A well-stocked pantry can save you time, effort, and a nosedive into a frozen pizza, says Greta Podleski, who co-authored the bestselling cookbook Eat, Shrink & Be Merry and co-hosts the Food Network Canada show of the same name with her sister, Janet Podleski. Follow these steps to clear out the old and bring in the nutritious.
Purge your stores
Good intentions don't feed the family, so dump the rice cakes and ancient truffle honey that are gathering dust like museum artifacts. Those glass jars of dried lentils look pretty - but you might actually cook the more convenient canned variety. Check the labels of remaining items for their nutritional values, paying attention to sugar and sodium content, and toss anything that's out of bounds. Ms. Podleski says she was shocked to discover what made her former brand of barbecue sauce so delicious: "I was basically taking my chicken breast and rolling it around in sugar."
Know what you need
You know canned tomatoes are handy, but what about the other 10 ingredients you need to make a soup? Before you replenish your reserves, create a master list of nourishing meals to have in rotation, with an emphasis on those that can be made in advance or pulled together quickly. Check the recipes for common ingredients that can be bought in bulk and stock your pantry in one shopping trip, replenishing items as they go on sale. "The number one problem people face is that they're not prepared," says Ms. Podleski. "They don't have the recipe they want to make and therefore don't have the ingredients to make it."
Identify your staples
Take note of which foods have the highest turnover rate. Ms. Podleski's core pantry items include unsweetened oatmeal, tomato sauce, canned wild salmon for sandwiches and casseroles, and beans for soups, chili and salads. "All of my pastas are whole grain. They taste so much better then they did five, 10 years ago," she says. "And I always keep chicken and vegetable broth in my cupboard. They go on sale about once a month, and they can last for a year."
The high-protein seed quinoa, which she purchases in "huge bags at Costco" for $8.99 apiece, is another pantry staple. "Some people complain that quinoa is expensive, and it sure is compared to rice, but it has much more nutritional value," she says. "You can look at it as a substitute for meat."
Add a few treats
Once you've covered the basics, you might indulge in a few delicacies to enliven meals, such as a flavoured vinegar. The trick is to have a specific recipe in mind before you give an ingredient precious cupboard space. (Back away from the truffle honey.) Ms. Podleski has collected enough spices to fill a large slide-out drawer. "It's a great gift to give someone for about five dollars," she says, "because when you have spices on hand, cooking from scratch starts to become second nature."
Her latest must-have is avocado oil. "I use it all the time. It has a high smoke point and is good for cooking, as well as salad dressings. You can't find it in all grocery stores yet, but it's worth going to a gourmet shop. It's so yummy."
And don't do this … Banish all goodies.
Keep one frozen pizza on hand - for your weekly splurge.
Eat, Shrink & Be Merry airs Friday nights at 7 p.m., ET 4 p.m. PT on Food Network Canada.
Special to The Globe and Mail