I am a big proponent of fresh, real food-- getting food as close to the source as you can, buying local and using fresh ingredients-- but as much as I love a good batch of homemade mayo or salad dressing or making my own crackers, let's be real- life as a mama is busy and we need some healthy shortcuts on hand! As much as I like to meal prep to prepare for a healthy week, there are some things that just aren't worth the weekly hassle, and I save for special occasions- like making my own homemade tomato sauce. I am all about a healthy balance between store bought essentials and homemade food-- which is why I always keep a well-stocked pantry to ensure that I have meal shortcuts on hand to create simple, healthy meals throughout the week. It's one of my secrets to meal planning efficiently and on a budget-- knowing what you have on hand so you don't over-buy, but instead use what you have before buying extra ingredients you might not need to prepare healthy meals.
The second part of this key? Making sure you STOCK the pantry essentials you use on the regular to simplify your meal planning (and your monthly food budget). This is something I had to learn over time- I often bought ingredients I thought I would use, and sat in my pantry for months on end until I forced myself to use them. It took a toll on our budget- and space in our small pantry for the things we REALLY use on a weekly and monthly basis. Luckily, I've learned a few things along the way about stocking a healthy mama pantry.
So how do you start developing a well-stocked pantry?
1. Take a look at what you really use.
The best way to find out what you pantry staples REALLY are is to look at what you're using! Start a new Notes list on your phone or tape a piece of paper to your fridge, and whenever you use an item from the pantry, write it down. After a week or so, you should see a pattern begin to form of the foods you eat regularly. Take note of when you run out of an item-- and mark down when you re-buy to have an idea of how long it takes you to go through said item. I know this seems tedious at first- but it's an incredibly helpful tool in learning just how much your family uses regularly!
Actually clearing out your pantry, getting rid of what has expired and what doesn't fit your family's lifestyle anymore helps this exponentially. If the food hasn't expired, consider donating to your local food bank to give back instead of creating more waste.
2. Categorize the essentials you use on a daily basis.
After you have a list of essentials, categorize them- oils and vinegars, canned items, jarred items, dry goods like grains and beans... this will help you further clarify the specific items in each category.
3. Make a list of pantry staples, with dates for re-purchasing. Once you've done the last two steps, you can make a list of staples-- and estimate how often you'll need to re-purchase. For the items we use monthly, we use the auto-ship feature from Thrive Market to ensure we always have our essentials on hand. If it's something you definitely want on hand but might not go through that often (like balsamic vinegar), keep it on the list as an essential, but don't auto-ship it.
Soon enough, you will have a fully stocked pantry with the items you use on the regular. This might look different for you, than it does for us- but here are a few of our staples, so you can get an idea of how we prioritize essentials for our pantry to simplify meal planning. My Healthy Mama Pantry Staples
Oils and Vinegars
Extra virgin coconut oil Extra virgin olive oil Avocado Oil Ghee Apple Cider Vinegar Balsamic Vinegar Red Wine Vinegar Rice Vinegar
Canned and Jarred
BPA-free canned beans Dried beans, split peas + lentils Sprouted Quinoa Sprouted Brown Rice Organic Sushi Rice Bean-based pasta Sprouted pasta
Canned tomatoes Canned tomato paste Organic pasta sauce Olives (black and green) Roasted red peppers Wild salmon, tuna + sardines Coconut milk Coconut Cream Salsa (including my fave salsa verde)
Nuts and Seeds
Almonds Cashews Macadamia nuts Walnuts Sunflower Seeds Pumpkin Seeds Coconut flakes Hemp seeds Chia Seeds
Nut and seed butters (rotate- almond, cashew, peanut, sunbutter) Tahini
Quality protein powder Collagen Peptides Raw Cacao Cacao Nibs MCT oil Spirulina Maca Ground flax/chia
Avocado oil mayonnaise Coconut Aminos/Tamari Mustards Primal Kitchen + Tessamaes Dressings Hot Sauce/Sriracha Worcestershire Sauce Curry Paste
Examples of Meal Shortcuts we make using pantry/freezer staples:
Canned coconut milk + curry paste + fresh or frozen vegetables + chicken or shrimp = thai curry
Salsa verde + pack of boneless chicken thighs + frozen cauliflower rice + ghee = salsa verde with cauli rice
Fresh greens + whatever veg is on hand + steak + sundried tomatoes + chopped nuts + primal kitchen dressing = steak salads
Ground beef + frozen broccoli, roasted + tahini + coconut aminos = beef + broccoli + 'crack sauce' (a la my friend Laura)
Canned black beans + brown rice + cumin + lime juice + salsa + fresh avocado = rice and beans with guac
Canned kidney beans + canned tomatoes + banza pasta + basic veggies + broth = minestrone soup
Sprouted pasta (or zucchini noodles) + pasta sauce + ground beef or turkey + onion + italian seasoning = pasta with meat sauce
Lentils + basic veggies + broth + seasonings = Lentil soup
Wild canned salmon + egg + dill + seasonings + coconut oil = salmon cakes (with mayo for dipping!)
Avocado oil mayo + rotisserie chicken + veggies of choice = chicken salad (or mix it up and use peanut butter for peanut chicken salad!)
The sky is the limit, friends-- meals do not have to be complicated or expensive to be healthy and delicious!
Get my full pantry staples list, along with a template to create your own, a food price tracker to keep your budget on point and over six months of meal planning pages to plan your healthy mama meals efficiently and with less stress, with the Healthy Mama Meal Planner!
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