February 2020 Blog Posts
Eating on a Budget: Pantry Edition (aka “Use What You Have”)
Maybe cleaning out your pantry wasn’t one of your resolutions, but it can be a great way to save money. In fact, it's one of my top tips whenever I do an Eating on a Budget presentation or webinar. Now I don’t mean literally clean (although feel free to while you're there)—I mean use all the food you've got in there.
I've got it all—rice, beans pasta, veggies and sauces—bags, boxes, cans and jars galore. These typically pile up in my pantry because of impulse or well-intentioned purchases. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for stocking up on pantry staple goods when they're on sale. But at some point, you have to use them! If you're meal planning (my number one money-saving tip), odds are you have recipes to go with all those ingredients. If you aren't meal planning, you need to jump on that ASAP. For now, I'll just tackle the pantry and budget strategies that you can start using today.
First, let's talk staples.
Staples are the foundation of most meals—they're budget friendly and often nutritious to boot. They're also super helpful when pulling together a quick meal—but only if you have the right ones. You see, staples without a purpose are just ingredients.
Before I started meal planning, I just bought healthy staples, which were great BUT I could never seem to actually make something my family would eat. Whenever I'd see canned or dried beans go on sale, I would lose my mind a bit. Before I knew it, I had multiple cans or bags of every bean imaginable and they'd sit there and take up space until I could back into a way to use them. Some people invest in the stock market. Evidently I like to keep my money in beans.
Now, I stock up with purpose. I know my family loves chili, for example, so it's always safe to stock up on canned kidney beans and tomato sauce. Other ingredients, maybe not. Stocking the pantry has to have purpose, not just aspiration—otherwise you’ll end up with a full pantry you don’t want to use.
This is the part where we have to finally see what we have. Take an inventory of your pantry and identify all the good (and weird) stuff we’ve accumulated. Once this is done, get cracking on recipes that will use that packed pantry! Some recipe websites offer the option to search recipes by ingredient, which is so helpful for this purpose. On our website, click on "Savory" and use the search and filters to list ingredients you have on hand. Since it's cold outside, I searched for soup and set the filter for my ingredients: tomato, pasta, beans.
If you are looking to limit your search to more nutritious recipes, set the advanced filter to only show recipes with Guiding Stars. The more Guiding Stars, the healthier the recipe! Keep at it until you've found a use for most or all your ingredients. Once you're done, you've created your first meal plan! Review your recipes and ensure each meal is nice and balanced. Does it have veggies and protein? If not, add them! The only thing left to do is make a shopping list of the remaining items you need to complete each recipe.
My recipe search provided a lot of options—I settled on Bean and Veggie Minestrone Soup since it had 2 Guiding Stars. Soup is always a great option since it tends to be very forgiving when it comes to swapping or adding ingredients. All you need is bread to make it the perfect meal for shaking off the winter cold. And I had the ingredients in the pantry to make that as well. Yay!
Here's the ingredient list:Soup
Pantry: 1 can each of: cannellini beans, black beans, and diced tomatoes (20 oz); ¾ cup ditalini pasta
Pantry: potatoes (2), Italian seasoning (2 tablespoons), pepper to taste
Freezer: ½ bag each: kale, green beans
Fridge: sliced baby carrots (1 cup), parmesan cheese (to serve), beef bouillon (4 teaspoons)
Pantry: flour, yeast, salt
I basically started with 1 quart of stock and then added whatever I had in the pantry or fridge/freezer to make my minestrone. Seriously, that’s it. Think of it as liquid + veggies + pasta and you can't go wrong! I only stopped adding when my pot neared maximum capacity! Not so adventurous? I have a few recipes below to get you started.
- Chicken and Black Bean Chili with Corn or Four Can Chili
- Smokey Chipotle Chorizo and Black Bean Wild Rice Bake
- Pasta e Fagioli
- Pantry Pasta with Tuna and Peas
If you already have a lean pantry, let's talk about budget-friendly staples you should start stocking up on. I'm also expanding our pantry to include the freezer because this is where we can really save some money when it comes to produce. Remember to look for store brand options whenever possible. It’s the same quality but a better price!Best low-cost pantry staples:
- Fruits/Vegetables: Fresh, Frozen or Canned, all forms count! In the aisles, look for veggies that are low or no sodium, and fruits with no added sugars. In the freezer section, grab frozen fruits, vegetables, and vegetable mixes.
- Whole Grains/Starches: Oats, whole grain pasta, wild or brown rice, sweet potatoes
- Protein: Eggs, canned tuna or salmon, low-fat dairy, canned or dry beans/legumes, nuts/seeds in the shell
- Chicken, Beef, Vegetable broth/broth starters: Better than Bouillon, and low sodium is my go-to!
- Produce: Carrots, onions, celery (available frozen or buy fresh and freeze!) and garlic
- Baking Supplies: flour, yeast, baking soda, baking powder, and sugar
- Spices, Condiments and Oils: These will vary by families and their tastes. Keep olive oil and a vegetable oil or canola oil on hand – they are more heart-healthy than butter, coconut oil or shortening.
The best way to learn how to stock your pantry is to pull together all of your most frequently used recipes and make a list of all the shelf-stable or frozen items. If you are new to meal planning, search for recipes that include lower-cost staples! Using what you have on hand is the best way to eat on a budget, so make it your goal to do a "pantry cleanout" a few times a year and a fridge cleanout once a week!
Don’t forget to tag us with your pantry meal creations at #NutritionMadeEasy!
Mandy is a registered dietitian and in-store nutritionist for Giant Food who is passionate about showing people how to eat healthy (and deliciously) on a budget. As a mom of two teenage boys she knows firsthand how difficult it can be to stay on budget, keep it interesting, AND keep it healthy-ish. Let Mandy check the prices and create a plan that will satisfy your taste buds, wallet, and schedule. In her Heathy on a Budget series, she will convince you that it’s NOT “too expensive” to eat healthy.
3 Ways to Eat Heart-Healthy with Walnuts this Week
When you think about February, pink and red hearts on Valentine’s Day cards probably come to mind. But this festive time of year isn't just about the people you hold dear to your heart—it’s about your real heart, too! February is American Heart Month, a time to adopt heart-healthy* habits in order to help prevent heart disease.
Start by making simple changes to benefit your heart’s health for a lifetime. Commit to a healthier lifestyle, and encourage your loved ones to do the same! Small changes can have big effects, so one way to start is by incorporating walnuts into your daily meals.
The Power of Three
Omega-3s can support heart health and overall wellness. And California walnuts are the only tree nut with a significant source of ALA, the plant-based form of omega-3(2.5g per ounce). A quick rule of thumb? Start with three handfuls of walnuts a week to take advantage of all their goodness.
3 Heart-Healthy Recipes to Try
Not sure how to get started? Here are three ways to use California walnuts at home throughout the week. All of these recipes have earned the Heart-Check Mark from the American Heart Association, meaning they meet the criteria to be considered a heart-healthy recipe!
Break Out the Eggs
Eggs have always been a breakfast classic. But this week, set the pan aside and try something new with these Walnut & Oat Crusted Veggie Egg Cups. Presented in a convenient muffin-like style, these cups are full of flavor and easy to take on the go! The egg and veggie medley is seasoned with garlic, oregano and stone-ground Dijon mustard for a delicious and heart-healthy start to your day. Bonus tip: Make a large batch at the beginning of the week and store them for a grab-and-go morning meal!
Choose Walnuts at Lunch
Not feeling last night’s leftovers for lunch? Assemble this simple Power Up with Plants Protein Box for a midday recharge. Not only is it vegan, but it's no-cook, too. That means even the most novice chefs can tackle this recipe! Toasted crunchy walnuts, hummus and golden roasted chickpeas give you the nutrients you need to beat the afternoon slump. Pair your heart-healthy meal with a 15-minute walk on your lunch break for an extra serving of heart care!
Flavorful and Zesty Zoodles
After a busy day, putting together a healthy dinner can seem daunting, but this Teriyaki Pork & Walnuts Zoodle Bowl makes it simple. A colorful array of vegetables is flash-sautéed in sesame oil, giving this dish a delightful flavor. Garnished with green onions, the teriyaki pork is served atop a bed of nutrient-dense zucchini noodles in place of carb-heavy pasta. Plus, the whole dish comes together in about 35 minutes!
Show Your Heart Some Love
This February, celebrate the heart in all forms by taking steps toward a heart-healthy lifestyle. Next time you're looking for a quick snack or a delicious meal, lean on California walnuts. And help those you love take care of their tickers, too—let three friends know about the advantages of omega-3s and California walnuts! Your heart will thank you.
*Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. (FDA) One ounce of walnuts offers 18g of total fat, 2.5g of monounsaturated fat, 13g of polyunsaturated fat including 2.5g of alpha-linolenic acid – the plant-based omega-3.