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Today's Life Solutions / Mealtime /

Need a healthy meal idea? Just open the cupboard

August 1, 2013

(ARA) - Putting healthy, nutritious meals on the table for your family every day often feels daunting, but it can be as easy as opening your pantry. Even on busy nights, when you may be tempted to hit the drive-through, cooking at home with simple ingredients from your pantry is a more nutritious, cost-effective and quicker solution when dinnertime rolls around.

'Keeping your pantry stocked with basic, non-perishable items is an economic and easy way for families to put nutritious meals on the table every night,' says Dave Lieberman, chef and cookbook author of 'The 10 Things You Need To Eat: And More Than 100 Easy and Delicious Ways to Prepare Them.' 'My advice is to keep a running grocery list with you at all times, and when these pantry staple items are on sale, you can purchase them in bulk - ultimately helping you stretch your grocery dollar.'

All pantries should include the basics: pastas, corn starch, oil and flour, allowing you to put together family meals in a matter of minutes, but Lieberman says there are more essential, must-have items that no cupboard should be without. Here are some of his tips and tricks on stocking the perfect pantry.

Tip 1: Stock up on canned tomatoes.
Unlike fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes contain more nutrients and lycopene because they are pre-cooked, which enhances their nutritional content. Tomatoes have a unique flavor combination of sweet, savory and acidic all at the same time, making them a staple ingredient to cuisines around the world. Studies have shown that tomatoes may help reduce heart disease risk and protect against certain types of cancers. Lieberman recommends keeping cans of Del Monte Stewed Tomatoes on hand because they have a lot of the same vegetables he normally adds to his dishes, such as onions, celery and green peppers - the perfect base for any one-pot feast.

Tip 2: Lentils keep your family feeling full, longer.
Lentils are one of the highest-fiber foods in the world. They are also rich in protein, contain no cholesterol, and virtually no fat. The best, yet often overlooked solution for adding fiber to your diet comes in the form these disk-shaped earthy legumes. The fiber in lentils will keep your family feeling satisfied, helping to prevent late-night snacking on less nutritious foods. Not sure exactly how to use lentils? A delicious family-friendly recipe Lieberman suggests is his chicken and lentil quesadillas; simply substitute lentils for traditional refried beans and serve.

Tip 3: Nuts are the perfect pantry staple snack food.
Walnuts, almonds and peanuts are great items to have on hand at a moment's notice, especially when guests drop by unexpectedly. Nuts are loaded with heart-healthy fats and omega-3s. Studies have shown that four servings a week may lower your risk for heart disease. Lieberman relies on nuts for textural contrast, especially in salads, like his green mango salad. When you finely grind nuts, you get a rich creaminess you can actually use as a substitution for dry flour in many baking recipes.

Tip 4: Don't throw out leftovers.
Shelf-stable stocks and broths are inexpensive and add a lot of flavor to all kinds of dishes, from soups to sauces. They are also a great way to add robust flavor to bland or dried-out leftovers. In addition to using stocks and broths to add excitement to food, some other great items that you probably already have in your cupboard are:

* Black pepper. Most recipes call for a dash of salt and pepper. For bigger flavor, grind your own pepper from peppercorns rather than using pre-ground pepper.
* Salt. Keep different types of salt on hand to add unique flavors to your meals, like fine sea salt and kosher salt. Avoid using iodized table salt to flavor meals, because it's very easy to over-salt your dishes with it.
* Olive oil. In addition to its health benefits, such as lowering the risk of heart disease, olive oil is considered one of the 'healthy fats' you should eat. It is the perfect last-minute flavor for salads and soups. Extra virgin olive oil has the most flavor and is the least processed olive oil, meaning it's more pure; therefore, more heart healthy.
* Parmesan cheese. You'll find this ingredient in most recipes because it's delicious and lower in fat than other types of cheese. The best part? You don't need to add that much to your dish to experience the rich flavor it adds.

For more tips and recipe ideas from Lieberman about how to cook healthy and nutritious meals from your pantry, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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