A well-stocked kitchen can make the decision between cooking a healthy meal at home or running out for fast food or take-out. Here are some staples for the pantry that should always be on the grocery list and in your kitchen, so preparing snacks and planning meals is simple and convenient.
For the Refrigerator
Pre-cooked chicken and meats - already grilled or steamed. Ready to add to pasta, salads, stews, stir frys, and fajitas.
Pre-cut vegetables and fruits - found in the fresh produce section of supermarket. Veggies are perfect for stir frys and pastas. Fruits are ready for snacking, salads or smoothies.
Shredded cheeses - found in the cheese or deli section of supermarket. Great way to save time when making your favorite Italian and Mexican dishes.
Fresh dips and salsas - found in cheese and meat sections of supermarket. Can spice up sandwiches, raw vegetables, crackers, pasta, and baked potatoes. Store in freezer or refrigerator for last minute get-togethers, meals and snacks.
Pizza and bread dough - found in the freezer or refrigerator section of supermarket. Let each family member create their own meal with lots of healthy topping options.
Choose pasteurized, whole milk and dairy products for those under 5 years old. Some pediatricians say to cut back on whole milk products as young as 3 years old, and introduce low and skim milk options. Be sure to check dates on packages to be sure you're getting the freshest and longest lasting.
Yogurt - particularly plain yogurt which you can add your own fruit and purees. For those under one year, be sure the yogurt is made from whole milk and active cultures. Soy yogurt is an option for those who are lactose intolerant. Plain yogurt is also a good base for salad dressings, smoothies, sauces and a healthy alternative to sour cream for topping baked potatoes, and Mexican foods.
Milk - you may have a few different types of milk (whole, low fat and non-fat) for family members based on age and diet. Soy and rice milk are also good alternatives, especially for those with allergies and lactose intolerance. Have on hand for drinking, making smoothies and baking.
Cheeses - soft cream cheese makes great dips and spreads for all ages. Adding calcium to your family's diet is as easy as sprinkling fresh parmesan over pastas and vegetables. Cheddar cheese is always welcome for sandwiches and homemade macaroni and cheese. Cottage, ricotta and goat cheeses can be part of a healthy meal or snack. Pre-shredded and grated cheeses are very convenient for Italian and Mexican favorites.
Eggs - eggs can make all kinds of quick meals by themselves - omelets, egg salad, frittatas and quiches. Some kids think "breakfast for dinner" is a fun family meal. Choose cage free and organic for the least exposure to harmful bacteria.
For the Freezer
Fresh is usually best for taste and nutrients, however frozen can be convenient stand-by. Frozen items such as peas and blueberries make convenient finger foods for older babies and toddlers. Frozen poultry, meats and fish will create all kinds of meals.
Don't forget to use the freezer for left-overs and storage to create your own convenient "frozen dinners". Your baby's purees, as well as sauces and broths store beautifully in ice cube trays and zip top bags.
For the Pantry
Bread, grains and pastas are good sources of carbohydrates that can be the basis for a quick and healthy meal. Some dried beans and legumes require more cooking time and preparation but are economical and healthy.
Pasta - this can be any shape or size, so you're ready to make spaghetti, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, udon, and soups. Best choices are egg-less noodles for those under 12 months and wheat semolina for those over 12 months.
Dried Grains - these include couscous, quinoa, polenta and risotto. These make good side dishes to meats and fish dishes as well as appropriate main dish with steamed vegetables or stews. A good staple for Indian and Mediterranean dishes.
Beans and legumes - these include lentils, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, and white beans. You're prepared for healthy dips such as hummus and black bean, as well as side dishes, soups and salads.
Breads - including pita, multi-grain, lavosh, bagels, and tortillas. Different breads allow for various stuffings. Create healthy pizzas, burritos, wraps, sandwiches and more.
Rice - infant rice for first meals and to mix in with vegetable and fruit purees. Brown rice makes a good and healthy companion for Asian stir fry, and Mexican dishes.
Dried fruits - these are great healthy snacks alone, as well as good mix-ins for yogurt, granola, oatmeal, and cottage cheese.
Breakfast cereals - these include muesli, granola, low sugar cereals, oat bran, wheat germ, and oatmeal. It's also easy to make your own cereal mix by simply combining your favorite grains such as rolled oats, toasted wheat germ, and oat bran with dried fruit.
Canned and Jarred Foods
Some canned foods are high in fat, sodium and sugar, but many are also high in nutritional value. Check the labels to identify those with the least additives. These include: light tuna in water, organic natural nut butters, all-fruit spread, beans, and tomatoes. Be sure to thoroughly rinse canned beans and vegetables to eliminate extra sodium and oils. Remember low sodium broths and stocks for poaching and boiling meats and vegetables, as well as creating your own soups.
Condiments and Spices
A good supply of bottled sauces, condiments, oils, herbs and spices will allow for lots of creativity. Ingredients such as naturally brewed soy sauce, mustards, ketchup, salad dressings, tomato paste, and Worcheshire give flavor to many dishes as well as create many dips and sandwich spread options.
Use healthy oils such as olive and canola for cooking and baking as well as preparing dressings and marinades. Vinegars such as balsamic are also a good way to add flavor. Remember to refrigerate after opening.
Herbs and spices are best when fresh, but even dried can wake-up a boring food. If possible buy whole herbs and grind them yourself (a clean coffee grinder works well) for maximum flavor.