With a move to Tokyo and another to Melbourne all in the last six months, I’ve had a bit of practice at setting up a healthy pantry, all while on a budget. The staples on this tried and tested grocery list are to help keep your spending slim, while maximizing your nutrient intake.
If you’re not starting a cupboard from scratch you can easily start rotating in the items on this list as you run out of what you have on hand. With the intention of adding items with a high nutrient density, you don’t need to spend massively to gain massive health rewards. You can use the guide below to pick out what’s realistic for you, try it all, or use it as a checklist to ensure your current pantry is on target.
Some of the items require a bit of preparation before consuming, I’ve made some notes in the second column if this is the case. If your budget is of more importance than convenience, you’ll likely find you need to allocate a bit of extra time to put together meals. However, energy spent in the kitchen means less money spent on takeaway and dine out meals (which we all know can be a massive wallet drain). Plug that hole, and make friends with your pots and pans.
THE Grocery List: For Here, There, Anywhere.
|THE What||THE Why|
|Oil for Cooking: Olive, Sesame or Rice Bran Oil||Unrefined, cold pressed. (Don’t heat above medium heat). Choose extra virgin olive oil.|
|Oil for Salad Dressings: Above oils and/or Flax, Hemp or Avocado Oil||Same as prior, unrefined and cold pressed. NEVER heat. While your oils will seem like a big expense, a little goes a long way.|
|Vinegars: Apple cider, Balsamic or Rice Wine Vinegar||Use in salad dressings, stir fry sauces and meat marinades.|
|Light soy sauce||Or, buy regular soy sauce and dilute with water by 1/3.|
|Natural unsweetened yogurt (i.e. Greek Style)||Full fat varieties recommended to minimize processing, and maximize nutrients that keep you full and satisfied.|
|Lemon||Add to hot water for an herbal tea, grate the zest into breakfast oats or yogurt, use fresh juice on steamed veggies, and in stirfry sauces.|
|Garlic||Think: Garlic toast (with olive oil brushed onto toast), use in any main meal dish or salad dressing. Anti bacterial, anti viral and anti parasitic-keeps your immunity humming.|
|Ginger||Great in stirfries or add to warm water for an herbal tea. Anti-inflammatory.|
|Onions||Sautee for salads, and meat servings, as well as a great addition to sauces, stews and chili. Promotes healthy joints.|
|Alfalfa sprouts||Or make your own to save even more! Rich in enzymes to boost digestion.|
|Oatmeal||Soak overnight with water and a bit of apple cider vinegar to use as a Bircher Muesli base, or make fresh each morning. Add to ground meat for burgers, or meat loafs…Yes. Welcome back 1960.|
|Apples (any variety) and Banana’s||Green apples boost liver detoxification and mild cleansing, but any variety will add to your daily potassium intake, as will bananas. A crucial mineral for heart function and sodium balance.|
|Oranges||We all know their full of the lovely “C”, which is crucial to heart health as one of the body’s main antioxidants.|
|Cinnamon||Your sweet spice for use in oats, yogurt and basic french toast. Benefits blood sugar regulation.|
|Basil, oregano or dill||Your savory spice. Add one of the listed spices to main dishes, and salad dressings.|
|Curry powder or chili powder or cayenne||Your hot spice. Liven up main dishes, homemade hummus and your circulation!|
|Sea salt and whole black peppercorns||Buy one in a grinder and the other in bulk to save a little $, and swap them in/out before grinding.|
|Wheat germ, ground flax or LSA (Australia)||Store in cool dark areas (such as the fridge) to prevent rancidity. High in amino acids, heart healthy fats, vitamins and fiber. Again, a little goes a long way with these.|
|1 leafy green, and 1-2 “compact” greens (look for in season varieties or in store specials)||I.e. Red leaf lettuce for a daily salad, and broccoli and snow peas to use in stir fry, as a steamed side, or served raw with hummus.|
|Mixed frozen veggies||Save heaps on buying a bunch of individual produce items, and buy them pre-washed, pre-diced in the frozen section. Often packaged at the peak of freshness, don’t be afraid of frozen veggies, especially when on a budget.|
|Bulk carrots||One of the most reliably cheap veggies, and a fun one to grow yourself too! High in vitamin A and C to help keep your eyes, and body tissues healthy.|
|Another colorful veg. for steaming, sautéing or enjoying raw||I.e. Peppers, eggplant, yellow zucchini, tomatoes…ensuring you get a variety of exposure to the vitamins available in produce.|
|Avocados||You’d need only to read my last post on Avocado to know why this powerhouse appears on the list! Great on toast, in salads, or on top of vegetarian grain based dishes.|
|Green tea||Amp up your antioxidants, and spend less on coffee and its fixings!|
|Dried beans and legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils etc…)||Soak for 8-12 hours prior to cooking to speed cook time and soften and increase digestibility. Adds fiber for clean bowels, and satiety.|
|Dried whole grains.||Your staple instead of pasta. Soak for 6-8 hours prior to cooking, for same reasons as the dried beans and legumes. Soaking also increases the sacharride breakdown which helps the grain to taste naturally sweeter.|
|Whole grain or sourdough bread||Sourdough is made from naturally fermented dough, which improves its digestibility. Whole grain or whole wheat bread ensures you get the maximum compliment of vitamins and minerals inherent in a whole food. Buy fresh baked bread, or pick a packaged variety with less unpronounceable ingredients (i.e. preservatives).|
|Grainy mustard||Add to chopped egg for a basic egg salad, or add into a homemade oil and vinegar salad dressing. Mustard is high in lecithin, a phospholipid which is beneficial in reducing excess cholesterol.|
|Tomato sauce||Due to tomatoes high acid content, they can exacerbate the leaching of BPA from lined aluminum cans, therefore buy in a glass jar whenever possible.|
|Tinned tuna and/or salmon||Look for wild salmon when possible, and keep tuna intake to a max. of once per week.|
|Lean ground beef, chicken breast, fresh or smoked salmon||You can help meat provide more servings by adding beans or grains to your dishes.|
|Squashes and pumpkin||Steam, lightly boil or roast for some added vitamin A and C from these bright colored root vegetables.|
|Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and walnuts||These help with overall protein and heart health fat intake, as well as adding to your daily intake of zinc and iron-beneficial for immunity, skin health and energy production.|
|Natural peanut butter and/or almond butter||NOT sweetened! Mix the two together to double your nutrients and flavor per serving, and as almond butter is more expensive, but a far better health choice, this will help it to last longer.|
|Eggs||Poached or over easy is my preference for egg preparation (to maximize the lecithin in the yolks-see mustard), however eggs are a great protein source when hard boiled for salads or omelet’s.|
You’ll see a great deal of meal and snack ideas imbedded within “THE Why” column. This list provides you with ample ingredients to keep up some tried and true meal planning basics (sandwiches, stir fry’s etc…), but many of these ingredients can be used creatively in on-the-go bento boxes for lunch. Think: A few diced raw or steamed veggies, a hard boiled egg, a small serving of a whole grain mixed in with herbs/spices and a bit of oil, some raw nuts/seeds, and a piece of sliced fruit. Delic.
While I’m looking forward to adding to this list (and our pantry) as we get more settled into Melbourne, this guide has proven to me (twice now), it’s possible to eat well, be nourished and not blow your budget.