To Your Health: Restock the pantry for healthy back-to-school meals

08/26/2014 8:00 PM

08/25/2014 6:27 PM

August means back to school. Parents and children have cleaned out closets and are ready for a new academic year with fresh school supplies.

This is also the time to think about supplying the correct nutrients to keep the body and mind working at their best. Children need nutritious breakfasts and packed lunches, and families need to eat healthy dinners at home. So this may be a good time to give your kitchen a makeover.

This is the first in a series of articles to help you create a kitchen that is equipped to prepare balanced meals for your family.

Let’s start with the pantry. It is important to stock your pantry with staple items that help you fix a quick nutritious meal at home without too much effort.

Whole grains: Whole grains such as quinoa, barley, bulgur, brown rice and oats are important sources of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Stock up on pasta made from whole grains, and use whole grain flours to make quick breads and pancakes.

Beans: Beans, such as black, kidney, garbanzo, mung, navy and pinto, have vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein, and they are a great source of healthy carbohydrates. If you use canned beans, remember to drain and rinse them thoroughly.

Canned tomatoes: Use low-sodium or no-salt-added tomatoes.

Canned purees: Canned pumpkin and unsweetened apple sauce add flavor to dishes and can also be used to reduce the amount of fat used in baked products.

Dried fruits and veggies: Add dried dates, figs, raisins, cranberries or cherries to salads or oatmeal; use sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms for flavoring salads, soups, pasta and other whole grains.

Nuts and seeds: Raw or dry-roasted almonds, walnuts and pistachios, as well as sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds provide protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Sprinkle over oatmeal or salads, make a trail mix or use ground nuts to fortify breads and pancake mixes.

Oils and vinegars: Canola oil, peanut oil and sesame oil can be used for sautéing and stir-frying. Use extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings. Keep a variety of vinegars such as apple cider, balsamic and rice vinegar to make dressings and marinades.

Herbs and spices: Keep a variety of dried herbs and spices to flavor your food.

Parul Kharod is a clinical dietitian with WakeMed Health & Hospitals. Reach her at

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