Scanning the kitchen cupboards for inspiration when you’re trying to follow that new healthy diet can be a pretty painful experience. How can you possibly make your meals tasty while sticking to all of those clean eating rules, right? It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot – “But, what do you put on your food then?” This usually comes accompanied by a look of desperation with a side of suspicion; perhaps I am privy to a secret that they’ve missed out on. Well, the short answer is, I do have some tricks of my own, developed throughout years of healthy eating and helping others to do the same. These are a few of our healthy eating staples; some obvious, some obscure. This is how to stock a healthy pantry for faster, stress-free, nutritious food prep.
How to Stock a Healthy Pantry
Herbs, Spices and Flavours
We use Himalayan sea salt (you can go for Celtic, kosher or whatever floats your boat) on everything from our morning eggs for breakfast, to season our dinners, a pinch in home-made chocolate (recipe coming soon), or sprinkled over salads. We add a pinch into our water as Himalayan sea salt is said to have a great trace mineral profile which could help balance your electrolyte levels, lost during exercise or excessive sweating. The salt in the water will also encourage you to drink more by increasing your thirst. Having sea salt in the kitchen means you can mix up a home-made body scrub whenever you need to. Simply add a tablespoon or two to your oil of choice (I generally use coconut oil), throw in a couple of drops of essential oils (lavender or peppermint are both great options) et voila – instant body scrub.
Flavoured salt is a big personal favourite. It can lift most simple dishes from fish to meats to a wedge of fresh of avocado as a snack. You can buy a ready-made flavoured salt, or make your own depending on your palette. We love chilli salt (on everything), rosemary salt (think roast chicken) and lemon salt (for fish, chicken and summer salads).
Ground organic black pepper is a must to give both our food and metabolism a kick.
Turmeric is one of those wonderful spices. Whether you travel a lot, you are stressed, you suffer from an autoimmune disease or you simply like to nourish from the inside out, turmeric should become a healthy pantry essential. It’s the curcumin in the spice that might help to ease inflammatory symptoms. The spice itself has a warming and slightly bitter taste, so for something that is cheap and inoffensive flavour-wise, it is worth adding to curries, a turmeric spiced latte or smoothie or even sprinkling on your scrambled eggs. Beware the yellow colouring stains very quickly and easily so be careful to wipe down bench tops, wash blenders and cups as soon as they are marked.
Cinnamon just smells like a winter holiday. It tends to add a little magic to my smoothies, home-made chocolate, overnight oats and I will also add some to my coffee for a delicious twist. Some studies have shown that cassia cinnamon may help with blood sugar regulation, so what better reason for diabetics, those with insulin resistance issues or those trying to lose weight to try it.
I never used to be a curry person but since including more warming foods into my diet to help with gut healing, curry is a regular weekly or bi-weekly meal and it is something I whip up before I jump on a plane to give my gut a healing head start. Curry paste can be a challenge for those on a low FODMAP diet. There are a few organic curry pastes around without garlic, onion and other no-go ingredients, but if in doubt, buy straight curry powder and add a little sea salt and olive oil or ghee in yourself and it’s almost as good. Beware when choosing a curry paste as some will contain sugars, additives or lots of sunflower oil. Go for a simple organic spice mix without the nasties.
Who could live life without vanilla? Not me, that’s for sure. Vanilla adds a little sunshine to a every meal and it is thought to be antioxidant-rich too, so that’s a pretty handy bonus, I say. I use vanilla almost daily in smoothies, when baking, a little drop can make a coffee taste indulgent without the sugar, add it to home-made chocolate or protein balls. The list is endless. Make sure you buy an organic, sugar-free vanilla extract or use vanilla beans or bean powder (again, check for sure). If you are using the extract in raw dishes, opt for an alcohol-free brand as the alcohol is only burned off during the cooking process.
Chilli powder, chilli flakes, fresh chilli and chilli oil are always a part of our cooking routine. A little is often added to marinades, when serving cooked meals, thrown into sauces or used as a garnish.
Raw cacao powder is an ingredient that we use in smoothies, baked goods and even simply with a little warm water and stevia as a hot chocolate alternative in winter. Raw cacao doesn’t have the sweetness that chocolate or cocoa can have so be prepared for its bitter taste. It does not taste like a highly processed and sweetened chocolate bar, but the health benefits are much greater.
Peppermint essence is one of those cheeky ingredients many overlook but it can be so powerful. We use peppermint essence and orange essence in sweet dishes, from protein balls to chocolate truffles and much more. Try our Chocolate Peppermint Protein Balls recipe and you will be hooked too.
Terrible name, great ingredient. A bag of nutritional yeast can be found in most vegans’ healthy pantry shelves as it’s a great alternative to cheese. It has a nutty, cheesy flavour while being dairy-free. It is rich in folate, protein, zinc and B vitamins, particularly B-12 which is important for vegetarians, who can be lacking. A little goes a long way, so start with a teaspoon and see how you go with the flavour. We add nutritional yeast to our Chicken Balls, soups, home-made popcorn, cauliflower bites, mashed sweet potato and meat-based sauces. The kids shouldn’t even taste it if you only add a sprinkle.
Stevia is one of those divisive ingredients. Who’s kidding who? It does not taste like cane sugar. I have friends who love stevia and others who simply can’t stand it. When buying Stevia, make sure you are buying simple stevia in its more organic form – it should still be green (unbleached) and not mixed with other synthetic sweeteners. If you can’t do stevia, rice malt syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup might be for you. Just remember they have different names and different fructose to glucose profiles but they are still all sugars and should be treated accordingly; only use them occasionally.
It’s safe to say I’m obsessed with fresh mint. You will find it in our salads, stir-fries, desserts and even simply tossed into some hot water as a fresh mint tea. It is cooling, uplifting and good for digestion.
Fresh basil is a weekly buy and it is used in our Pesto, thrown into dishes with Italian flavours like bolognese or a vegetable bake and tossed into Asian soups and stir-fries.
Dill is a fish’s best friend and so it has become one of mine too. We use dill in salads on its own and whenever we have salmon. It also sometimes goes into our Lemon Tahini Dressing.
Lemon thyme is an occasional buy for when I cook a roast chicken and lends a subtle flavour to the meat.
We eat a lot of lamb as great quality organic lamb is available locally so rosemary is a must when roasting lamb on a Sunday.
Dried herbs can be a lifesaver when you are pulling out the last of your produce from the fridge to fashion dinner from. Dried Italian herbs are something we always have as a back up for fresh herbs. We add them to cauliflower pizzas, frittatas or omelettes or a good vegetable soup.
Dulse flakes are something I have just added back into our diet since my diagnosis with hypothyroidism. Rich in iodine, potassium and plant protein, it’s an easy addition to salads, smoothies, soups or warm dishes as it doesn’t have a strong flavour. Other similar options are kelp flakes or sea vegetables and can be used in the same way.
Fats & Protein
Ah the great oil debate. Exciting, isn’t it? Well, our general rule of thumb is to cook in coconut or ghee and dress with other oils. We are never without olive oil – we use in for salad dressings, pesto. Flavoured olive oil is a daily staple in our household. We use lemon oil, garlic oil, chilli oil and basil all on rotation. Buy it ready-made or simply infuse your own.
Coconut oil has been a staple in our kitchen for many, many years. I use it in smoothies, savoury and sweet recipes and even as a hair mask, body moisturiser or makeshift sunscreen when needed.
Avocado oil is something I only use occasionally but always have in the cupboard. Perfect as a light dressing on salads, green vegie bowls or even over eggs.
Sesame oil is another occasional-use oil in our home. I drizzle a little on to Asian-style dishes when serving. It has a beautiful rich flavour and you only need a very small amount (particularly if using dark sesame oil from roasted seeds). Sesame oil is also considered to have a number of powerful benefits in the healing system of Ayurveda.
We keep organic butter made from grass-fed cows in the fridge for occasional use. I generally add it to dishes when plating or serving. I sometimes put a teaspoon of butter into my coffee or a little stirred through soft-scrambled eggs.
We choose locally made ghee made from the butter of grass-fed cows. Ghee is a type of clarified butter. You get the rich taste of butter and the fat, without the lactose or casein that can be a bother for those with allergies to dairy. Ghee is a go-to when we are making curries or warming soups and even for cooking my famous chicken meatballs. It’s an ingredient I will always be added to a pre-travel dish to heal and support the gut before travelling.
Not necessarily a “healthy ingredient” parmesan is a low FODMAP cheese and its powerful flavour means very little goes a long way. So it’s a healthier alternative to having blocks of ordinary dairy cheese on rotation in the fridge. We always have a block of good quality of parmesan in the freezer. It’s something that only gets pulled out once a week or a fortnight to add a little something extra to dishes like a frittata or a good salad or zucchini noodle spaghetti Bolognese.
Gelatin from grass-fed cows is something I began using in my diet many years back. It is very easily incorporated into dishes or used as a protein powder alternative and I felt the gut-healing benefits of using it regularly in my diet. In recent years the gelatin craze has caught on and you will see ample recipes for how to make gut-healing meals and snacks, particularly in the Paleo crowd. This is not one for vegans or vegetarians. Agar Agar is a vegan-friendly alternative if you are simply looking for an ingredient to thicken your food.
Chia seeds are another of the ‘superfoods’ that have simply exploded in popularity. Chia is another good way to thicken up your food and help add a little omega fatty acid party to your pudding. I add chia to breads and smoothies and occasionally make a chia pudding. If you have a sensitive stomach, start with small quantities to test them out. Always soak your chia seeks until they gel up before using them.
I confess we don’t eat a lot of raw nuts but when we buy them we choose organic, activated nuts. I explained the reason you should activate your nuts here.
Tahini is a dream ingredient for those looking to make their dressings and sauces creamy, without relying on dairy. Tahini is super easy to make – it is just sesame seeds, olive oil and anything else you want to add in. We only use it on occasion so we buy an organic, hulled tahini and simply store it in the fridge. We make varied versions of my Creamy Tahini Dressing often, it’s particularly tasty with chicken and on salads.
This Egyptian-style spice mix is something I could never life without. Many years ago I noticed a friend using it as a crust on her fish. I tried it and I was hook. A blend of roasted nuts, seeds and herbs Dukkah will bring any piece of meat or fish to life. We crust fish with it, roll chicken pieces in it and even add it to vegetables for roasting.
ABC simply stands for Almond, Brazil, Cashew. So ABC butter is a combination of all three types of nuts, as a spread. ABC butter goes in our smoothies, we eat it with chicken as a satay style sauce and spread it on pieces of banana or apple with a sprinkle of cinnamon as an afternoon snack.
Almond milk has become the perfect non-dairy substitute in our household and given it’s so popular now among the hipster crowd, it’s easier to order a side of almond or an almond milk smoothie when we are out and about. It’s super easy to make your own nut milk. Tell me how.
While I love almond milk, I generally mix it with other nut milks as too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing. Cue coconut milk. Coconut milk is a shopping staple for us as it’s a quick and easy addition to both sweet and savoury dishes. Make sure you check that your tinned coconut milk and cream is organic and free of thickeners, stabilisers or additives. Guar gum is a common thickener used in commercial coconut milk and can upset the stomach. Choosing coconut milk in long-life carton from the supermarket shelf can also be a bit daunting as many have additives and other ingredients like rice malt syrup added. Choose the product with the least ingredients (and no numbers) and preferably just coconut meat in it.
Sauces and Condiments
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a multi-purpose wonder ingredient for many, used internally and externally and even for cleaning your house. Put it on salads, add a little to your water, use it as a facial toner, the list is endless. Among other benefits, ACV is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-microbial so it’s great to add a little to your water if you are having digestive issues or could have picked up a bug. It could also help you drop a few kilos, particularly if you suffer with metabolic issues and hold your weight around your midsection.
Tamari or Coconut Aminos
Tamari is a fermented soy sauce that is gluten-free. It’s great on Asian dishes for cooking or marinating. For those who don’t do soy, coconut aminos are pretty much the soy-free and Paleo alternative. I will use it in Asian stir-fries or salads to add a little flavour and a salty hit.
Mustard is a pretty undervalued condiment these days and really adds a punch to plain dishes. Mustard seeds are rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium so choosing organic mustard (without added nasties) could be a great addition to your fridge. Serve it on the side with meats in place of sugar-heavy ketchup or incorporate it into a simple salad dressing, stir it into soups and sauces to add a kick.
Fermented vegetables have exploded in popularity in recent years with more research into the potentially gut healing probiotic benefits coming to light. Cultured or fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles among the many others are a delicious addition to any savoury meal. If you are new to fermented foods, start small with just half a teaspoon a few times a day, then in no time you will be able to eat as much as you like. Ferment your own at home or buy them as we do and keep them in the fridge. We love Kehoe’s Kitchen, Buchi and Peace, Love & Vegetable just to name a few.
Looking for a tasty and healthy alternative to soft drink or alcohol? Meet your new friend, kombucha, a fermented probiotic tea drink. While you can buy a scoby and make your own, start by trying a bottle at the local health food store and find a flavour you like. As a living food, kombucha contains probiotics that can help populate your gut with good bugs.
I have written about kefir before. While I am not home enough to make my own these days, it is now very easy to find at your local health food store. Read more here.
The coconut water craze took off a few years ago and doesn’t seem to be losing pace. Despite all the claims that coconut water is a great replacement for sports drinks and even water, it’s important to remember that 325 ml of coconut water has about 60 calories and some natural sugar in it as well, so you should still moderate your intake. However, there are so many benefits of including coconut water into your diet; it’s high in electrolytes, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial (the reason I drink a lot of fresh young coconuts while travelling around South East Asia) and higher in potassium than bananas, among other health benefits. We use it a few times a week in smoothies when we are at home.
Speaking of coffee, hands up who is a little addicted to coffee. Yes, I admit I love coffee. There are many delicious ways to use this healthy pantry essential. Here are a few ways we love to get that caffeine hit.
When life gives you fresh lemons, use them in everything. Well, that’s our motto, anyway. I couldn’t possibly list all the ways we use lemons in cooking. The obvious one is to add a few drops to a glass of water (warm or room temperature) to give your liver a nudge in the morning (you only need a few drops). Another way I always use lemons is when roasting meats or vegetables in the oven.
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.