Healthy Food

Grocery Gold (part 3)

Food to inspire healthy habits in kids and help make meal-times fun

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Pantry and Non-Perishables 

This is the trickiest part of the grocery store, so go it at your own risk and do not (do not!) shop hungry or in a foul mood. The reason being is these aisles are stock, I mean loaded, with little nutritionally dense food that is high in preservatives, chemicals, artificial sweeteners, trans fat, sodium, sugars, you name it. This food can also appear on its surface to be inexpensive and convenient. In short – it hits all of our motivational hot buttons and makes most of this section of the store a downright health bomb.  Shopping with kids further compounds these aisles thanks to the presence of appealing marketing messages, colorful packaging, and of course treats that kids love and can be quite bold about making their requests known.

However there are some good finds out there – the key being these items are considered ‘staples’ and have an incredible amount of versatility – making them extremely useful no matter the: meal time, recipe, cuisine style, etc!

On our Shopping List:

  • Pasta – consider whole wheat, or varieties made from legumes, peas, etc
  • Dry Beans – load up
  • Low Sodium Chicken (and/or Vegetable) Broth 
  • Rice
  • Dried Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Spices/Seasonings
  • Low Sodium Salt (you read that right!)

Having dry pasta on hand at all times is a must, it forms the base of many casseroles, bakes, and is the star of the famed ‘spaghetti night’. Much like beans and rice – the level of versatility is so high, it makes keeping these staples on hand at all times a must. In fact in many situations pasta, beans, rice and other key bases can be used together, interchangeably or subbed out with any of the multitude of varieties commonly available such as high fiber, low carb, or even non-traditional pastas made with vegetables, peas, or even beans. 

With beans, we steer towards dried beans and then soak/cook/flavor as desired – this is an attempt to minimize added salt in our familys’ diet. While it requires some preparation and planning (soaking is best done overnight) its well worth it in terms of dollar savings, nutritional benefits, and overall flavor.

We keep a ton of good chicken broth on hand as well and have made our own stock in the past – though for me homemade stock is a big job with low payoff, but we plan to investigate this further in the Kookist test kitchen. Chicken broth is used in our house often as a sub for water to add richness to even the humblest of dishes. In fact we’ll often just make a big pot of well seasoned beans and rice thats includes some or all of: chopped almonds, lemon zest, and even raisins or dried cranberries. These can be inexpensive, quick meals that can bring some fun and pop to the dinner table. 

Pro TIP:  The above staples are also great side dishes or can be enjoyed with eggs, in wraps, salads. 

Nuts and dried fruit are wonderful! I highly suggest you stock up, particularly when they go on sale. Consider the low or no sodium variety and compare labels on fruit – try to keep the added sugars as low as possible when buying and remember that while nuts and seeds are generally regarded as healthy alternatives, the fat and salt can add up quickly, so keep your portions in check and read your labels.

Make sure you have the basics of seasonings on hand and don’t be afraid to grow your collection as you try new dishes. Consider buying fresh or the chopped/minced styles in the refrigerated section to liven dishes up.  Unless we know we’ll go through an entire bunch of cilantro (for example); we’ll go with the flash frozen versions for most of our recipes. They tend to keep a lot longer and give you decent bang for your buck, esp when compared to fresh herbs. 

PRO TIP: Often the ‘International Foods’ section can be a treasure trove for cheap spices in larger quantities than the ubiquitous small plastic bottle. 

As for salt, its coming increasingly under fire for the amount currently in the typical American diet and the negative health aspects related to habitual over consumption. Its imperative to not only use it as sparingly as possible when cooking – salt to taste, but not beyond – but also to be aware that in the typical boxed or bagged non-perishable item, the amount of added sodium is often very high and overlooked by many consumers. You could be inadvertently eating far more salt each day and not even realize it!

We’ve recently tried a Low Sodium Salt where a percentage of the crystals are actually Potassium instead of Sodium. The label suggests that not only are you reducing your salt intake but also improving your potassium levels.  

Consider the following option from Morton’s if you want to give it a shot:

For us, its been an easy changeover and while I still use 100% salt in some of my dishes, in particular when something calls for Kosher, the Lite variety has been a welcome addition to the dinner table. Consider doing your own research into current thoughts on the levels of salt in the typical American diet, and if you’d like to take steps to reduce your intake, this might be part of your approach.

Use the Comments section below to give us your take and if there is something we missed or overlooked, let us know! 

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