This  blog is in response to a request from a consumer who asked for tips on how to manage to prepare healthy meals on a regular basis.  The best way to start is to Stock a Healthy Kitchen.

It’s easy to get frustrated choosing what to make for a healthy meal, especially dinner, after a busy day at work.  The best way to ensure that you can prepare a healthy nourishing meal that is not loaded with calories, fats, salt and added sweeteners is to stock a healthy kitchen.  A stocked pantry will make it easier to prepare and serve a healthy meal with the least amount of effort. Quick meals can be just as nutritious as those that require lengthy preparation time. Basically, it’s all dependent on what foods or staples you have and how much time you have for preparation.

Getting your pantry, refrigerator and freezer stocked with healthy items DOES NOT have to break your budget.  Start slowly and add ingredients, utensils as you increase your recipes and cooking skills.  Spring time is the perfect time to think about cleaning out, and restocking.  Here are some suggestions that can make your meal preparation a pleasure rather than a stressful situation.  

 

Keep in dry storage (pantry)  

Canned goods and bottled items

  • Canned beans –cannellini, great northern, and chick peas black, red and kidney beans. 
  • Low sodium  chicken, beef or vegetable broths
  • Tomatoes,   diced, puree, whole and sauce,
  •  Light or white tuna and salmon, water packed
  • Fruits canned in juice
  •  White wine ( Non alcohol variety is available )

Vegetables /fruits and nuts

  • Potatoes , russets  and red
  • Onions , yellow and red
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Dried fruits  all varieties
  • Nuts- almonds,  walnuts, pecans 

Oils and condiments

  • Canola or Vegetable oil for cooking
  • Spray oils canola or olive 
  • Extra virgin olive oil for cooking and salad dressings
  • Reduced –fat mayonnaise
  • Vinegars- balsamic, red–wine, rice –wine, apple cider and white.
  • Sauces,  barbecue, or marinades
  • Lite Soy sauce,  hoisin sauce 
  • Ketchup

Flavorings

  • Iodized salt
  • Kosher salt,  sea salt
  • Black peppercorns
  • Onions  fresh and dried
  • Garlic powder
  • Dried herbs,- bay leaves, sage , thyme leaves, oregano, Italian seasoning blend 
  •  Spices  ( whole or ground )  chili powder , cinnamon,  cumin, ground ginger, dry mustard, paprika, crushed red pepper
  •  Sugar , white and brown
  • Honey

  Breads, grains and legumes

  • Breads, whole grain and enriched
  •  Whole grain crackers
  • Flour, all purpose enriched and whole  wheat flour
  • Rolled oats, regular and quick cooking ( but not instant )
  • Pasta in a variety of shapes and sizes- preferably whole wheat  
  • Brown rice,  regular and quick cooking,
  • Sugar, white and brown
  • Plain dry  bread crumbs
  • Whole grain cereals

 Keep in your freezer

  •  Whole grain bagels, pita bread
  • Boneless chicken breasts
  • Fish fillets
  • Frozen vegetables,- all varieties without added butters or sauces
  •  Frozen berries and fruits
  •  100% fruit juices, concentrate
  • Lean beef
  •  Ground turkey
  • Turkey sausage, breakfast links and/or  Italian for quick pasta dishes   
  • Pizza crust
  • Frozen basil or garlic
  •  Frozen low –fat yogurt or ice cream for quick dessert
  • Fresh ginger  ( freeze unused portions and take out  as needed)

 Keep in your refrigerator

  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cheddar cheese or feta cheese
  • Good quality parmesan or romano cheese
  • Citrus juice,  orange or grapefruit
  •  Low –fat cottage cheese
  • Dijon mustard
  • Fresh fruits in season
  • Lemons and limes  
  •  Parsley , fresh basil, scallions
  • Fresh garlic
  • Milk, low-fat
  • Salad dressings, light or low-fat
  • Salsa
  • Vegetables,-  carrots, celery, lettuce, green or red  pepper, tomatoes
  •  Low fat yogurt
  • Water packed tofu
  •  Turkey bacon
  • Unsalted butter
  • Trans fat free margarine

 These basic items will get you started on your way to healthy cooking.  To begin, check the sales on your frozen vegetables, canned goods and dry goods and stock up.   Check your discount stores for sales on the dried fruits, herbs, spices and oils.  Often at the discount store you can get the dried herbs and, spices for under a dollar.    Don’t’ forget to use coupons on items that are on sale. This is how you can stock up on the lower cost side.  So as you prepare your healthy kitchen continue to use the other tips of menu planning, and sticking to grocery list except to add one or two items from the stock list to build your base.

The beauty of having a healthy stocked kitchen is that today, I found a new recipe for beef and asparagus stir fry which looks tasty with a nice Asian flavor.   On my weekly menu I had a beef dish planned, but I was busy this morning and did not add the dish to the slow cooker.    We all have days when things do not go as planned.  Not to stress about it because the new recipe I found will be just as great.   I have all the ingredients.  I will use the beef already planned, just slice it thin. All the others ingredients or flavorings, I do not have to run out for, I have them in the dry pantry.  I have in the freezer asparagus (purchased on sale two weeks ago and then froze).   So when I get home I can relax, enjoy preparing a healthy meal in 40 minutes (that’s how long it takes brown rice to cook.) and enjoy tasting a new dish

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 As we just celebrated Mother’s Day, and  the kids made dinner,  It also  reinforced  with  me that many joyful and memorable experiences do not have  to break our budget to be accomplished and that cooking at home with children not only  create family fun, but also teach our children healthy eating habits. 

Cooking together can be a delicious learning experience where kids can explore new foods, learn about healthy eating, and develop math and reading skills as they measure and read directions. These simple guidelines are designed to help you make cooking safe and fun, and to entice your children into trying something new! 

Tips for cooking activities can benefit the whole family. 

  1. Learning to cook helps children to learn about healthy choices. Young people today are growing up with fast food and many choices for unhealthy foods at their fingertips, which is one part of the reason why childhood obesity is on the rise! Teaching your kids to cook healthy foods will help instill skills to last them a lifetime.  The cooking skills learned as child can be especially helpful when kids are older, and can make healthier   food choices to and on their own.
  2. Create family time and bonding. Take time to cook with your kids, and they will have memories that they, in turn, can pass on to their families. It may take a longer time to get the meal or snack done, but the moments with your children will be priceless. (Just remember to have patience and don’t worry about what gets spilled on the floor).  Cooking together, children contribute to the family and they can feel the importance of helping. They are also working together as a team, whether it is with a parent or with a sibling to get the job done.

3.  Children will be more apt to eat what they make.    

Perhaps it is the enthusiasm  creating something themselves, but they will be more likely to eat whatever they had a hand in making.   Cooking new foods is one way to expand your child’s taste buds.

 Remember the basic goals of healthy cooking at home are to reduce the unhealthy fats,  and lower the salt, and sugar in many of the dishes we prepare.  Here are healthy recipes that incorporate these principles and have been tried and accepted well by children.  Just click away.   

So as we watch our food budget and continue to discuss preparing meals at home, don’t forget that the kids can become great chefs too! 

Tip for this week:

 All the major grocery stores in the Boston have yogurt on sale this week.  Here is a delicious recipe for yogurt parfait that children can make with just yogurt, fruit and whole grain cereal.   Serve this for dessert or as a quick breakfast.

 

breakfast_parfait

Posted By

Steven Belec, Director
Mayor’s Health Line,
Boston Public Health Commission

 

1.      You Can Apply for SNAP – SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is the NEW name for the federal Food Stamps program. Many families are eligible and it’s easy to start an application! The Mayor’s Health Line can help you begin the process right over the phone. Call 617-534-5050 or 1-800-847-0710.

2.      The First Step is Simple – The initial step of the application is easy and can be completed over the phone. Seniors even have an easier application. Interviews are required for all applicants, but this can also be done over the phone.

3.      You Can Find Out If You Are Eligible – Before applying, you can go to a website to use an online calculator tool and see if you may be eligible for benefits. Find it here: http://www.gettingfoodstamps.org/Screener2/index.cfm

4.      If Eligible, You May Receive Food Stamps Within 1 Week – If you qualify for emergency food stamps, the DTA (Department of Transitional Assistance)  must provide them no later than 7 days after they receive your application. For regular food stamps, it is no later than 30 days after DTA receives your application.

5.      SNAP Benefits Are Given on a Card – This plastic card, called an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card can be used at grocery stores in the same machine that ATM or credit cards are swiped. This provides privacy and will prevent others from knowing that SNAP benefits are being used for payment. This card is automatically reloaded with funds each month the person is eligible for benefits.

6.      Many Seniors Have NO Asset Limits – Recently, the SNAP program eliminated the asset ceiling for many low-income households. Seniors whose income is below the eligibility guidelines will not have to provide information about assets.

7.      No Work Requirements if Caring For a Child – A person who is responsible for the care of a dependent child under age 6 or of someone who is incapacitated is exempt from work requirements. The person does not have to be living in the same household as the dependent. Further, a person who is residing in a home with someone else under age 18 is exempt from the Food Stamp Work Program. The applicant does not have to be related to or responsible for the household member under 18.

8.      You Can Get Food Stamps While Working – People who have any sort of regular income, including Social Security or a pension can get food stamps.

The Mayor’s Health Line can help you with a new application for Food Stamps and SNAP benefits right over the phone. They can also assist you if you have questions or are caught in the middle of the process.

Call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050 or 1-800-847-0710.

I used to save coupons when the kids were small and my budget was really tight. I did pretty well then and somehow over the years I had gotten out the practice.  Now I’m back to using coupons again and I have to admit that some things have changed but the basics for clipping and saving with coupons have not.

I first like to think of coupons as money to keep myself motivated to bring them to the store!   If I am going to purchase a product and there is a coupon for a small amount off, then that‘s money saved.  It may seem like too much work for small savings but if you maximize your coupon use over time, the savings do add up. Here are some strategies to get you organized and on your way to saving and achieving that great thrill when you see you grocery bill get reduced by using coupons.

Clipping coupons:

Timing Try to choose the same day and time to clip your grocery or store coupons each week.  This will help you establish a routine.  I like to do mine at the beginning of the week, either on Sundays or Mondays.

Method when it comes to clipping your free grocery coupons, here are several methods to choose from…

* Clip them all out.  This is a quick way to clip the grocery coupons and is also an easy job you can assign to an older child.  Later, you can sort out which coupons you need to keep and which coupons you can share with a friend.

* Clip out only the coupons you know you will use.  This might take a little more time as you will need to look at (and think about) each individual coupon as you cut them out, but will save time later when filing them away and when going through them for use each week.

* Don’t clip out any of the coupons, but save them in their whole page form. This method takes longer in the end, but it will do when you’re really pressed for time.  I once had a month’s worth of coupon flyers to go through before leaving for the grocery store, not very fun!

* Find savings on the internet. The Sunday flyers are always a good place to start for clipping, but you can also look to the internet.  For online coupons, sign up using an email address and there may be small surveys on products to complete. Once that’s set, you will receive great coupons for products that are specific to what you selected. Here is the link: Print Coupons. 

Storing Coupons: This where the organization really comes in handy. Decide how you want to organize your coupons so that you can see what you have on a regular basis. Here are some ideas:

* Small index boxes or shoe boxes. You can usually find these at discount stores.
* A binder with clear plastic inserts is a great way to see your coupons. Add dividers either to sort by different products or by expiration date.
* I like to use a photo album. It’s smaller than a standard binder and I can carry it more easily in my bag,

Saving with coupons:  Maximize your coupon potential.

* Scan store sale flyers to find matching items. One of the best ways to save money with coupons is to match them with items that are already on sale. The key is use coupons on products that you typically purchase.
* Only purchase new products with the coupon when it is lower priced than comparable store brand.  
* Check with the store for their coupons. Grocery stores generally do not list everything they have on sale in their weekly sale flyers, so while matching your grocery coupons to the store flyers is a huge help, there will also be some additional sales you may have coupons for. Simply bring your coupon organizer with you to the store each week, and this way you can take advantage of the specials without forgetting to bring your coupons. If you can match it with a manufacturer’s coupon, then the savings really feel good.

Last tip:  When the end of the month is drawing near, I like to take a quick look through my coupons for any that might be expiring soon. Manufacturers set many of their coupons to expire on either the first or last day of the month, so keep an eye out for both dates and take any that you need to the store that week before they expire!

Share your coupon tips with us!

 Weekly Food Forecast –

This week, stores are running specials on canned soups.  This is an opportunity to save by using coupons offered in this week’s Sunday flyers with the matched sale.  Stock up for quick, easy meals, pairing the soup with whole grain bread and a salad.  Try and select the low-sodium varieties whenever possible or increase the water and add vegetables to regular soups to help keep the sodium (salt) level down.

I saved on soups when I purchased four on sale and used a $2.00 off coupon, so I actually only paid for two.  Now I have a quick lunch to bring to work that only cost me about 3.00 (that’s adding in crackers and a piece of fruit for dessert).