A word of thanks to our readers who have shared their thoughts on what foods to keep on hand for a fabulous meal! You might be thinking, “Gee, this seems like a lot of work to go out and buy all these foods…and then to try to find a place to keep them.” Believe me, I’m not trying to add any stress to your day. But as I’ve been saying all along, much of eating healthfully is in the planning and preparation.
How can you follow your meal plan, slash saturated fat, or trim calories if you don’t have the right foods available? Think of the last time you decided to cook a meal, only to find that you didn’t have what you needed. Did you resort to ordering takeout? Or going out to eat? Or perhaps throwing a frozen dinner in the microwave? We’ve all had those days, but if you find yourself staring at an empty cupboard or barren refrigerator time after time, perhaps it’s time to take action! So let’s continue stocking the kitchen.
- Canned beans. Yes, in an ideal world where time is not an issue, soaking and cooking dried beans is a better choice than using canned beans. And that’s certainly an option for those of you who are “purists.” Bags of dried beans, split peas, and lentils are less expensive than the canned versions, have virtually no sodium, and have a fresher flavor. You can also cut down on preparation time by using a quick-soak method. But the reality is that grabbing a can of cannellini beans is a much quicker way to make pasta fagioli, and canned black beans do just fine lending themselves to black beans and rice.
Canned beans are inexpensive, they’re a much cheaper source of protein than animal foods, and they keep for a long time. If sodium is a concern, look for varieties that are lower in sodium; otherwise, rinse the beans well in a colander before cooking with them. And remember how good for you beans are — they’re full of fiber, protein, and minerals and low in fat and saturated fat. With so many varieties to choose from, you’ll never get bored. Also, don’t forget refried beans — great for dips, huevos rancheros, and bean enchiladas!
- Canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are one staple that I can’t do without. I keep ground tomatoes, whole tomatoes, and diced tomatoes in my pantry. You can make a quick tomato sauce (and skip the processed jarred sauce), soup, and chili, and add them to beans and rice for a hearty vegetarian meal. Diced tomatoes are good for guacamole and pasta salad. Try whole or ground tomatoes for a fresher flavor. Pureed tomatoes taste more “cooked.” It also doesn’t hurt to keep a few cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste around, as well. An advantage of canned tomatoes over fresh tomatoes is that the canned variety contains more lycopene, an antioxidant that may help lower the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.
- Canned tuna (and salmon and sardines). We’ve all gotten the message to eat more fish, especially for heart health. But fish can be expensive, and getting quality, fresh fish can be a challenge if you don’t live near the coast. For this reason, and for convenience, don’t overlook canned fish. OK, perhaps it doesn’t taste quite the same as fresh, but canned fish can certainly add nutrition, including omega-3 fatty acids and protein, to your meals, and it’s low in saturated fat. If you’re a real tuna-lover or are a pregnant woman, go easy on canned albacore, or “white,” tuna due to its mercury content. Stick with canned chunk light tuna. Fortunately, canned salmon and sardines are low in mercury.
In addition to using it for sandwiches, use canned fish in pasta dishes, casseroles, salads (how about a salad Nicoise?), and omelets. Try salmon patties in place of hamburger. Sardines can be part of an antipasto or served with crackers. Buy canned fish in water rather than oil. You’ll save on calories and retain more of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
- Peanut butter. OK, it’s not canned, but it’s close enough, and unless you have a peanut allergy, it’s definitely a staple. Yes, it’s high in fat, but it’s mostly the healthful kind of fat. And don’t forget that peanut butter contains protein, fiber, B vitamins, and a bunch of minerals. Natural peanut butter is generally the most healthful, although even regular peanut butter is OK (unless you don’t want any added sugar or sodium). Natural peanut butter should be stored in the refrigerator. I don’t think I need to tell you all the wonderful things you can top with peanut butter. It’s one of those good foods to keep around!
More next week!