Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Spring Clean Your Pantry

It's that time of year again where we are often inspired by the nice weather to clean and organize our households. So, why not spring clean the pantry too? Going through your pantry food stock can be a great way to draw attention towards foods that should be used up soon, thrown out, or stocked up on, in order to make healthy eating easier.

I recommend beginning by determining if there is anything in your pantry that you need to throw out. But before you toss every item that is past its best before date, you may want to brush up on what best before dates really tell us about our food (hint: it can help us cut down on our food waste).

What do best before dates really mean?
Best before dates refer to the quality of the food rather than food safety. Best before dates are required for any product that will keep fresh for 90 days or less, although many manufacturers put best before dates on products they are not required to (such as more shelf stable products like some canned goods). When products pass their best before date, the food can become less palatable and nutritionally dense, however, is potentially still safe to consume when stored properly. While Health Canada recommends you do not consume unopened food products that have passed their best before dates, you can usually use your own judgment. For example milk can often still be safe to consume ~7 days after the best before date opened or unopened. Remember: when in doubt, throw it out. However, if you are immune compromised always follow best before dates and throw out expired products.
To help evaluate whether a product is safe to consume, look for changes in colour and smell of the food or any bulges or leaks in canned goods. Most shelf stable foods, such as canned goods or more processed products, are safe to consume well after their best before dates, although they may be less palatable. The nutritional content of canned goods can depreciate anywhere from 5-20% with each year of storage, so be sure to rotate your pantry stock. 
Keep in mind that best before dates are no longer valid once you open the product. Manufactures must indicate on the packaging if the store conditions of the product once opened differ from storing at room temperature (i.e. refrigerate after opening).

Organize: After you judge which foods need to be tossed or used up soon, I like to organize my stock on hand using the first in, first out method.

First in, First out:

To prevent accumulating food that is past the best before date, be sure to rotate stock in your pantry by following the first in, first out method.  When you purchase new products, bring your oldest items to the front of your pantry and tuck newer items in behind. To help retain product freshness, store dry goods in a cool, dry, dark cupboard. You can also extend the freshness of dry goods by transferring the food from opened packaging to airtight containers. 

What some healthy options you should have on hand?

Now that you have organized the products you have in your pantry, it may be time to make a list of things you have run out of and need to stock up on. Check out my top 5-pantry “food” categories and my basic go-to’s.

1. Canned Goods: Canned products often get a bad rap for being nutritionally inferior to fresh goods although, that isn’t necessarily the case. Plain, no sodium added, canned goods can be just as nutritious as their fresh or frozen counterparts (and are often much more convenient when you are tight on time). Look for products with reduced sodium or no sodium added and avoid products with any extra flavourings or seasonings (you can add those in your own kitchen). Canned goods are usually good for around 2 years, although the vitamin A and vitamin C content of the food will decrease the longer it is stored.

My Pantry Basics:
-Diced tomatoes, tomato paste: great for soups or sauces
-Beans: chickpeas, lentils, black beans, and kidney beans are the perfect low cost protein booster for salads, stir fry, or soups.
-Low sodium broths: make homemade soups a breeze and can add flavour to grains like quinoa when used in cooking
-Canned salmon, light tuna packed in water: great for lunches when incorporated in a salad or sandwich

2. Oils: Heart healthy fats are part of a balanced diet. In fact, replacing saturated fat (usually options that are solid at room temperature – for example butter or lard) with unsaturated fats (most oils) can have a positive impact on heart health. We also require fat in our diets to absorb certain vitamins; Canada’s Food Guide recommends 2-3 Tbsp of unsaturated fat each day. Unsaturated oils such as canola, safflower, vegetable, peanut, and sunflower oil are best used when cooking, whereas flaxseed, grapeseed, sesame seed, walnut, and olive oil are best used when making a salad dressing/marinade or when adding to cooked food. When buying oil, keep in mind that fats can go rancid so store specialty oils that you use less frequently in the refrigerator. In general, oils can be consumed for 3-6 months after opening.

My Pantry Basics:

-Olive oil: perfect for salad dressings and drizzling over vegetables and fish
-Balsamic vinegar & white vinegar: salad dressings and marinades
-Canola oil: for basic cooking and baking needs
-Sesame or Walnut oil: can add a lot of flavour with a small amount

3. Grains: Our diets would be pretty incomplete without the fibre, vitamins, and minerals found in our grain products. When storing grains I like to make sure opened bags are closed firmly with clips or transferred to airtight containers to help maintain optimal freshness. Grains usually retain their freshness for about a year when stored properly. Note: whole grains should constitute the majority of our grain consumption.

My Pantry Basics:

-Steel cut oats
-Long Grain rice
-Whole wheat or fiber added pasta

4. Baking Supplies: I love to bake, whether it is healthy muffins, loaves, or granola, or the occasional (or not so occasional) cookie. Having the basic baking necessities on hand is key to streamlining your baking. If you are having a craving for sweets, it is always better to make something at home rather than choosing processed products for two reasons: 1) It takes effort and time to whip up that batch of cookies which often will cause us to evaluate whether or not we really need that sweet treat (rather than just diving into a bag of Oreos) and 2) When we make things ourselves we control what we put into our food and can consequently make “healthier” tweaks to our baked goods. For example, swapping out butter in some recipes for canola oil, adding ground flax to muffins, or replacing a portion of fat with applesauce, can up the nutritional content of your recipe. 

My Pantry Basics: 

-white and whole wheat flour
-baking soda
-baking powder
-sugar (granulated and brown)
-corn starch
-honey/maple syrup
-coconut oil
-vanilla extract

5. Snacks & Other Additions: I usually try to keep processed grab and go snacks out of my pantry and make vegetables and fruit the convenient choice. However, there are a few pantry snack staples that pack nutrition and can help curb your cravings.

My Pantry Basics:

-Unsalted, plain nuts: almonds, walnuts, pecans etc. are loaded with healthy fats and protein that can make your snack so much more satisfying. I usually store mine in the fridge to help maintain freshness.
-Pumpkin seeds & sesame seeds: great addition to granola
-Flax seed, chia seeds, & hemp hearts: great source of protein, fiber, and heart healthy fats. Top your yogurt with chia seeds, add hemp hearts to your salad or stir fry, or ground flax to your baked goods or sauces.  If you don’t use these items frequently, be sure to store in the refrigerator as the fat can go rancid.
-Dried or canned fruit: look for no added sugar options. Dried fruit and nuts can be a great balanced snack (remember: ¼ cup is a serving of dried fruit).
-100% Whole wheat crackers:  look for options that have at least 3 grams of fiber and that contain less than 200mg of sodium per 30g serving.
-Popcorn Kernels: air popped popcorn is a great low calorie snack that contains fibre. Just make sure you opt out of any added salt or butter.
-Nut Butters: Peanut, almond, or sunflower butter can easily increase the protein content of your snack. Pair nut butters with a slice of fruit or whole wheat crackers for a balanced snack. 


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