We all know that the U.S. has a weight problem. Most understand that the problem stems primarily from two things: eating too much and moving too little. As the owner of a personal training business, my work revolves around the latter. But all of us in the fitness industry know that, without controlling the former, all the exercise in the world isn’t going to solve this problem. In fact, for the obese, the latest research is bearing out that controlling diet is more important than exercising when it comes to weight loss. It makes sense – it takes about an hour of jogging to burn 500 calories, yet a person can shave 410 calories from her daily diet by simply cutting out a super-sized soft drink. It’s no surprise, then, that family, friends and clients often ask me for tips on eating healthy.
I have two simple rules:
Rule #1: Prepare what you eat the vast majority of the time. It is extremely difficult to control what is going into your food and how much food ends up on your plate (or in your cup) if someone else is preparing it and portioning it out. This includes not only meals (breakfast, lunch & dinner) but everything else you consume, like coffee and snacks.
Rule #2: Purchase food in as close to whole form as possible. This means avoiding boxes and cans as much as possible. And, when you do purchase a box or can, the ingredient list contains very few items.
Both rules are much easier for the average family to follow if meals can be assembled relatively quickly and easily and the items that go into the meals are affordable and readily available. So, a well-stocked pantry and fridge are essential for the fit family. This week, I’ll provide a peek into the staples in my pantry and fridge. Next week, I’ll share with you some of my favorite, family-friendly, original recipes using these items.
The idea is to always have the items listed below on-hand. Then, each week, you’ll purchase your highly perishable items like lean unprocessed meats, fish, whole grain breads, low-fat dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables. The fresh items paired with the pantry items can be used to create a large variety of healthy meals in a short amount of time. When it comes to fresh produce, purchase what’s in season. This will ensure that the produce is flavorful and reasonably priced. There are times throughout the year when in-season, fresh produce is very limited. During those times, it is perfectly acceptable to utilize frozen and, in some cases, canned produce. Therefore, you’ll find some frozen and canned produce listed. These were selected because they freeze or can well with very little or no salt, sugars or fats added.
Essential Pantry Items
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: get good quality oil and use it for dressing salads and vegetable dishes
- Canola Oil: great for cooking because it has a high smoking point, neutral flavor, inexpensive & almost as much heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as olive oil
- Non Stick Cooking Spray: canola/olive oil based
- Dijon Mustard & Canola Oil Mayonnaise
- Vinegars: inexpensive acids to marinate meats and make your own dressings; good choices are red & white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar & rice wine vinegar
- Balsamic Vinegar: invest as much money as you can in a bottle of good quality, aged balsamic; a little goes a long way
- Worcestershire Sauce & Low-sodium Soy Sauce: lots of bold flavor (umami) packed into a mere tablespoon
- Nut Butters: healthy nut butters should have only two ingredients – nuts & salt
- Low-sodium, Low-fat Broths (chicken, beef and/or vegetable)
- Panko Bread Crumbs
- Jarred Roasted Peppers, Sun-dried Tomatoes and/or Artichoke Hearts
- Canned Tomatoes (low salt)
- Canned Beans – Examples: cannellini, black, kidney, garbanzo/chickpeas; get low or no salt and always rinse beans before adding them to your recipe
- Canned Pineapple & Mandarin Oranges: packed in their own juice, not in syrup
- Dried Fruits: Cranberries, Figs, Plums & Raisins: can be tossed into salads, baked goods and oatmeal to boost micronutrients and fiber
- Brown Rice
- Whole Grain Pasta
- Other Whole Grains: Faro, Barley, Oats, Quinoa
- For Baking: Semi-sweet Mini Chocolate Chips, Whole Wheat Flour, Raw Nuts/Seeds (store in fridge to keep fresh)
- Seasonings, Spices & Dried Herbs: my most-used list includes Salt (Sea or Kosher), Black Pepper, Curry Powder, Garlic Powder, Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Chili Powder, Red Pepper Flakes, Ground Mustard, Bay Leaves, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and a few sodium-free herb blends (such has Mrs Dash)
- Fresh Onions & Garlic: store in a cool, dry place
- Bananas: yes, these go bad quickly – but overripe bananas have a myriad of great uses
- Lemons & Limes
- Carrots & Celery
- Real Butter: a little butter adds so much creaminess and flavor in cooking (salted) and baking (unsalted) and much better than margarines & spreads that have ingredient lists in paragraph form
- Berries (blue, rasp, black & straw), Cherries, Mangos, Peaches
- Fresh Ginger (just take out, peel and grate as needed)
So your homework assignment is to get stocked up. Tune in next week for some easy, yummy, healthy recipes sure to make everyone in your house fit and happier.
Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional. My food recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry publications I receive and my personal experience. Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals. If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.