrup, stevia, chocolate chips, flour (whichever you use most-spelt, almond, all purpose), arrowroot for thickening, baking soda, baking powder, bottle of red wine
Fruits and Vegetables: frozen fruit, apples, oranges, lemons and limes, garlic, gingerroot, potatoes, shallots, frozen vegetables, seasonal lettuces or baby spinach, carrots, celery, red pepper, fresh parsley and cilantro
Always in the Fridge: eggs, bacon, milk or cream, parmesan cheese, plain Greek yogurt, a cheddar cheese, goat cheese, butter, bottle of white wine
Many of you probably have a well stocked pantry and just need to edit or add to it, and some of you may be ready to start with these basics and add on as you discover new cuisines that require additional ingredients (if you are new to Asian or Indian cooking, you will find yourself standing in front of the ethnic aisle curious about hoison sauce or fenugeek leaves). I hope you find this primer/cheat sheet helpful.
I promise you that these items will always provide you with a great home cooked meal. They are also staples to many of the recipes on The Whole Meal, your online source to helping you CONSISTENTLY eat at home most days of the week.
Now that you have your whole food pantry stocked you’ll want inspiration. Find it in family recipes, cookbooks, magazines, friends and online, of course including The Whole Meal:) Happy Home Cooking!