This is a post from NF Rebel Chef Noel.
Ever get to the store and think to yourself, “I have no clue what I’m doing here”?
It’s okay. We’ve all been there!
Buying food can be totally overwhelming. Every aisle is packed with different brands, fresh and frozen foods, and packaged and processed crap.
We’ve all wandered up and down the aisles wondering: What’s healthy? What types of food will last the longest? What tastes good? Which items are the best bang for my buck? And let’s not even mention what choices we need to make to put together an actual meal.
We don’t want you to feel overwhelmed or waste your time and hard earned money on stuff that sucks. A negative experience at the grocery store can leave a bad taste in your mouth (zing!) and discourage you from going back and developing a key skill to keep yourself healthy and strong.
That’s why we’ve decided to simplify the whole process. It’s time to introduce the Nerd Fitness Pantry.
What is the Pantry?
Think of the NF pantry as your arsenal of weapons and supplies you keep with you on your journey.
These items are mostly nonperishable (or at least can be stored for some time). Some of them have a higher cost up front, but will likely last you a while and will be instrumental to leveling up your paleo cooking game.
Each item you’ll be gathering on your grocery store mission is like a tool used during questing for one or more purposes. Think of coconut oil like the hook shot in Ocarina of Time: it’s going to take some effort (and real-life rupees) to obtain, but after you have it, you’ll be using it all the time.
Others items are like potions, great to keep around in case of emergency (like if you didn’t have time to cook before work).
A dragon slayer would never head into battle empty handed, so why would you attempt to tackle your diet goals blindfolded with one hand tied around your back? If you try to do that, you’re gonna have a bad time. This list of items will make sure you’re heading out on your quest fully prepared to deal with any hunger dragons or low blood sugar goblins that might cross your path.
Let’s be honest, life often gets in the way of our efforts to be healthy. Stocking up on a strong paleo pantry is the best way to consistently eat healthy, and to protect yourself against bad days.
The first step in setting up a healthy/paleo pantry is cleaning out your old pantry. Womp womp. This will probably be the least fun part of the job, but once you get over the cleaning hump, it’s smooth sailing.
Turn up your favorite record, grab a trash bag and a donation box, and let’s get started.
If you’re anything like me, you might have a TON of unhealthy food in your pantry. That’s okay! Getting rid of all that stuff will be a HUGE step in the right direction.
1) If you have food that’s expired, make sure to toss it out. I know it feels wasteful to throw a dozen cans of expired cream corn away, but if you didn’t eat them before they expired in 1987, you’re never going to eat them. Be honest with yourself.
2) If you have unhealthy food items that aren’t expired, you can donate them to a local food bank. This is an opportunity to help others in need AND make yourself stronger! Double hero points!! If you’re not sure how to donate, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a directory where you can find a food bank in your town!
Now, many of us aren’t alone in our living situations. Maybe you live with a bunch of other people, like a significant other, family or roommates, and you share a storage space. Before diving in alone, ask your house mates if they might want to pitch in and help go through the food in the pantry. If your roomie is also interested in improving their health, setting up a new pantry can be beneficial for everyone involved!
However, if your house mates aren’t interested, ask if you can clear one shelf, cabinet, or other space for just your stuff. Having unhealthy food items in your kitchen might be tough willpower-wise (not being able to force yourself to have to go all the way to the store to buy Oreos when you’re feeling weak) – but trust me, it IS doable! If you have your own designated space where just YOUR stuff is being stored, it can help keep your willpower bar in good shape!
Remember: Only the stuff on your shelf is food. Everything else is poison. Or lava. Probably lava.
Stocking Your Pantry
Here begins the list of items you’ll want to gather to stock your pantry. Before you look at this list and get overwhelmed, these are only suggested items (quick-reference cheat sheet located at the end of this section!).
If you see things on this list that you don’t/won’t eat, don’t buy them. Buy from this list as the items will fit into your life.
Since we’re thinking about our pantry as a weapons arsenal, it makes more sense to gather items you’re going to use regularly. If you’re a warrior who specializes in melee weapons, it makes more sense to purchase a battle axe next time you’re at the market rather than a quiver of arrows if you don’t use a bow.
Level 1 of the pantry are items we strongly suggest you purchase in case of emergency. If you have these items with you, you’ll have a WAY higher chance at sticking to your diet goals.
- Canned tuna or chicken: Keeping cans of tuna in your pantry is awesome because they’re a quick protein packed snack that you can put together in less that 5 minutes (mash it with avocado) or toss your bag if you don’t have lunch prepped for work. If you’re weary of tuna, they also make canned salmon, but that can be significantly more pricey.
- Cooking oils (choose one):
- olive oil – If multiple oil options intimidate you, just pick up some olive oil and don’t look back. It’s good for dressings and adding to vegetables. However, olive oil is not great for cooking at high temperatures (searing, sauteing, or stir frying) since it has a low smoke point 325-375°F/165-190°C. For that, pick up some vegetable oil!
- coconut oil – Many stores give you the option of choosing either “virgin” or “refined” coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil will be less processed, but it will have more coconut flavor. Refined coconut oil is processed, which means it has little to no coconut flavor (cooking veggies and meats in virgin coconut oil is not ideal for folks who don’t like the flavor of coconut. If this is you, choose refined coconut oil!). Coconut oil also has a low smoke point of 325-375°F/165-190°C.
- ghee – Ghee is butter that has the heat-sensitive milk proteins cooked out of it. This means not only does it have a high smoke point of 482°F/250 °C, but it is also nice for people who are sensitive to dairy proteins and lactose.
- Spices: You will want to add some flavors to your pantry. Check out our spices article.
- Emergency protein: When you get used to cooking and doing food prep regularly, you’ll be in the habit of rotating meat in and out of your freezer according to what you’ll be eating that week. In the beginning however, it’s nice to have a bag of frozen chicken breasts or a couple of steaks, pork chops, hamburger patties, or fish handy, just in case you don’t make it to the grocery store. Honestly, I’ve been doing this for a couple of years and I’m still not great at prioritizing my time. Nobody’s perfect. That’s why we plan ahead. You’ll thank your past self for thinking of future you ahead of time!
- Frozen Veggies: This is an in-case-of-emergency food. Choose your favorites! I like to keep brussels sprouts in my freezer, because I LOVE this recipe. Steamfresh veggies are a favorite among Team NF. Easy to prepare and grab on the way to work. If you’re a veggie prep newbie, frozen veggies might be your gateway to learning to include vegetables at every meal.
- Nut Butter(s): cashew or almond. Makes for an awesome snack (make ants on a log or dip apples in it) when you’re craving something sweet or crunchy. It’s also a good addition to some sauces (thai curry or “peanut” sauce).
- Sweet potatoes – did you know you’re not supposed to keep these in the fridge?
Had a rough day? Just heat up some veggies or slice and roast some potatoes, and eat alongside your emergency protein. Quick, easy, delicious. That’s level 1 – the basics.
Level 2 includes some additional items great to keep around, many of which are going to be essential in any basic recipe you put together:
- Nuts (choose your favorite)- Walnuts, almonds, cashews, or pecans are all good choices. Nuts are nice to have around the house for an emergency snack, or to add to your cooking.
- Canned/jarred/boxed tomatoes (diced): – Look for bpa-free cans. Tomatoes are a staple for a variety of different dishes. Whether you’re making curry, soup, or paleo spaghetti, it’s nice to know you have tomatoes on hand.
- Tomato Paste: Tomato paste adds an extra umami kick to dishes. We use it in paleo spaghetti, shepherd’s pie, and sometimes even tacos. It’s generally pretty cheap and comes in cans or a resealable squeeze tube.
- Boxes of beef, chicken, or vegetable broth: Again, awesome for when you’re making soup, a roast, cauliflower mash, marinades, etc. It’s also good for warming up and drinking when you’re not feeling well. Bonus points if you make your own bone broth and freeze it. Knowing you have some on hand when you need it is priceless. Just be sure to check the labels.
- Coconut Aminos – I grew up putting soy sauce in everything: soups, sauces, marinades, stews, on rice…later I found out I was allergic to soy. Bummer, dude. Coconut aminos are a great alternative to soy sauce, especially if you’re keen on making Asian dishes. Admittedly, it’s significantly more expensive, so I’ve learned to use it more sparingly now. Coconut aminos are also generally gluten-free, which is nice for those of you who have allergies to gluten (soy sauce is not GF, sadly). Just be sure to read the label.
- Cans/boxes of coconut milk: Awesome for adding creaminess to recipes, mashed “potatoes” (cauliflower or sweets), cream sauces, in coffee, smoothies, etc. Basically anything you would use milk for, replace with coconut milk.
- Vinegar (choose one): Acids are a staple for adding complexity to dishes as well as cutting heat and bitterness. They also allow you to make a simple dressing for salad and vegetables and interesting asian sauces.
- red wine
- apple cider
- Mayo: Some folks are obsessed with paleo mayo. If this is you, please explain the obsession to me. Apparently it makes delicious sauces. The best way is to make it yourself, but if you’re not into that, the best brand I’ve found is Lemonaise. They use cage free eggs to make it. Unfortunately, it also contains canola oil, which is not ideal, but when you’re buying more processed foods, sometimes we have to compromise.
- Lemons or limes: Another acid option for adding to cooked and raw veggies, sauces, and even baked chicken or fish. Adding lemon to still or sparkling water can also be pretty refreshing if you get tired of regular ol’ water.
Now, we know this list is pretty paleo-focused, but not all of us Rebels are strict paleo. That’s totally fine. If you’re just beginning your transition, paleo-ish, vegetarian, or following an 80/20 system, here are a few items you can add to your pantry that will help you out too!
- Canned beans – Yep, we’re cool with legumes. Especially if you’re a vegetarian. They’re pretty darn protein-dense (though carb-heavy) for a plant-based food.
- White rice – Some of us need more carbs to hit our macros and help us build muscle. Those of us who are working out a lot (crossfit, frequent heavy lifting, HIIT) might need more carbohydrates to keep up with our activity level and keep our body fueled for the next workout. White rice is super cheap, easy to keep on hand, stays good pretty much forever, and is quick to cook and add to any meal.
- Quinoa – Another grain that packs some significant protein. If you’re a vegetarian, quinoa is something easy to make that you can keep on hand. Similar to rice, it’s pretty shelf stable.
- Protein powder – this includes whey, egg, hemp, etc. If you’re looking to pack on muscle, sometimes eating 100% whole foods is a full time job. Adding protein shakes into your diet can help you get enough protein to build muscle and strength.
Remember, these items have been hand selected by our super hero team to give you a solid, healthy base to work off of for almost any meal. Need a snack? Grab some carrots and nut butter. Looking for a quick, no fuss meal? Grab a couple cans of tuna and a bag of frozen steamable veggies. Dinner in less than 5 minutes flat.
You can download our quick reference sheet pictured below, HERE! (right click save as).
Remember, you don’t have to buy these things just because we tell you to! Question everything! If there’s something you don’t think you’ll need or you don’t like, don’t buy it.
Remember, this is your every day arsenal as well as your emergency supply. Keeping a clean, well-stocked pantry and freezer not only keeps you from having your trigger foods in the house, but you’ll always know you have a healthy snack at home (or something to grab on the go) and you’ll be able to keep track of the basic foundational ingredients for recipes that you have at your disposal on any given day. If you have these 15 items in your home, I guarantee you can whip something up for dinner without having to think too hard.
What items in your pantry or freezer can you not live without?
Are there any items you couldn’t find in the store or things you’re not sure how to use? Let us know in the comments!