Pantry Makeover and Essential Kitchen Tools

Happy Tuesday!

Who is still full from the glorious long Memorial Day weekend? ME! With a still full belly, I am still thinking about food. There is a lot of information in this post – my 5 tips for a successful transition to a new way of eating, my favorite kitchen gadgets and a peek at the products I stock my pantry with.

For the past several months I have been in the midst of adapting my overall food lifestyle again. And making over my pantry again. For the fourth time to be exact. I have learned a lot of tips & tricks along the way and thought I would share my pantry staples based on what foods I am eating now and my essential tools for the kitchen. So if you want some healthy inspiration before you head out to the grocery store this week…read on!

How you eat is your personal choice, no judgments here. If you are trying to commit to long term, healthy eating you will need a basic structure by which to build your pantry, grocery lists and kitchen tools to pave the way for success. This is not a fad, it is a plan. That is why I choose the words food lifestyle vs. diet. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008. For the first three years after my diagnosis I was “fine”. On the outside. In 2011 I started noticing changes in my mobility and so began the search for answers, for what I could directly control on a daily basis. It became more real and I started to worry. Food became my medicine, and the way I eat is part of my lifestyle. Always in development, yet always structured. It is my life long commitment that I am continually working toward. Commitments are never steadfast, they are fluid. You live and you learn, remember?

You do not need every gadget and I tend to choose the simple approach – invest in what you really use, which I call your basics, and then add on efficiency tools as needed. I follow a lot of “old” practices and while it may seemingly take more time, it is what I am comfortable doing. I also love to cook so I do find a kind of therapy in chopping my veggies by hand, etc. With that said, there are some exceptions. Chopping garlic. I do not care to chop garlic (or mince anything…I am SO clumsy so saving my fingers is more important than saving space in my cabinets) so I do have a garlic chopper!

You can read about the beginning of my personal food evolution here, what I doing now and why what you eat is SO important. As I am currently entrenched in paleo, and simply by having eliminated grains alone, I needed to replace certain baking items and use up (or give away) the pasta and rice in my pantry.

There are different methods, and in my opinion, there is a never a black & white ending and totally clean start. Unless you literally bag up your pantry and then head out to the grocery store with an empty cart and open wallet. For most folks, I do not think this is realistic. In the age of rising food costs and personal budgeting, I think it is wise to take some time and really sort through your pantry. There may be some items that do just need to be tossed – expired canned or boxed goods, processed foods with zero nutrition, old opened baking items and spices. I’ve never quite started from total scratch, but I have done complete pantry makeovers and gradual pantry makeovers. My advice would be to start gradually – it helps to ensure success, saves money, and reduces waste.  Only you can gauge how much you cook and what you are willing to cook. I am not a huge baker so I am not going out right now to buy almond flour, tapioca flour, cassava flour, coconut flour or every other flour that fits within my current dietary guidelines. I will buy what I need as I need it – this is where meal planning becomes a crucial step in this early process as you weed out the old for the new. I will also look for recipes that use what I have.

Here are my five tips for transitioning to a way of eating that is new to you. Allow yourself 3 months to get comfortable with your new plan unless you have an urgent medical need, then you should work with the advice of your doctor and/or nutritionist for immediate changes.

Tip #1 Look up the recipes that you love the most. Pancakes and waffles are big in our house. You can make regular pancakes, you can make gluten free pancakes and now that I transitioned to paleo, I googled paleo pancakes. Seriously, it was one of the first searches I typed in the search bar! Must. Have. Pancakes.

Tip #2 When you search for recipes of foods that you eat regularly you will start to see a pattern in the ingredients. Begin by making notes about the most common pantry items listed. This is literally the start of your new pantry. Many food blogs also note substitutions in their recipes based on vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, paleo, etc. so you can begin to formulate adjustments you need to make.

Tip #3 Go to your pantry and take out five items that you want to use up in the next week that do not fit into your new plan.

Tip #4 Meal plan for one week to start – every meal. Write down what you envision eating for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert as allowed. Include the five items that you took out of the pantry and include at least three new items that you want to cook or new foods that you want to try. Now do the next week. Anticipate the number of servings your recipes make and allow for leftovers if you can and how you might use them in another meal. Consider freezer cooking and crockpot cooking as well. Take the example of buying a whole chicken. You can put a 3 – 4 lb. chicken in your crockpot with just water. Shred all the meat from the bones and reserve for different meals throughout the week or split the meat to eat half and freeze half. Now you’ve got the bones…you can put the bones back into crockpot with some veggies, apple cider vinegar and a few herbs and make your own chicken stock (also known as bone broth). This too can be reserved for soups, recipes that call for chicken stock and freezes well for later use. When you meal plan you give yourself a clear vision of what you want to cook and what you need to buy.

Tip #5 Keep researching. Set aside time weekly to do this, maybe daily at first. You can find recipes everywhere. Buy cookbooks. Cookbooks are not dead! There are great cookbooks available for everything you could want: plant-based, paleo, ketogenic, instant pot, slow cooker, vegan slow cooker. Have a Kindle or Book app? No problem! You can download most cookbooks to your reading device. At the end of this article I will share my favorite websites, blogs and cookbooks.

My favorite and most used gadgets in my kitchen, in no particular order:

10″ cast iron skillet (here)

Crockpot (here)

Food processor (here)

A great set of knives (here)

Bamboo cooking utensils (here), I also love these by Pampered Chef

Chopper (here)

Measuring spoons (here), adjustable by Pampered Chef. I would recommend finding a local consultant – you will be supporting a small business in your town!

Can opener (here), love it! By Pampered Chef

Baking pans (here) & parchment paper (here)

Pyrex glass measuring cups (here)

Salad spinner (here and here), large and small

Salad dressing mixer (here)

Nutribullet (here), I just find the Nutribullet easy to clean and I really only use a blender for smoothies. This has worked perfectly for recipes that require the blending of dressing, sauces and anything cashew based. Another popular option is the Vitamix.

You could also try shopping at Costco or another bulk goods store as they sometimes run sales on popular kitchen gadgets.

A peek into my current pantry staples & the brands I use:

Coconut milk – Native Forest Organic Coconut Milk

Coconut flour – Arrowhead Mills Organic Fair Trade

Almond flour – Bob’s Red Mill Super Fine Almond Flour

Arrowroot Powder – this is used for thickening sauces and dishes in place of corn starch Starwest Botanicals Organic Arrowroot Powder

Cacao or cocoa – Anthony’s or Healthworks

Nutritional yeast – Hoosier Hill Farm

Ground flax seed – Hodgson Mill

Chia seeds – I get my Chia Seeds at Aldi, Simply Nature.

Reishi mushroom powder – TerraSoul Red Reishi Mushroom Powder. You might also try their Lion’s Mane mushroom powder as well.

Bee pollen – Greenbow Organic Bee Pollen

Hemp seeds – Just Hemp Foods

Coconut oil – Viva Naturals

Avocado oil – Chosen Foods

Olive oil – I buy different brands but I look for good quality olive oil for salad dressings and baking.

Balsamic vinegar – I like to buy my balsamic vinegar from local specialty shops since it lasts so long a little goes a long way.

Apple cider vinegar – look for apple cider vinegar with “The Mother”. I find mine at Whole Foods.

Dried cranberries – try to look for dried cranberries that contain little to no sugar.

Almonds – Wild Soil Almonds

Cashews – Raw, unsalted cashews from Whole Foods.

Granola – Purely Elizabeth’s Grain Free Granola

Nut Butter – Once Again Sunflower Seed Butter

Coconut flakes – I also purchase coconut flakes from whole foods in the dry goods tubs.

Canned tomatoes – look for organic canned tomatoes that are simply tomatoes without all the extra preservatives. Read labels!

Tomato paste – I but only tomate paste where the ingredient is tomatoes.

Baking Soda – whatever local grocery store brand is available.

Baking Powder – I purchase aluminum free baking powder.

Coconut sugar – Wholesome Organic Sweeteners

Fish sauce – Thai Kitchen Gluten Free Fish Sauce

Red curry paste – Thai Kitchen

Honey – I buy Nature Nate’s Raw & Unfiltered Honey from Costco.

Pure maple syrup – no brand preference. I purchase pure maple syrup.

Himalayan pink sea salt – Kirkland Signature from Costco.

Spices – I buy organic spices from the grocery store. My staples are cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, thyme, parsley, turmeric, curry powder, paprika, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, oregano, chili powder, ginger, basil, dried red pepper flakes, coriander, cumin.

These foods are the basic dry goods items that I need to make daily smoothies, the few baked goods that I make regularly and common recipe items for making soups, stews, sauces and salad dressings.

I also keep some other baking items like gluten free flour, gluten free oats, brown sugar and regular sugar for making treats for school & friends. I keep pasta, rice and quinoa for the kids & my husband. Dry cereals and snacks for the family as well. This helps make school lunches more of a breeze, plus convenience snacks ready for our on-the-go lifestyle. I’ve got more great snack ideas to suit everyone coming soon!

Enjoy the week. xo, JJ

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