Prepping meals can be a royal pain in the ‘you-know-what’ when you have a family. So I try to simplify for my own sanity when hunger strikes. One of my sanity saving strategies is to always have a few key healthy kitchen staples on my grocery list, and in my cupboard or fridge.
I can easily throw these foods into some of my favourite recipes when our selection is running slim, and I can’t make it to the grocery store. It helps that these healthy kitchen staples also have a long shelf-life, so there’s no food waste. A win win!
When the food supply is running thin for families, that’s when they are more likely to get convenience foods, like a frozen pizza, french fries, or takeout. But because these staples are also nutrient-rich, you can throw most of them together and have a healthy meal.
Even as a last resort, we are still getting a dose of vitamins, minerals, etc… everything you need to ensure you have the energy to go grocery shopping tomorrow!
Without further adieu, meet my must-have family foods…
My 6 healthy kitchen staples:
Tahini and sunflower seed butter (other butters)
Because we use ‘butters’ almost daily on our rice cakes/crackers, in smoothies as an alternative to protein powder, in energy balls (a perfect grab-and-go snack that can also be school-safe), baked goods (mmm….paleo pumpkin cookies), and even some of my favourite meals (like this noodle-free pad thai)…I try rotate my nuts/seeds to avoid intolerances/gut issues.
There are 3 reasons I love sunflower and sesame seed butters (tahini) in particular:
- Great alternative as I try to limit our almond intake (see below)
- Nut-free and school safe
- Inexpensive vs. other nuts/seeds
- Offer up fab nutrients (see ‘nutrient booster’)
Other ‘butters’ include almond, cashew, hazelnut, pumpkin seed butter, and even coconut manna (or coconut butter).They are such a versatile source of protein and healthy fats, especially for non-meat eaters. Go for ones without added sweeteners, as many are laced with cane sugar (such as Wow Butter).
Nutrient booster: Tahini is an outstanding source of selenium (important for immunity, and thyroid function), calcium, iron, and copper. Sunflower seeds provide nearly half of the DRI for vitamin E and selenium, plus more than a day’s worth of zinc (needed to fight bacteria and viruses).
But all nuts and seeds are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamin E. So if your family isn’t getting sufficient animal protein, these treats balance your macronutrient profile.
Note on almonds: while they are delicious, they aren’t the most environmentally friendly nut. I almost fell off my chair when I Iearned this: ONE measly almond requires ONE whole gallon of water to be produced. So we now lean on other nuts and even more so, seeds.
Frozen blueberries (and other fruit)
The list of frozen fruit is endless, but berries are at the top of my list: especially wild blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries. These can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, popsicles, juices, plain full-fat yogurt or eaten on their own! (yup, berries right out of the freezer are a common favourite for picky eaters). These grain-free blueberry bites make a regular appearance in our lunch boxes.
Nutrient booster: Berries are a nutrient powerhouse. In fact, blueberries are one of the most nutrient-dense fruits on the planet. They offer up a ton of vitamin C, fibre, and polyphenols. Polyphenols are phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties. They play an important role in preventing and in reducing the progression of diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.
Blueberries have been reported to lower blood pressure after eight weeks of daily ingestion. Kids have been found to do better on cognitive tests after eating blueberries. In small trials, people who drank blueberry juice reported reduced depressive symptoms and were found to have improved blood-sugar levels and improvements in recalling words. - Source
Frozen cauliflower and green peas
We always have frozen veggies lingering in our freezer for those emergency moments when your fresh produce is out.
- Green peas are great for the kids straight from the freezer, and as an addition to pasta, stews, or hummus.
- Spinach or kale are also an easier way to get your greens in for smoothies (no washing, chopping required).
- Frozen cauliflower - it’s perfect for giving smoothies their smooooothness with a neutral flavour. It’s also an awesome way to up to the health profile of other nutrient-lacking dishes: mashed cauliflower, cauliflower rice, pizza crust, and casseroles, to name a few. Can you tell I’m a fan?
Nutrient booster: Virtually all veggies will give your family’s meals an instant nutrition boost (i.e. did you know peas and spinach contain iron?). They’re also filled with antioxidants, micronutrients like vitamins A and K, calcium, and magnesium too. The B-vitamins in cauliflower will help you keep up with your kids (thanks to their energy metabolizing benefits).
Eggs are nature’s perfect little package and a parent’s dream food (if your family will eat them!). The options are endless: omelettes, scrambled, egg muffins, hard-boiled in salads, and one of my daughter’s favourites…oatmeal scramble. We adore eggs so much that I have to make a conscious effort NOT to eat or offer them everyday. For a change, try tiny quail eggs which are perfect for small mouths (our kids).
Nutrient booster: Eggs are a source of protein and fatty acids in one package. All you need is a side of fruit or veggies and your balanced meal is complete. They are a great source of Biotin or vitamin B7 (found only in the yolk) which is essential for healthy, supple, non-sleep deprived looking skin.
Note on eggs: More and more people are becoming intolerant to eggs. However it’s primarily the proteins found in the egg whites (not the yolks). Try to skip the egg whites and just eat the yolks.
Speaking of eggs, you’ve gotta grab these 10 Family-Friendly Breakfast Recipes (each recipe only has 5 ingredients or less)
Coconut flour (or other gluten-free flour)
With kids in the house, baked goods are a sanity saver. And who’s kidding who, you’ll often find homemade muffins or cookies stashed in my purse. Of course, they are always filled with healthy ingredients, little sugar, and lots of fibre. Those baked goodies are also often made with one of these flours which are grain-free / gluten-free, especially coconut flour. I love throwing in frozen berries to this gluten-free muffin recipe for added yumminess and nutrition.
Nutrient booster: Coconut helps maintain healthy blood sugar and lowers the overall glycemic impact of foods. Coconut flour is also a source of trace minerals. These include manganese (for hormonal balance), iron (for muscle health and energy) and copper (strengthens hair, skin, nails, and ligaments).
Note on coconut flour: Coconut flour is VERY absorbent so it can’t be replaced 1:1 with other flours. So you’ll see a bunch of eggs in the recipe to help add some moisture and texture to the flour.
These are my go-to when I’m looking for a non-animal based snack or breakfast. There are quite a few great protein powders on the market made from brown rice protein, pea protein, hemp and pumpkin seed protein as well as collagen protein. Collagen is great for mixing into both cold and hot foods. It’s important to rotate them as well. Two of my favourites are Manitoba Harvest and Sun Warrior (use promo code: BINNS to save 10%)
Nutrient booster: Getting enough protein is so important for many reasons; not only does it help you maintain and lose weight, but it also works to stabilize your blood sugar levels, improve your ability to learn and concentrate, reduce brain fog, boost your energy levels, support your muscles and bones and support the absorption of important nutrients. What parent wouldn’t want all these benefits?!
Herbs and spices
These little additions are often forgotten but they pack more punch than their size suggests. It is about personal preferences but the ones I use regularly are cinnamon for sweet dishes, and cumin, turmeric, paprika and thyme for savoury dishes. Fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil and mint are ideal to have on hand but I’m not always successful with using every leaf (food waste is my nemesis). What I like to do is wash and trim fresh herbs, let them dry, then freeze.
Nutrient booster: Here are the potential benefits that come with some of my favourites:
- Cumin - controls blood sugar, fights bacteria/parasites, anti-inflammatory
- Cinnamon - stabilizes blood sugar
- Parsley – Inhibit breast cancer-cell growth
- Turmeric - quell inflammation
- Rosemary – enhance mental focus, fight foodborne bacteria
- Mint - reduces nausea
Having a variety of these healthy kitchen staples readily available will make you love being in your kitchen and making delicious and nutritious food for you and your family.
What foods can’t you live without in your kitchen?