27 March 2012

Creating a Healthy French Pantry: Step by Step Guide

Cooking at home (rather than ordering take-away) enables you to be fully in control of what you eat by being aware of the nutritive value of your meals. In order to manage your weight efficiently (the way French women do), it is important to make cooking everyday one of your priorities. Preparing healthy, nourishing meals using quality, fresh ingredients is and always would be a better option than relying on prepared food that is often loaded with calories, fats, sodium, all kind of preservatives and added sweeteners.

And the best way to ensure you have everything you need to prepare delicious healthy meals is to keep a well-stocked pantry. I wasn't able to re-create exactly the French pantry I would have in France (due to some ingredients being unavailable in Australia), but most of the basics are here.

Now it's your chance to make a fresh start towards a healthy life.

Step 1: Get rid of unhealthy foods
  • Processed foods (pre-made/ready to eat meals fresh, frozen or canned)
  • Biscuits and low quality chocolate 
  • Savory type snacks (pizza shapes, crisps etc.) 
  • High-sugar breakfast cereals (type coco-pops, etc)
  • Products containing high fructose corn sirup
  • Sugary drinks (soda, cordial, fruit juice not containing 100% pure juice)
  • Pre-made salad dressing, condiment sauces (type BBQ, ketchup, mayo)
  • Low quality blended vegetable oil
  • Margarine
  • White sugar
  • White flour
- Ingredients are listed in order of dominance, so if sugar is listed first, that is the most predominant ingredient.
- Also avoid foods with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, wheat flour (this is the same as white flour; look for whole wheat flour or white whole wheat flour).

Step 2: Replace products with unprocessed, whole foods
Once you have some basic ingredients on hand, you will find that it becomes easier to cook healthily. Here are some of the ingredients I try to keep in stock:

Fresh produces (Buy organic or grow your own whenever possible to minimize pesticide exposure)
  • Onions (brown, red)
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Fresh vegetables (courgette, aubergines, capsicum, carrots, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, etc.)
  • Fresh fruits (whatever is in season)
  • Fresh basil, parsley, herbs (for taste and appeal) - I grow my own
  • Milk
  • Plain yogurt and/or vanilla yogurt
  • Cage-free eggs

Freezer items
  • Frozen berries
  • Frozen vegetables: peas, corn, chopped onions, vegetables mix (for stir fry)
  • Low-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt for impromptu dessert

Pantry Items
  • Whole grains (a variety of brown rice and whole meal pasta)
  • Dry legumes (French green lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans)
  • Canned beans
  • Canned tuna, in brine
  • Vegetable and chicken stock
  • Canned tomatoes (diced and whole – use for soups, stews, pasta sauce)
  • Tomato paste 
  • Oils (extra virgin olive oil)
  • Vinegars (balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar)
  • French Dijon mustard
  • Home-made salad dressing (mix of Dijon mustard, vinegar and olive oil)
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Spices (my favorites include cinnamon, cumin, coriander, curry powder, chili)
  • Soy sauce
  • Pure vanilla extract
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia, cashews, pecan)
  • Dried fruits (Goji berries, apricot, fig)
  • Seeds (chia, sunflower)
  • Natural sweeteners – honey, raw cane sugar
  • Green tea and Herbal teas
  • Red wine (a cheap one to use in sauce and a good wine for drinking occasionally!)
  • Olives (they are great in stew or pasta sauces)
  • Coconut water

What item would you add to the list?

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