Peeking into a Chef’s Pantry Staples

You may already know that Shopping Matters helps families select the best ingredients for healthy, affordable meals. The tour also guides participants in how to build a pantry that facilitates and inspires meals.

Recent data shows that the average American wastes $1,200 in food each year. That’s equivalent to nine months of average SNAP benefits for one person. A well-stocked pantry gives a cook the tools they need to enhance their perishable products with pantry staples, turning a scattered group of ingredients into a well balanced and tasty meal. Having this knowledge limits food waste and helps get more out of your food dollar.

As a chef, I look to my pantry as an essential part of each meal. Here are some examples of some ingredients I like to keep on hand. Throughout the post there are Cooking Matters recipes to illustrate how we use them in class and at home!

Whole grains and legumes: Vegetables that are close to expiration can be chopped, diced and added to your grain of choice. They also help stretch ingredients that may be more expensive like fresh produce. Some common grains we use in our classes: whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quick-cooking barley and rolled oats.

Dried fruit and nuts: These will help add natural sweetness, texture and protein to dishes. Try throwing raisins, almonds or walnuts to make a plain yogurt parfait for breakfast, to give a kick to salads or to add crunch to sautéed greens- or eat them straight out of the pantry for a quick snack!

Baking products: Need to use over-ripe apples? Prepare a home-made breakfast? Keeping basic ingredients like flour, baking soda and sugar stored properly in your pantry can help transform one ingredient into a complete dish.

Dried herbs and spices: Have no fear, there is lots of flavor here!!! Buy and use liberally the herbs and spices that you love. They’re a great way to add lots of flavor to food without additional salt. Buy in bulk when you can to save money on large quantities or experiment with a smaller quantity of something new. To start, try salt, black pepper, oregano, Italian seasoning blend, ground cinnamon, rosemary, and crushed red pepper.

Dried and canned beans: Beans are a great source of lean, affordable protein and can help stretch a dish. Add them to rice, salads and soups to get more bang and nutrition from your cooking and dollars!

Canned tomato products: Diced tomatoes or paste add great flavor to sauces that can be used for pasta, pizza or soups while increasing daily vegetable consumption.

Oils, vinegars and condiments: Healthy fats are important for sautéing, dressing salads or raw vegetables and baking. Invest in olive oil for dressings and canola oil for cooking.

Vinegars and condiments, like Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar, are great for quick, homemade salad dressings and marinades for protein and vegetables (Moroccan Carrot Salad). Or to brighten up a soup that might be otherwise screaming for salt! With these basic ingredients, you can add, adapt and create flavors to familiar dishes to make them your own. The possibilities are endless.

What are some of your pantry staples? Happy shopping!




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