I fondly remember shopping with my mother when I was growing up; wandering the aisles of the grocery store watching her toss endless boxes and bags into the cart, always hoping that if I was good that I would get to pick a comic book from the spinning rack near the checkout. It’s a very simple, and pleasant, memory for me.
My mother did her best to make sure our family ate well. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination (she refered to corn as a vegetable, we lived on white as snow bread, and there was a lot of super sugary canned fruits in the pantry at all times) but she did what I like to think was her best.
I distinctly remember:
- We never had soda in the house
- She would never buy my brother or I any cereal with chocolate anything or bits of marshmallow
- If we wanted something sweet she always preferred we had fruit or a granola bar instead of a cookie.
Sounds good, right? In a very limited capacity it was, but not really…
The problem was:
- Instead of soda we would drink grape juice or something of the sort, because it came from fruit! Good in theory, bad in the reality of almost the same sugar content.
- Instead of Count Chocula or Lucky Charms we would get something like Honey Nut Cheerios. Good if advertising were truthful, bad because it isn’t.
- Instead of a cookie she would get me to eat some peaches or a granola bar. Great if common sense worked on a cursory level with food, bad because the peaches were canned in sugary syrup and the granola bars were basically just rectangular cookies.
Even though she faltered a bit in the execution, it was the intent that always stuck with me. She tried to apply her common sense to shopping and cooking, and I like to give her the benefit of the doubt and think that had she have grown up in a time where better information on nutrition was available that she would have made different choices. So while it took me a long time to realize that making your own popsicles out of Welch’s grape juice in the summer really wasn’t a healthy alternative to buying a box of brightly colored ones from the grocery store, the concept of trying to avoid too much sugar and to eat healthier ingrained itself in me from a young age. Thanks Mom!
So what does this have to do with kitchen essentials? What’s with the sappy walk down memory lane?? And where is all the jibber-jabber about super heroes and whatnot!?!
Calm down Skippy, we are getting to it…
While I was mindlessly wandering the aisles of the grocery store this weekend, reminiscing about the good old days of my youth, I started to think about what consistently stocks my kitchen. What kitchen essentials do I buy almost religiously? Because when I looked at the carts in front of me, waiting in line to check out, it became very obvious that my idea of what needs to be in my pantry varies greatly from the average shopper (and that my mother really did her best)! I felt bad for these people with their carts overflowing with endless cases of sodas, giant tubs of pretzels and Cheetos, packages of highly processed lunch meats, and colorful boxes of sugary cereals; their unwitting children dutifully in tow learning by horrible example. I wondered if they knew better if they would change?
I realize it is hard; between generally poor education at school on nutrition and how to eat properly, and being bombarded non-stop by predatory advertising for craptastic things to cram in your face-hole it takes an almost Herculean effort to select the right things to stock your kitchen with. So I wanted to offer up my list of things I can’t live without.
My Top 9 Kitchen Essentials
Eggs - I buy Cage-Free brown eggs personally (I know it is more than likely marketing hype, but have you ever seen a chicken farm? Let those little buggers roam!) and they are a staple of my morning meals. At least 3-4 times a week you can find me in my kitchen first thing in the morning doing the following. Cracking 3 eggs, using my handy dandy egg seperator to get rid of two of the yolks, and then dropping them in a frying pan along with a giant helping of green and red peppers or spinach. 3 minutes later I have a nice low calorie, yet protein rich and filling meal to start my day.
If you are working to lose weight, it’s important to eat foods that are naturally nutrient-rich and stave off hunger between meals. The egg is perfect example.
Spinach – Despite what you may have thought as a kid this isn’t a super soldier serum for sailors, but it still is fantastic for you! I use spinach in everything. As I mentioned above, I will often dump a cup or two into the frying pan with eggs to flash sautee it, use it as the bed for my salads and on my sandwiches instead of lettuce as well. Spinach is very low in calories and fats (100 g of raw leaves is just 23 calories) and is high in soluble dietary fiber. This leafy green is also overflowing with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, lutein, beta-carotene and Omega 3 fatty acids. It is without a doubt one of the biggest staples in in my diet.
Almonds – Let me clarify here… raw almonds. I find almonds to be a great snack that fills me right up. A handful in the morning or an hour before a workout does the trick and keeps me full due to the relatively high content of protein and fiber. One thing to be aware of though, especially if you are an athlete, is that due to the high content of Omega 6 fatty acids in almonds you want to be extra sure that you are balancing out eating a lot of almonds with Omega 3 rich foods.
Let drop a little science real fast. The body needs both Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids and uses them to help produce hormones. At a basic level, the hormones derived from the two types of essential fatty acids have the opposite effect. Omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation and blood clotting, while Omega-3s decrease those functions. Both of these need to be in balance for optimal health. Not something most people need to worry about, but I see a lot of athletes (especially those who regularly have to watch their weight) pound them down and just wanted to throw it out there for them.
Almond Milk – When I was a kid I would guzzle cow-juice like it was nobodies business! Then I learned how udderly disgusting it is and stopped. Immediately. So I hopped around the milk alternatives a bit until I landed on Almond Breeze 10 years ago or so and I haven’t looked back. I use it as a complete milk substitute; I cook with it, use it in my smoothies and put it on my cereal. Most importantly it tastes good while being high in a number of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, iron, fiber, zinc and calcium. Almond milk is also low in fat and calories, at only 40 calories per eight ounce serving.
As an added bonus it is also safe for those who are lactose intolerant or have gluten and casein allergies.
Chicken Breasts – While turkey, seafood and lean pork make up a portion of the meat in my diet (and the occasional bacon indulgence) it is chicken that comprises the bulk of the animal protein I ingest. I primarily focus on chicken not only because it is the perfect lean protein, but because I find it easiest to cook in bulk and store throughout the week. Since half of a chicken breast is a serving size (Yes, I said half a breast. Remember the rule – One serving should be the size of a deck of cards) and most packages come with three giant breasts I will cube them and cook them all at once, seasoning them with something neutral (usually some black pepper and italian seasoning) and placing the remaining servings in a Tupperware container and toss it in the fridge. Now quick meals are easier than ever to throw together. I just heat up a scoop of the chicken chunks in the microwave while tossing a handful of green leafy things and cherry tomatoes into a bowl and viola, 3 minute filling and healthy salad!
Kiwi Fruit – Also known as the Chinese Gooseberry, this fruit is one of my favorites for a few reasons. From a nutritional standpoint, a normal size kiwi is approximately 50 calories, is chock full of Vitamin C, E and Potassium and dietary fiber and fills you up pretty nicely for such a small piece of fruit (Even more so if you eat the skin like I do. I just chop the stem end off and chimp down!) It is sweet so it is great for quelling cravings I might be having, but I generally use them as an addition to my breakfast or as part of a post-workout snack.
Brown Rice – Quick, easy and filling. Brown rice, unlike white rice, is a whole grain; and like every package and commercial on TV will tell you – Whole grains are good for you! (I will tackle why you can’t just believe packaging in a future article but Brown Rice is simple and wholesome) So what exactly does that even mean? Very simply, it means that both the germ and the bran parts of the grain have been preserved. In white rice, these have been polished away to produce that shiny white color everyone loves so much. As a result, brown rice is higher in minerals and fiber; almost four times the amount!
I buy the Uncle Ben’s Boil-in-a-Bag, which is done in 10 minutes, and just like my chicken I put the leftovers in a Tupperware for later use. I am all about quick and convenient during the week!
Yogurt – I go with low-fat Vanilla usually. I use a cup of it when I blend my fruit and protein smoothies and I also use it to curb cravings I might have for something sweet. It is high in protein and calcium; an 8-ounce serving of most yogurt provides around 30 to 40 percent of an adult’s RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for calcium. As a bonus, because the live-active cultures in yogurt increase the absorption of calcium, yogurt gets more calcium into the body than the same volume of cow-juice can.
I also like to eat a small snack (100 calorie of less) right before bed to keep my metabolism burning as I sleep. It is a great cure for fending off late night cravings! Also as an added bonus, in general, yogurt has less lactose than milk. That means many people who cannot tolerate milk, either because of a protein allergy or lactose intolerance, can enjoy yogurt.
Avocado – I buy 2 of these a week and let them ripen on my counter. A half of one is 100 calories and crammed full of protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber! Avocadoes also provide the healthy kind of fat that your body needs (That’s right, your body needs fat believe it or not). Boosting HDL (the “good” cholesterol), the type of cholesterol that reduces levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), it can also help to regulate triglyceride levels, preventing diabetes. This fruit, which I once hated but now can’t live without, is easy to prepare (just cut it in half and pop out the seed) and drop in a salad, slice up to augment a sandwich or to mash up in a nice bowl of chicken and brown rice.
So there you go! My top healthy kitchen essentials. Hopefully you can find something useful on the list to add to your shopping cart or maybe one of those people who I always see in line with the pile of Hungry-Man microwave dinners will read this and make a positive change? One can always hope…
And yes, before anyone calls me out on it, I admit it… I lied. There will be no jibber-jabber about super heroes today. Feel free to yell at me in the comments below, or even better you can tell me what you consider your kitchen essentials! Also make sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to Sign up for our free newsletter! (No spam, I promise!)