At this point, your cupboards or pantry should be pretty well stocked with the “basics” — grains, canned vegetables, beans, oils… But there’s one more spot in your kitchen that also needs to be well stocked, and that’s your refrigerator (we’ll lump the freezer into this as well). While canned goods are great staples to have on hand, it’s important to have fresh ingredients as part of your meals, too. Let’s look at what a healthful fridge and freezer should contain.
For the purpose of this series, I’m going to consider “dairy foods” to include milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, butter, and eggs. For meal-planning purposes, though, remember that these dairy foods belong to different food groups. As an example, milk and yogurt are considered to be carbohydrate, whereas sour cream and butter are fats. But since these are typically found int the dairy section of the grocery store, I’m grouping them together.
I should also mention that I realize many people cannot or choose not to eat dairy foods for a number of reasons: allergies, lactose intolerance, being a vegan, etc. Please adapt what I’ve recommended to meet your own needs and preferences.
- Milk. On the positive side, milk is a source of calcium, protein, B vitamins, potassium, and phosphorous. Milk is fortified with vitamins A (except for skim milk), C, and D, as well. On the negative side, whole milk and reduced-fat (2%) milk contain saturated fat, the kind of fat that can raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. So, if you drink milk or use milk in cooking, it’s best to stick with fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.
Milk is a staple of many recipes and meals: Cereals, soups, sauces, and mashed potatoes are just a few dishes that often use milk. If you’re a baker, you know that milk is frequently called for in many recipes. And, of course, many people drink milk, either “straight up” or in tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. Other types of milk are available, such as lactose-free milk, soy milk, goat’s milk, evaporated milk, and buttermilk (which is the liquid that remains after butter is churned).
- Yogurt. Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with a bacterial culture. Like milk, yogurt is a source of calcium, protein, B vitamins, and potassium. Eating yogurt is linked with a healthy immune system, lower cholesterol levels, lower body fat levels, and increased bone mass. In addition, because yogurt contains a variety of strains of good bacteria (also known as probiotics), it may help protect against ulcers and other gastrointestinal ailments, help with arthritis, and maybe even lower the risk of colorectal cancer. To reap the health benefits of yogurt, choose brands that say “live active cultures” on the container.
Yogurt can be used in a number of ways. Whip up a tasty breakfast parfait, layering nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt with fresh fruit, low-fat granola, and chopped nuts. Whip up creamy but low-fat salad dressings. Use yogurt in place of sour cream for dips, sauces, and toppings. Try Greek-style yogurt, which is thicker and richer, and higher in protein than regular yogurt. Be careful of fruited yogurts, unless you buy the light-style varieties (which usually contain nonnutritive sweeteners). Fruited yogurt tends to be fairly high in calories and carbohydrate, so you’re better off buying plain or vanilla low-fat yogurt and adding your own fresh fruit.
- Sour cream. Sour cream, like yogurt, is a fermented food. It’s made by adding lactic-acid producing bacteria to cream. Obviously, regular sour cream is not a low-fat or heart-healthy food (one tablespoon contains 26 calories and 1.6 grams of saturated fat). But you can get light or low-fat sour cream and even fat-free sour cream. Fat-free sour cream usually contains stabilizers, such as guar gum, to give it its thickness (it also has a slightly different texture than regular sour cream, as a result). Sour cream is frequently used as a topping (think of baked potatoes or Mexican foods). It’s also used in dips and sauces, as well as in recipes for baked goods (including cheesecake!).
Is sour cream essential to have in your fridge? It depends on how you use it. Yogurt is certainly a healthier substitute for sour cream, but doesn’t always hold up as well in baking or cooking. Sometimes a little bit of the “real thing” goes a long way. Also, if you prefer the taste and texture of sour cream over yogurt, try the light-style or fat-free version (or just a dab of the regular kind).
More next week!