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September 16

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Healthy meals made easy: Organise your pantry cupboards

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Some people find cooking healthy meals challenging. A well-stocked pantry makes things a whole lot easier. Keep a range of healthy and nutritious food staples on hand and you're good to go. Here's a few steps you can take to sort out your kitchen and give your pantry the makeover it deserves.

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We've all experienced it. We think to ourselves, or are asked, "What's for dinner?"

You check the fridge **crickets**

Your pantry has nothing but a selection of half-opened packets and out of date jars.

Simple steps to make sure your kitchen has all the ingredients you need to create healthy meals

Firsly, take stock of what you have already

Start with just one cupboard.

Take everything out, clean the cupboard and browse through what you have. Check the best before and expiry dates. Consider discarding opened jars and bottles.

If in doubt, throw it out

Think "fresh is best" so you might find some of your spices have lost their flavour and potency. When baking, your cakes might not rise as well if your self-raising flour is old.

Group like items together. You may have categories like pasta & grains; baking items; vinegars, oils & dressings; tinned goods. You might like to transfer opened packets of pasta or rice into nice jars or storage containers. Your pantry will look better plus it's more likely foods will get eaten if you can see them.

Operate a LIFO system - Last In, First Out

Just like commercial kitchen, supermarkets and warehouses, practise stock rotation. Rotate your goods based on expiry date. Keep items you need to use up near the door, or front of the cupboard.

When you make a big grocery shop, rotate your stock as you put your items away.

Keep your pantry organised to keep fresh foods at the front and use up items before they reach their expiry date

Keep your pantry organised to keep fresh foods at the front and use up items before they reach their expiry date

Consider buying mini selves, or shelf organisers to maximise the cupboard space you have.

Now make a list of everything you currently have. Highlight items you have an excess of and plan some meals to use up these supplies. You might also like to invest in a blackboard or whiteboard you can hang on your wall to make note of items you're running out of. Alternatively, a list on the fridge or inside of a cupboard door will work just as well.

Check your freezer and make sure everything is labelled clearly. It's much easier to keep track of what you have when you know what it is.

Discard any items over six months old, they're likely past their best by now. Check over any meat or fish and look for freezer burn.

Now, let's tackle the kitchen itself to make cooking healthy meals super easy

As a general rule, make your healthier foods and items prominent so they are both visible and easily accessible.

For example, fruit and vegetables at eye level in clear containers in your fridge will get eaten quicker. Conversely, occasional treats and less healthy options should get stored out of the way. At the back of your deepest cupboard is a great hiding spot for these.

You might be surprised how less tempted you get when it's a hassle to even reach the chocolate biscuits.

I love a fruit bowl in a kitchen

Keeping a bowl filled with fresh produce will give colour and vibrancy to your kitchen. Choose your favourite seasonal fruits and keep them on hand. Find a spot that's easily accessible.

Keeping a bowl of fruit visible in your kitchen will make you more likely to reach for a healthier snack option

Keeping a bowl of fruit visible in your kitchen will make you more likely to reach for a healthier snack option

If you can see it, you're more likely to eat it. Even better, position your fruit bowl as a barrier in front of where you keep the treats and less healthy snacks. You might just start reaching for the fruit instead of the chocolate biscuits. Alternatively, consider keeping your fruit bowl close to where you keep your keys. It'll then be easy for you to grab a piece of fruit on your way out the door.

Tools and tips for a healthier kitchen and make it easy to keep your diet in check

How about forgoing the biscuit tin altogether?

You might like to put a container of unsalted mixed nuts in its place instead. Not only do nuts fill you up more than biscuits, they provide much more nutrition for your body too. A daily handful can bring a range of benefits.

Half the battle of improving your diet and preparing healthy meals just comes down to being organised. A meal plan can help simplify life and take the stress out of deciding what you should eat. If you have a plan you're following, keep it on the fridge or inside the cupboard door. When it's in easy view, you're less likely to stray away from it.

Make sure you have the right tools to make your healthy eating life easier

Invest in kitchen items like measuring cups and spoons. These can help ensure your portion sizes are correct and may lead to less food waste.

Stackable storage containers make meal prep a breeze. You can measure out set portions giving you immediate control of portion size.

Lastly, it's sensible to keep a stock of common healthy food staples on hand

We can again split your food and supplies into categories.

Fresh produce

Everyday basics that you can use in a range of recipes and meal ideas. Make sure you have supplies of carrots, onions and garlic and eggs if you eat them too.

When it comes to storing your eggs, they don't need to be in the fridge. If the weather's extremely hot, you might like to move them however in most climates they're OK at room temperature. This is useful if you find your fridge space is at a premium

Oils & condiments

So useful to provide bursts of flavour and help ingredients behind. Used sparingly, oils and condiments can turn otherwise healthy 'bland' food into something you're much likely to eat and enjoy.

Choose to stock seasonings that you will use and are versatile in the cuisines and meals they appear in

Choose to stock seasonings that you will use and are versatile in the cuisines and meals they appear in

Good quality extra virgin olive oil is a must for any pantry. Consider also balsamic vinegar, Dijon and wholegrain mustard for salad dressings. Chilli sauce, low sodium soy sauce and other condiments can be a great addition to plain grilled chicken or fish.

Canned goods and tins

For nutritious and filling plant protein and fibre, look no further than beans, chickpeas and lentils. If buying tins, opt for brands with lower amounts of added sugar and salt. Check out the supermarkets' own brands too - more expensive doesn't necessarily mean healthier or better quality.

Other items that come in handy include chopped tomatoes, tins of tuna or salmon, and reduced-fat coconut milk. It's easy to whip up a quick and healthy meal when you have these in your cupboard all ready to go.

Adding flavour and substance to your healthy meals

Keep low sodium stock cubes or bouillon powder on hand. Likewise jars of dried herbs and spices can quickly liven up any meal.

Try to keep in mind the types of dishes you regularly cook and the flavours you enjoy. Choose to stock seasonings that you will use and are versatile in the cuisines and meals they appear in. For example black pepper, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, dried oregano, paprika and chilli to name a few.

Healthy meals with nutritious carbohydrates

Stock up on dried pasta, rice and/or noodles. Although more expensive, microwave pouches of rice can be useful and take much less time and hassle to prepare.

If you like brown rice, keep that on hand instead of regular white basmati or jasmine. Also consider quinoa, rolled oats and couscous for added variety.

Again, keep things simple and choose staples that can be used in a wide range of meals you enjoy.

For added healthy bonus points, choose wholegrain options. You'll find these higher in fibre and you'll be less likely to become hungry again soon after. If you're looking for more inspiration, here's some more ideas of healthy food swaps you can make.

What tip did you find most useful? Which tactic are you going to put to use straight away? Let me know in the comments below.

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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