Some therapists are like blank slates. Their clients never learn anything about their personal lives, their habits or their preferences. I’m not that kind of counselor. To my clients, within reason, of course, I’m like an open book. In fact, as a nutrition consultant, the most common question I get asked is, “What do you eat?”
And not just for my clients, but even as a mom of three, I’ve always tried to set an example when I set my table. I wouldn’t tell my kids they had to eat anything that I wouldn’t eat, and in fact, I secretly hoped that they would mimic my eating habits without forcing them to do so. I’m grateful that my children grew up to be healthy young men that can show me a thing or two when it comes to tasty cooking techniques.
To this day, though, my boys will still occasionally call me when they’re in the supermarket to ask me the second most popular question I hear: “What’s better… this or that?”
We’ll save that story for another time, but today I’d like to share with you a few of the staples you’ll always find in my refrigerator, freezer, pantry and car.
The Food Staples a Nutritionist Uses
My fridge is generally overstuffed with family faves and leftovers. Although the list below is far from complete, it includes food you’ll find in my fridge year-round.
— Fruits and veggies. My produce bin is always filled with ingredients I can use for salads, side dishes and snacks. There’s always a variety of leafy greens (arugula, spinach, kale), carrots, colorful cauliflower, berries, apples and mangos.
— Cheese. Whether it’s a side dish to homemade muffins or pancakes or spread on a toasted waffle with a sprinkle of cinnamon, cottage and ricotta cheeses are consumed daily in my house. Sliced and shredded cheeses are also in my fridge, since cheese is a good source of calcium and it melts deliciously on whole-grain toast or plays a starring role in our homemade pizza.
— Almond milk. This plant-based milk comes in both refrigerated and shelf-stable versions. If unopened, the almond milk found in the middle aisles has a shelf life of one year (and 10 days after opening at which time it needs to be refrigerated). My favorite brand is Almond Breeze, a beverage with benefits providing an excellent source of calcium and vitamins D and E and a good source of vitamin A. At 30 calories per cup for the original unsweetened version, it can be enjoyed in sauces, stews, quick breads and smoothies for anyone in the family, even if they might have a lactose or gluten intolerance or if they follow a vegetarian lifestyle.
Most people don’t realize that frozen produce is just as rich in nutrients as fresh types. In fact, some frozen fruits and veggies are even more nutrient dense since they’re picked at their peak of ripeness and then sent to our stores in a frozen state so that they’re not exposed to the heat and light that fresh foods endure when they travel to us from far distances.
— Fruit. You’ll find an array of frozen berries, mango and other fruit that I can use in cobblers and jams. Some of the fruit comes in packages that generally just have the type of fruit on the ingredient list without any added sugars, sodium or additives. My freezer also holds fresh fruit that I froze after buying too much and I didn’t want the excess to go to waste. I also take advantage of freezing seasonal fruit, like cherries, so that I can create jams in the off season. Frozen fruit will help your smoothies chill out without needing to dilute them with ice cubes.
— Veggies. Although I love the texture of fresh veggies, frozen vegetables fit seamlessly into soups, stews and casseroles where mouthfeel may not matter as much.
— Poultry and fish. I rely on a freezer filled with fish and poultry to help me have meals to prepare at home at my fingertips. These lean sources of protein provide valuable nutrients that shift into leftovers for a quick lunch the next day.
— Almond butter. This nut butter is my personal fave, but you’ll find all types of nut butters in my pantry. Their ingredient lists only contain the nuts within and they provide an excellent source of protein and healthy fat. They’re travel-friendly without requiring refrigeration.
— Beans, pulses. I love foods that I call multi-taskers; foods that provide lots of benefits at the same time. Canned beans and plant-forward pastas (like chickpea pasta) come to mind since they’re easy to store, a cinch to cook and they’re so good for you. These foods offer carbs, protein, fiber and an array of vitamins and minerals and essential nutrients.
— Grains. Non-perishable foods like whole grains (barley, sorghum), whole-grain pasta, farro, freekeh, and quinoa come in handy when you’re looking for a nutrient-rich carb to compliment any dish. Although quinoa is really a seed, most of us treat it as a grain.
— Cereal. Cold or hot, cereal is a regular guest in our home. Cereal can provide a wealth of value including fiber and other nutrients most of us don’t get enough of. Choose a cereal that has whole grains as a first ingredient. Our faves include Fiber One (supplying a whopping 14 grams of fiber per serving — that’s half of what we need in a day) or a steamy bowl of oatmeal.
— Flour and baking supplies. Baking breads, muffins and cakes are “requirements” for me — as requested by my family members and baking also brings comfort and a feeling of calm. Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour can be subbed in one-for-one instead of white flour to add nutrient value and a rich wheat taste to baked goods.
— Spices. I am spice-obsessed. I rarely use any salt in my cooking because I love the flavor of spices and seasonings like garlic, curry, turmeric, pepper and a variety of paprikas.
— Oils and vinegars. Balsamic vinegar or glaze is the perfect topping for any salad or fruit cup to help cut calories and boost flavor. Avocado oil is a go-to for high heat cooking and a thick, rich extra virgin olive oil is perfect for sautéing veggies.
— Canned fish (salmon/tuna). Whether it’s for a quick sandwich at lunch or salmon burgers for dinner, you’ll always find canned fish in my house. We should be reaping the benefits of eating fish at least two times a week.
Although I’m not a fan of eating while doing simultaneous activities, sometimes it’s unavoidable when I’m driving from place to place and I need a between-meal pick-me-up snack in the car.
I never leave home without a KIND bar in my purse or in the glove compartment of my car. There are lots of bars on the market to choose from, and the reason KIND bars are my go-to choice is, in part, because they wear a transparent wrapper that clearly shows off their ingredients so that you can easily identify the nuts and dried fruit within. The decadent taste and sweetness from chocolate surprisingly only brings 5 grams of sugar along with 6 grams of protein and a surprising 7 grams of fiber to help you feel fuller longer.
Be sure to carefully read the ingredient list on bars since many appear to be low in sugar, but they are packed with sugar alcohols instead that could lead to gas, bloat and gastrointestinal discomfort.
And in case it wasn’t obvious by now, I adore food shopping, I wrote an entire book on the subject, and I suggest that you don’t get behind me when walking down the supermarket aisles. I’ll be in the slow lane –reading labels.
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