Is your pantry a no-man’s land of unhealthy foods and products past their use-by dates? Nutritionist Brooke Longfield helps you update it.
Rarely are our pantries bare: most of us have a can of beans and a few bags of pasta stuffed into the back corner. And when we’re short of time, whatever is in the pantry can be our first and last resort.
Having the right foods on hand is key to having a healthy diet. The best thing about pantry staples is that they last for ages. Make an investment now and it will pay dividends for weeks, or even months, to come.
And it needn’t break the bank, with a healthy upgrade possible for less than $50. Now that’s an affordable boost to your health that’s worth every cent.
Let’s get started!
- Microwave brown rice $2.59
- Canned chickpeas and lentils ($1.30 each) $2.60
- Wholemeal flour $1.99
- Wholemeal pasta $2.40
- Flavoured canned fish $2.09
- Frozen stir-fry vegetables $5.00
- Frozen berries $6.00
- Frozen fish fillets $10.00
- Dukkah $5.00
- Balsamic vinegar $3.80
- Reduced-salt soy sauce $2.25
- Reduced-salt feta $6.20
- Total $49.92
Start with the basics
Microwave brown rice $2.59 for meals that keep you feeling fuller for longer
Cooking brown rice from scratch takes roughly 40 minutes – time that few of us have on busy weeknights. Pouches of microwavable brown rice slash cooking time to a speedy 90 seconds.
Canned chickpeas and lentils $2.60 for fibre-rich dinners
If you don’t already buy canned legumes (chickpeas, lentils and any kind of beans), now is a great time to start. They’re not only nutritious but compared to pricey ‘superfoods’ they often cost less than $2 a can.
Buying the canned variety also cuts down preparation and cooking time of dried beans, peas and lentils. Simply rinse them under cold water and toss them straight into salads, soups and sauces. Next time you make spaghetti bolognese, try reducing the amount of mince and add a can of brown lentils. No one will spot the difference and you’ll boost the fibre content significantly.
Also, with a can of chickpeas you’re only a quick blender blitz away from homemade hummus: the perfect snack.
Wholemeal flour $1.99 for longer-lasting energy in baked treats
Wholemeal flour is less refined than white flour, so it has more fibre and digests more slowly to give you lasting energy. Try it in robust-flavoured foods, such as banana bread, carrot cake and savoury muffins. Try this tip when baking – leave the batter to rest for 10 to 20 minutes before cooking as this lets the bigger flour grains absorb more liquid, resulting in a softer, fluffier finished product.
Wholemeal pasta $2.40 for a high-fibre family favourite
Try swapping white pasta for wholemeal, which has three times the fibre. You’ll find varieties in the dried pasta aisle of your supermarket.
Flavoured canned fish $2.09 for a tasty kick in sandwiches and salads
Flavours such as lemon and pepper or basil and tomato make cans of tuna a tasty shortcut to boost protein in salads, sandwiches or pasta. Keep cans handy for quick omega-3-rich meals and snacks. Check the nutrition information panel for one that has less than 500mg sodium per 100g.
Use the freezer
Frozen stir-fry vegetables $5 for antioxidants and high-fibre meals
When you’re really short of time, a bag of stir-fry vegetables gets an easy meal on the table in minutes. Frozen veges now come in an endless assortment of combinations, so stash a variety in the freezer for busy nights so that you can add a few serves of veges to every meal. And because they’re snap-frozen when first picked, you don’t lose any of their nutrients.
Frozen berries $6 to boost fibre and vitamin C in snacks and breakfasts
Fresh berries can cost a small fortune out of season. But with an array of health benefits and a delicious, sweet taste, frozen berries are cost-effective and convenient. They’re high in fibre, low in kilojoules and are perfect to add to breakfast smoothies, toss over porridge or fold through yoghurt.
Frozen fish fillets $10 for easy dinners that boost heart health
We’re not talking the crumbed fish fingers you had as a kid here. These days the freezer section has healthy and convenient frozen fish fillets that can be stashed away for a nutritious weeknight meal.
Take flavour to the next level
It’s easy to fall into the trap of using ready-made sauces for flavouring, but you can cut the kilojoules, fat and salt with these tasty, lighter alternatives.
Dukkah $5 for chicken and fish
This Middle Eastern nut, seed and spice mix is an easy way to add loads of flavour to meat or vegetables. Just sprinkle a few teaspoons over fish or chicken before grilling, or toss it through roasted vegetables. It’ll make weeknight dinners feel that little bit special for minimal effort.
Balsamic vinegar $3.80 for salads and marinades
This is your passport to a quick salad dressing: it only has 12kJ per tablespoon and its acidity helps to slow digestion and lower the glycaemic index of your meal. Pour it on by itself or add a dash to olive oil. Add a slurp of vinegar to homemade tomato sauce to intensify the flavour, use it to marinate red meat, or brush it over tomatoes before roasting.
Reduced-salt soy sauce $2.25 for Asian flavour with less salt
Standard soy suace is very high in sodium. Reduced-salt versions of this Asian staple can save you around 500mg of sodium in just one tablespoon.
Reduced-salt feta $6.20 to add a creamy flavour to salads
This cheese adds a creamy flavour to meals without too much salt. It’s quite strong in flavour and a little goes a long way, so stick to 30g portions per person (about the size of a matchbox). Try it crumbled over a Mediterranean-style salad, or use it to jazz up a simple couscous or pasta dish.
Total = $49.92