What's in my pantry?

In the last two weeks, I've had quite a few conversations with friends about this Paleo thing we're doing and it occurred to me I could save myself (and them) a lot of time if I'd just condense it all into one place. This is that place. This is also a really long post, so feel free to skip to the stuff you're interested in.

When you've been doing something for 6 months, there's a lot of information as well as practical experience to draw on. I've already posted on why we're doing this, and there are awesome sites out there with a huge amount of detail on what to eat, why to eat, blah blah... so that's not what I'm doing here.

But I think I'm pretty mainstream when it comes to what I was accustomed to eating, and what I'm willing to put into my mouth. Liver doesn't make the cut. Tongue? No, thank you. I'm really not going to go into veal or lamb -- not because it isn't good, but because it's not been a part of my diet and I honestly don't see that much difference from stuff I know I like and know how to cook. I do much better with trying new vegetables, but mushrooms and brussel sprouts are not really my thing. So I totally get it when these friends say, "I just don't see how I could eat (or not eat)______ ..." I get it.

The other thing I keep hearing is "I don't know how to use spices." Again, been there, done that. I didn't really start cooking with fresh herbs and spices until a few years ago -- sure, if a recipe called for it, I'd add it, but I didn't understand what it was doing to food. What I've learned is that if you like the flavor of something and know the spice you used, build on that. Don't feel like you have to use some obscure spice just because the recipe calls for it -- but experimenting is fun.

The last piece I think plays into ANY eating change (Paleo or not) is around who does the cooking, and who the cooking is for. "My family will never eat..." or "I don't do the cooking, so I can't ask him/her to make this change." As the primary cook and planner in our family, this one makes me crazy. When we decided to go Paleo, it was primarily driven by my husband's diabetic needs, although it appealed in other ways, too. I want him around for a long time -- and if deciding to change how I cook helps that, then I'm all for it. When there is a physical need -- weight loss, blood sugar, cholesterol, or whatever -- driving the need for change, I find it hard to believe that a loved one wouldn't at least make an attempt to change. When that change can benefit everyone, then the decision should be a no-brainer.

Okay, getting off my soapbox and back to the subject of this post.

What are the practicalities of any eating plan, and, in my case, Paleo eating? A well-stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer is more than half the battle. Menu planning is the other part, but that's another post.

Here's my spice rack:

Obviously I have issues, but that's for another time. When I look at how I cook now, here's a list of what I consider my "must have" spices and herbs:
  • Sea salt - iodized is called for in Paleo, but some people prefer kosher. I have this in a salt pig (I love that name) by my stove and use it as my primary salt in everything from eggs to zucchini.
  • Smoked salts -- this is an indulgence for me, but I highly recommend them. Any smoked salt used on meats will give it a twist on flavor without adding a hugely salty flavor.
  • Basil -- I have both fresh and dried. I use this several times a week, both as a cooking add and a presentation bump. Fresh pesto will change your outlook on life.
  • Garlic -- I have a large jar of minced garlic, fresh garlic bulbs, and dried garlic (fine and coarse ground). Obviously, this is a biggie.
  • Cumin -- I've only recently learned how awesome this spice is. Veggies and sauces get a special kick. This stuff gets hotter as you add more, and experimenting is fun.
  • Thyme - I also have fresh and dried (rubbed) thyme, but primarily use dried thyme when I'm steaming or roasting veggies.
  • Hot pepper flakes - to satisfy the cravings we've trained ourselves to want, Paleo cooking is in large part adding flavor to foods. Pepper flakes do that in very little doses. Marinades, veggies -- some recipes will call for it, but anything that benefits from a little heat is great.
  • Paprika -- add this to meats going on the grill, sweet potatoes, other veggies
  • Cinnamon - you won't believe how many non-dessert recipes will benefit from a little cinnamon. Our favorite is roasted carrots.
  • Vanilla and almond extracts -- these are Paleo approved and a must-have. My vanilla is Haitian.
I also have some spice mixes, ones I've made and ones purchased -- Italian seasonings, herbs de Province, stuff like that. Depending on the types of recipes you're most interested in making, you'll probably add to this list. If you have a particular favorite pre-made spice mix, just check the ingredients list to make sure there's no sugar, and use it at will.

Moving off of spices, what's in the rest of my pantry? To me, the main goal is to be able to pull together a meal at any point without an emergency trip to the store. I try to never be without the following things:
  • Onions
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spaghetti squash - because we love Paleo spaghetti, and these will last a month or more in the pantry.
  • Bananas, tomatoes
  • Canned tomatoes -- crushed, diced, Rotel, sauce, and paste (organic when I can, no salt added in most cases)
  • Broth/stock -- chicken, vegetable, beef. Check labels carefully for no sugar added.
  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Nuts -- almonds, pistachios, cashews. These are our snacks, so we never let them run out.
  • Dates and raisins -- this is what we eat for something sweet.
  • Nut butters -- I eat way less of this than I used to, but almond and sunflower seed butters are good for both cooking and snacks.
  • Honey - raw, natural
  • Oils - extra virgin olive oil, extra light olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil
  • Coconut flour - I don't use a lot of this, so I just buy the one pound in the organic section of my store.This is not a one-to-one substitute for wheat flour. It's denser, and good for breads.
  • Almond flour - this is crazy expensive at the store, so I buy 5 lbs at a time on Amazon. Any recipe that would call for wheat flour would use this instead.
Now for the freezer. I generally shop once a week based on the menu plan. In the last six months, we've done a lot of "eating out of the freezer" to make sure we knew what was in there and to use foods before they got old. We've pretty much done 100% turnover and now only have things we'll eat remaining in the freezer. On Paleo, that means mostly meats and veggies. Here are the items I try to never let run out. Keep an eye on sale papers to stock up when they run good sales.
  • Chicken breasts -- bone in (better for grilling) and boneless. We buy the packs at Costco that have 1 or 2 in a vacuum sealed pack.
  • Chicken thighs -- we grill these up 5 or 6 at a time to keep in the fridge for quick stir fry or chicken salad.
  • Tilapia -- individually packaged ones work best
  • Salmon -- we vacuum seal these into serving sizes
  • Shrimp -- raw and cooked
  • Beef -- steak, ground beef
  • Pork -- chops and usually a loin or roast; sausages that have no (or very little) sugar added are a great emergency food
  • Veggies -- bags of sugar snap peas, grean beans, California blend veggies, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower. These are part of at least 4 meals a week.
  • Fruit -- mostly berries and bananas for smoothies or desserts
Finally, the fridge. Most of the space in my refrigerator is taken up by produce, including fruit. Of course any jarred products - mustard, Paleo mayo, salsa, sauces with no sugar added -- are in there, and I usually reserve a shelf for leftovers/cookup foods. This is pretty typical after a shopping trip.

The must haves:
  • Eggs - we go through a couple dozen a week. We also buy pre-boiled and peeled eggs at Costco, but that's a total indulgence.
  • Meat - whatever I'm cooking for the week will be planned so hopefully I don't have to defrost it in the microwave. I save room in the fridge for it to thaw there.
  • Avocados
  • Berries, grapes, apples, oranges
  • Lettuce - often chopped and jarred to make it last longer. I use Romaine almost exclusively.
  • Spinach - for salads and egg dishes
  • Carrots, cucumber, celery
  • Zucchini and squash - I add fresh zucchini/squash to frozen veggies for stir fry and roasted dishes
  • Deli meat -- this is a bit of a cheat, but I'm okay with it. Deli ham (which will have trace amounts of sugar) for Bug's lunch and turkey for me. We don't buy much at a time as it should only be used for four days after purchase.
Now that I look at this all in one place, I'm a little surprised at how long these lists are! Obviously, not everything gets purchased every week. When we first started this, I felt like I was spending a fortune and was always at the store. I realize now that I'm definitely not spending more money than we used to on food -- and when you consider we very seldom eat out (maybe once a month compared to 2-3 times a week before), the savings add up. Also, I used to throw away produce all the time. Not now -- it's planned before we purchase, and rarely do I radically change a menu mid-week. My grocery shopping is pretty fast unless I'm just in the mood to browse -- I mostly hit the edges of the store, and maybe the frozen food aisle.

If you've made it to the end of this post, here are a couple of main points:
  • A menu plan makes all this so much easier. We look at the week on Friday and pick our meals, then I shop on Saturday. I'd like to do it a different day and will probably move to that eventually, but it's working. Here's a sample:

  • You don't have to buy foods you've never liked in order to be successful on any healthy eating plan. It is helpful to be open to trying something new, maybe a new way of seasoning or cooking a food you're used to, because it really helps with boredom. Forcing yourself to eat something you hate is just asking to fail.
  • On any healthy plan, you will have to spend more time in the kitchen. But if you add up the getting dressed, driving to, sitting there, driving home time from eating out, it's probably a wash in a lot of cases. And I've said before that eating out and eating healthily really do not coexist peacefully.
I hope you found this useful! Have a great week!

What food do you try to never run out of? [Chocolate doesn't count.]


  1. Love the salts - no coriander? About the only thing in your pantry I would not eat is Tilapia. Everything else, I'm down with.

    1. I think I have (and use) EVERY spice -- coriander is on the top shelf. It's just not one I use often enough to say it's a requirement. Given where you live, I'm sure your choices of whitefish are much better than mine!

  2. You list sounds like a great start for building a solid pantry. I think I'd replace cinnamon with chili powder; we use it in so many thing. Staples for us also include milk, plain low fat yogurt, and lemons.

    I've never tried smoked salts. I'll be on the look out for those. They sound intriguing.

    1. HOW did I leave out chili powder!? Of course that's a staple. I used it last night. :-)

      My favorite smoked salt is applewood. I get most of them at the Tea and Spice Exchange, but I think I've seen them at Central Market (if you have those).

    2. Had I seen this earlier, cinnamon with chili powder in the same sentence would have cause be great consternation. This weekend however, I made a butterscotch pudding with both cinnamon and chili power in it - It's True! Opposites attract.


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