Healthy pantry, healthy family
Creative cooking and crunch-time can-do.
The starting point for any pantry discussion is no two pantries are the same. Some are big, others small. Some are hyper organized, others not so much. A few could carry a family of 10 through months of self-sufficient cooking. Most stock the basics for days or weeks. The reality is a family’s pantry reflects the family itself, both in terms of food preferences and cooking choices. And what better moment than springtime to dig into the pantry and uncover its full potential.
In the modern kitchen, a pantry means more than dry goods on shelves. The refrigerator and freezer also store food, of course, and a few simple ideas can help keep everything organized. Consider shelf stable foods in a cupboard. You might keep starches (grains and pastas) in one area, and baking supplies in another. Sauces in jars or cans (salsa or marinara) make a logical grouping along with complementary ingredients (black beans or garbanzos).
Best of all, a single ingredient can be used in many different ways. The jelly everyone loves on toast at breakfast? It’s the basis for a delicious glaze or dipping sauce at supper. A few simple combinations are highlighted above, and this checklist of pantry basics can help stock your pantry with other multi-use items.
Here’s the scenario. It’s a typical weeknight with after-school activities for the kids, errands for you and nothing specific in mind for dinner. What’s it going to be? Fast food carryout or a quick home-cooked meal? The second option is often healthier, and come to think of it, yes, there are chicken thighs in the fridge, apricot preserves in the fridge, several quick cooking grains in the cabinet and a loaf of whole grain bread from the bakery. Thirty minutes later, dinner is served, accompanied by a quick salad and sliced apples. The pantry comes through yet again.
A well-stocked pantry makes it easy to cook a healthy main dish like this sauté with apricot preserves. Simply sauté boneless thighs (or chicken breasts) until browned, stir in the apricot and add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Raspberry jam with red wine vinegar is a variation.
And yes, most pantries get bigger over time. Sales, splurges, bulk purchases, gifts — it all adds up. So what’s a good rule of thumb? If you haven’t used an item in a year but the use-by date hasn’t passed, take it to a local food shelf. Ground spices also lose their best flavor in about a year, and frozen foods ideally rotate out of the freezer in 90 days. Check the USDA for further guidelines.
If spring cleaning is on your to-do list this year, why not include the pantry? It’s the home cook’s go-to resource for healthy meals. Give it some love, and you’ll love the new possibilities it provides in return.