Healthy eating starts in the kitchen: A Dietitian’s kitchen staples

By guest blogger Stephanie Savio BNutDiet (Hons), APD, AN
Twitter: @onesavvysteph

I never realised what an Aladdin’s cave my Mum’s pantry was until I moved out of home recently to find myself staring at my own empty shelves and feeling a bit like Old Mother Hubbard.

Making healthy, balanced meals in a busy life and on a tight budget can be challenging enough at the best of times.  I don’t know about you, but I have quickly found that a well-stocked kitchen can get you halfway there.  It provides the tools you need to create balanced, healthy meals in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines right at your fingertips.

And to all the students and recent nest-flyers out there, never fear:  you can stock your healthy kitchen on the cheap, I promise.  For those who have been out of the nest for years, a regular clear out and reorganisation of kitchen and pantry stores is a great way to streamline and simplify your kitchen like a Masterchef, and maybe even rediscover old ingredients you’ve forgotten you had.  Ultimately, good stores will help us be healthier, more efficient consumers, which means less food waste and a more economical diet too.  Mamma would be proud.


Here are 15 staples to start off any healthy kitchen:

Olive Oil and/or Olive Oil Spray
Thanks to Lynn Field for clearing up the myths about fats in her post last month.  Olive oil is low in saturated fats and a good source of monounsaturated fats, which are great for heart health.  Oils like a light flavoured olive or canola are good all-purpose oils and make a better choice than butter, palm or coconut oils for cooking.

Beans, Lentils or Chickpeas (canned or dried)
The recent review of the Australian Dietary Guidelines showed that Aussies just aren’t getting their dose of legumes and beans.  These foods are such great sources of fibre and protein and they’re also super cheap.  They make a great standby to add protein to any meal like soups, salads or sides as a substitute to other protein sources such as meat, fish, chicken or eggs.
Just half a cup of these babies, cooked or canned, will give you one serve towards your recommended 5 vegetables serves per day.

Tinned Tomatoes and Tomato paste
Perfect for adding homely richness to meals and a good dose of the antioxidant lycopene to your diet.  Half a cup of cooked tomato will add another serve towards your recommended 5 serves of vegetables per day.

Instant Brown Rice
With more fibre than white rice, brown rice is always a winner to keep you full and to maintain good bowel health.  A quick alternative is 90-second instant brown rice, and contains no less goodness than the slow cooked stuff.  Check the label – varieties with no added salt or fat are the best bets.

Canned Tuna or Salmon
An excellent standby protein source which also provides a bunch of good fats, tinned tuna and salmon make for easy lunches, additions to salads, cous cous and pasta dishes.  Varieties canned in spring water are the best choices for those watching their weight.

Stock or Stock Cubes
Simply put, stock can go in just about everything and can last for a long time unopened in the pantry, or as stock cubes.  Choosing reduced salt varieties and reading the label to find the brand with the lowest mg of sodium per 100ml is a great strategy for making a good choice at the supermarket.

Rolled Oats
These little powerhouses make perfect breakfast fodder as porridge or as untoasted muesli when mixed with dried fruit and nuts and topped with skim milk or yoghurt.  Yum.
Oats are also a brilliant source of soluble fibre and B vitamins so they will keep you full and going ‘til lunchtime.  Their beta glucan content also means they are a good choice for those wanting to lower their cholesterol, as this type of soluble fibre can help with reabsorption (or lowering) of “bad” LDL-cholesterol.

Ideal for quick and simple meals, thanks to its neat molecular structure, even white pasta has a low GI, which means slower release of energy.  Half a cup of cooked pasta makes up one serve towards the 6 serves of grains recommended for a 19-50 year old man or woman per day.

Cous Cous
Made from semolina (tiny granules of durum wheat), cous cous is another quick carbohydrate addition that can be bought cheaply in bulk and stores well for eons in the pantry.  Great as a side or in salads.

Onion and Garlic
Essentials in almost every dish and best stored in a dry, dark place at room temperature and with ample air flow, these will keep for a couple of months.

Herbs and Spices
Aromatic and pungent, adding different herbs and spices to meals is a great way to add flavour and it reduces the need to add salt to our cooking.  Basics like black pepper have a place in every house, but your stores will vary depending on what cuisines wriggle themselves most frequently into weekly mealtimes.  If you prefer a Mediterranean flavour, staples might include dried oregano, bay leaves, chili flakes, paprika, fennel seeds, cumin and tumeric, whereas households with Asian favourites often can’t live without dried coriander, ginger, lemongrass and reduced-salt soy, oyster and fish sauces.

The best part is most of these herbs and spices are great sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals. You can read more about phytochemicals in one of our previous blogs.

Frozen Vegetables
Let’s stop for a second and dispel the myth that fresh is better than frozen.  Technological advances have meant that veggies are snap frozen to prevent any nutrient losses, and may even come to you fresher than the produce on your supermarket shelves.  Useful additions to the freezer are peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and stir-fry mixes for a quick and affordable way to get our intakes up towards those recommended 5 serves/day.

Choosing a wide variety of coloured fruits is a delicious way to get lots of different vitamins and minerals into your diet.  Buying fruits that are in season is not only environmentally responsible, but also easier on the hip pocket.  Equally, frozen berries or tinned fruit in natural juices are a great option to have in your stores and can give you just as much nutrition as the fresh stuff.
Two serves of fruit every day is what the doctor ordered.  A serve is 1 medium piece or 2 small pieces of fresh fruit, or one cup of chopped or canned fruit.

Frozen Lean Meat, Fish and Chicken
Remember how mum bought enough meat to feed an army when it was on special and froze it for a rainy day?  She was on to something.  It’s a great way to save pennies.  We don’t need a lot – 2.5 serves per day of meat, fish, chicken or alternatives for women (19-50 years old), and 3 serves per day for men (19-50 years old).  A serve is 65g of cooked red meat, 80g of cooked chicken or 100g of cooked fish.

These foods are brilliant sources of iron, zinc and vitamin B12.  Red meat in particular is high in iron and we know that on average, children and young women don’t get enough red meat in our diet.  So girls, stock up those freezers to help keep iron stores high and fatigue at bay.

Low Fat or Skim Milk and Yoghurt
Always in the fridge, milk, yoghurt and cheese are rich sources of calcium and other minerals, protein and vitamins, including B12.  These foods can help us maintain stronger bones and research shows that consuming milk, yoghurt and cheese can also protect us against heart disease and stroke, reduce our risk of high blood pressure and some cancers and may reduce our risk of Type 2 Diabetes.  Phew, that’s one hard working food group!  Low fat or skim choices are the preferred choice for most of us over the age of two.

For those who prefer to avoid dairy products, choosing soy alternatives is A-OK.  Choosing brands that are fortified with calcium is essential for bone health (at least 100mg calcium per 100ml) and, of course, opting low fat or skim varieties for a happy heart.

So, what’s in your fridge?
What are your kitchen staples?  What gets you through the week?  This is by no means an exhaustive list and I look forward to taking a peak in your kitchen cupboards so I can improve my own stash!

Take picture of your pantry and tweet to @Helpp_Flinders or give us a shout out on Facebook and tell us what pantry or fridge/freezer items you can’t live without.

Tell me more…
If you would like to find out more about the recently updated Australian Dietary Guidelines, including recommended serves of different foods, take a squiz at the website:

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