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A shopper grapples with products and technology in a grocery store [CREDIT: pxhere.com, Viki Mohamad]

Grocery Shopping for Your Health: Keeping a basic, healthy pantry

In our last post in the “Grocery Shopping for Your Health” series, we strolled through the breads aisle and bakery area. Today, we’ll tackle the how to stock a pantry.

Grocery Shopping for Your Health iconMany households overlook the value of keeping a healthy, organized pantry. That might stem from simply not knowing what makes up a healthy pantry and why it’s important.

A properly stocked, basic pantry can help you in several ways:

  • Saves money
  • Helps with meal planning
  • Shortens your grocery list
  • Reduces food waste

Keeping an organized pantry will help you save money by planning your meals ahead of your grocery trip. When you create meals that include foods already in your pantry, you avoid taking extra trips to the store to pick up missing ingredients. That saves you the cost of traveling to and from the store (maybe even multiple times), and also might help you cut on any impulse shopping while looking for your missing items.

So, check what you have on-hand, create menus based on those items, and place the foods you need to purchase on your grocery list. If possible, plan for 4 to 5 meals that your family will enjoy eating during the week. The meals don’t have to take a lot of time and energy to prepare. If possible, you can even have other family members help you with the whole process.

PRO TIP
Always shop with a prepared grocery list. If possible, order the list according to placement in the store.

It’s important to avoid shopping without a grocery list, and, if possible, to organize the list in the order you’ll be walking through the store. This will keep you on track, help you avoid overlooking or forgetting about needed items, and keep you from the temptation of making unplanned purchases.

PRO TIP
Buy larger, bulk quantities and portion them out, rather than costlier, single-serve packages.

Keep in mind, as well, that many foods are packaged as convenient, single servings. But, these packages typically cost more per serving than larger-sized containers. If you are looking to stretch your food dollar, consider purchasing the larger container and portion the food as single servings into your own reusable containers. This will not only save you money but it will also eliminate the extra packaging that ends up in our landfills.

So, what is a basic, healthy pantry? Simply, it containst the following:

  • Food items you and your family enjoy
  • Ingredients and items you use often
  • Items organized by expiration dates
  • Foods that encourage healthier eating

Purchasing foods our family enjoys sounds simple enough. But, we often find ourselves reaching for “special” foods placed in eye-catching positions as we make our way through the grocery store, leading to impulse buys.

It’s okay to buy these special items, provided you make sure your family will enjoy them  (and you consider the health aspects). Otherwise, you are just throwing away your money.

Food items stocked on the shelves of a home pantry. [CREDIT: UF/IFAS, Tyler Jones]

Food items stocked on the shelves of a home pantry. [CREDIT: UF/IFAS, Tyler Jones]

Keeping your pantry filled with ingredients you use often helps you use these items before they get old, stale or simply expire. That helps wiht the quality of the dishes you prepare, and helps you cut costs by reducing (hopefully, eliminating) the amount of food you discard.

Take some time to organize your pantry. Discard foods that have expired, and if you have foods that you know your family won’t eat, consider donating those items to your local food pantry. Learn what is inside your pantry, and remember the “FIFO” rule (first in, first out) to help you rotate through your stock. You can find a FIFO refresher at my Cleaning out fading foods blog post.

And, of course, don’t be shy about adding healthier foods to your pantry. Think about lower-sodium canned foods. Consider snacks that are lower in sugar, salt and fat. Maybe replace your favorite chip with a vegetable version, such as sweet potato or kale chips. And remember, fresh fruits provide more nutrition and fiber and are a better alternative.

The key to making successful changes in our eating behavior is to make small changes at a time and stick to those changes. And a good early step on that journey is to have a pantry stocked with healthy options.

NEXT: We’re back at the grocery store, to check out the poultry products (just in time for Thanksgiving).

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