There’s no doubt that what you have at home has a huge impact on your food choices. If your pantry contains items that may compromise your health, a few easy changes can make a big difference. Start with your pantry and fridge.
Foods high in kilojoules but low in useful nutrients: potato chips, buttery crackers (the melt-in-mouth variety), biscuits, cakes, anything chocolatey (yes, even the cooking chocolate), confectionery, rich sauces, dressings, mayonnaise, most cheeses, cream, butter, white bread, rich breads such as croissants and brioche, white rice (with the exception of basmati), high-fat/low-fibre cereals, ice cream.
Foods that look after your health such as: high-fibre cereals (untoasted varieties with more than 7g fibre per 100g, eg. bran-based, rolled oats, untoasted muesli), dried legumes, brown and basmati rice, high-fibre breads and crackers (more than 5g fibre per 100g), canned vegetables such as sweet corn, tomatoes and beetroot, canned legumes (eg. chickpeas, lentils, chilli beans), heart-friendly oils such as olive, canola or sunflower oil, nuts and seeds, frozen vegetables, frozen lean meat, poultry, fish. And add flavour with smaller amounts of Asian sauces (eg, salt-reduced soy sauce, oyster sauce, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce, mirin).
Pantry top 10
1. Canned legumes, eg, chickpeas, lentils, cannellini beans
Full of fibre, and inexpensive, these fill you up. Purée chickpeas or cannellini beans with garlic and lemon juice for an easy hummus, or add drained, rinsed chickpeas to soups or curries for added texture and protein.
2. Canned fish, eg, tuna, salmon, sardines
These fish are rich in protein and omega-3 fats and they are great to pop in the lunchbox with some salad and grainy bread. Go for unflavoured varieties canned in spring water or brine, or drain oil thoroughly.
3. Canned tomatoes
Rich in lycopene (helps protect against prostate cancer), these can be added to almost anything. The flavoured varieties make a great sauce for meat or legumes.
4. Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
Dry-fried seeds add a crunchy, nutty flavour to many dishes.
5. Balsamic vinegar
Adds huge flavour to marinades, dressings and sauces without adding kilojoules.
6. Nuts and nut butters
Add flavour, crunch and creaminess, along with heart-healthy fats.
7. Fish sauce
A fabulous flavour booster for stir-fry sauces or Asian dressings. It is, however, high in sodium so use sparingly. Try using less than the recipe suggests or diluting with water.
8. Seeded mustard
Great as a spread on bread (instead of butter), in salad dressings, as a rub on lean meat or as an accompaniment to almost anything.
9. Dried chilli flakes
These add zing wherever they are used. Add to casseroles, sauces and soups.
10. Salt-reduced soy sauce
Boosts flavour without kilojoules.
Fresh top 10
Fresh vegetables and fruit are top of the list when it comes to a healthy pantry. Non-starchy varieties are great for adding volume and taste to meals, ‘diluting’ other higher-kilojoule foods. They are also packed with nutrients to keep you well. But watch starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, kumara, yams and taro:. tThese carbohydrates make up only one-quarter of the ideal healthy plate.
1. Salad greens
eg, baby spinach or mesclun salad mix.
Kilojoule for kilojoule, greens are probably the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. They are perfect for bulking out meals. Get into the habit of having at least one handful of greens each day!
2. Fresh herbs
Great for adding flavour (without kilojoules). Fresh basil enhances the flavour of tomatoes while coriander goes well with almost any Asian dish.
3. Telegraph cucumber
Low in kilojoules, use this vege to bulk out salads, sandwiches or platters. Make an easy low-kilojoule dip by grating cucumber and adding garlic and a little salt to thick low-fat plain yoghurt.
Slice and enjoy with cottage cheese spread on a grainy cracker or serve with cucumber and cubes of feta as a Greek salad. Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect against prostate cancer.
Sweeten up your cereal with sliced banana. Keep a few at work or in the car for times when the munchies strike. They are one of nature’s best fast foods!
A good source of vitamin C and fibre. If you need something sweet after dinner, try sliced kiwifruit with a little yoghurt and a sprinkle of muesli.
Blueberries contain higher antioxidant levels than almost every other vegetable and fruit. The blue colour is due to anthocyanins, antioxidants shown to be good for brain function.
8. Chicken breasts
Skinless chicken breasts are one of the leanest forms of meat. Although expensive, a little can go a long way in a stir-fry.
Although not big on flavour, tofu takes on the flavours of food it is prepared with, and this soy bean product can be greatly satisfying. Being high in protein, it is great to use as a protein source in stir-fries.
A healthy fast food if ever there was one! Made from ground legumes such as chickpeas and broad beans and available ready-to-go from the deli section at the supermarket.
Fridge and freezer top 10
1. Frozen whole baby beans
A great standby when your fresh vegetables run out. Add a handful at the last minute to bulk out curries, stir-fries and casseroles.
2. Trim or Calci-Trim milk
Choose trim/Calci-Trim milk (green/yellow top) instead of full-cream milk (dark-blue top) and save kilojoules and saturated fat.
3. Reduced fat Greek-style yoghurt
Satisfies any urge for creaminess with fewer kilojoules.
4. Tomato paste
Tubes keep for ages in the fridge. Great as a low-kilojoule pizza sauce or to boost flavour in tomato-based dishes.
5. Parmesan cheese
While energy-dense, a little goes a long way. Sprinkle lightly on Italian-style dishes or use a little to boost the flavour of reduced-fat cheese.
6. Jars of curry paste
Adds heaps of flavour for relatively few kilojoules. Add one or two tablespoons to cooked chicken or fish plus a little reduced-fat coconut milk for a tasty and easy meal. Watch the sodium (salt) in these though.
7. Jars of grated ginger and crushed garlic
While fresh is always nicer, these are great when you are in a hurry. Low in kilojoules, they are useful flavour boosters.
8. Grainy bread
Keep a loaf of high-fibre bread in the freezer. Control your intake by only taking out the slices you need.
9. Jar of capers
Big on flavour and low in kilojoules, these are great in pasta sauces, on pizza or sprinkled over salad.