As we head into early spring, March is the perfect opportunity to clean out your kitchen cupboards and start fresh by stocking your shelves with a vibrant selection of wholesome foods. If you are one of those people that aim to eat healthier but fall into the mid-week “rut” of not knowing what to make for dinner or pack for lunch, then check out the following suggestions below to get started:
Get your grains and legumes — dried beans, lentils, and whole grains like quinoa, couscous, or barley have a lengthy shelf life and provide an economically friendly source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Plan ahead when cooking with whole grains, as some require long cooking times, while beans will cook faster if soaked overnight. Quinoa can be cooked in less than thirty minutes and made into a side salad, grilled patties, or added to soups or wraps. Try a non-traditional spin on oats by making a savory oatmeal with sautéed veggies, garlic, and olive oil, or use uncooked rolled oats to coat baked chicken rather than breadcrumbs. Beans are rich in fiber and can be used as the protein base in soups, chili, spreads and dips, burgers, and more.
Keep your produce fresh — Try shopping only for fruits and vegetables that you know you will eat or cook with that week to prevent spoilage and wasted dollars, and shop in season. Keep a supply of antioxidant-packed yellow onions and garlic bulbs on hand — they serve as a flavor staple in many recipes and will last for weeks in the fridge. If stocking up, berries, kale, spinach, and peeled bananas freeze well.
Go lean with protein — Buy chicken or turkey when on sale and freeze until ready to cook. Both are lean sources of protein. Tofu is a vegetarian protein source and rich in phytochemicals (plant compounds) that help prevent cancer and boost heart health. Tofu keeps for several weeks unopened in the fridge, and tends to take on the flavor of anything it’s cooked with, making it a versatile source of protein. Try scrambling with veggies and salsa, or using in smoothies, dips, curry or Asian dishes.
Stock up on spices — hit the bulk section for a variety of cooking spices. Cooking spices not only add flavor, color, and aroma to meals, but provide a host of benefits to the body in their whole form. Oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme go well with Italian dishes. Dried bay leaves add flavor and balance to soups. Dill goes well with tuna, baked fish, and Greek dishes. Try turmeric for curry dishes or with scrambled eggs or a chicken marinade. Cinnamon, cloves, and allspice pair well with baked goods, oatmeal, Cajun and Southern style foods. Cumin is a common ingredient found in many recipes to season soups, meats, sauces, or Mexican foods.
Up your nut intake — unsalted nuts make a great snack choice or salad topper in lieu of chips or crackers, as they’re packed with heart healthy fats, fiber and protein. Nuts and nut butters will keep for weeks in a sealed jar.
Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN, is a diabetes educator with Kootenai Health and graduate of the University of Idaho Dietetics Program.