healthy eating

Back to basics

Having a well-stocked pantry is key to developing a healthy eating plan

Basic pantry staples: grains, vegetables, oils.

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Wave, September / October 2016

Food, the very thing that sustains us, has become so complex that many people don't know where to start when it comes to putting together a healthy pattern of eating.

Consider young people just starting out with a tight budget, seniors cooking for themselves for the first time after the death of a spouse, families living in poverty, new Canadians trying to navigate through grocery stores with foods familiar and foreign to them labelled in a new language.

Add to that the complexity of food labels, food marketing campaigns and the food trends that dominate popular culture and many of us don't know where to begin.

Here is a suggestion for how to eat simply and well: Put together a basic pantry of foods that can be used to assemble or add to meals every day.

With a basic pantry of foods assembled, you will only need to buy some fresh foods each week and replenish your pantry as needed. You can decide on those fresh foods based on what is on sale. The suggestions on the next page will help get you started.

Grain Products

Grain products are an essential part of any well-stocked pantry. Did you know that grain products, particularly whole grains, are a source of fibre and are typically low in fat? Fibre-rich foods can help you feel full and satisfied. A diet rich in whole grains may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. Good choices to keep in your pantry are a variety of whole grains such as barley, brown rice, oats and quinoa, but you could also add flax seed and high-fibre, low-sugar cold cereal.

Vegetables and Fruit

Fresh potatoes, onions and carrots will store in a cool, dark and dry place for up to two to three months. Canned veggies (such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and corn), spaghetti sauce, and some unsweetened canned fruits are great choices for your pantry as well. Having at least one vegetable or fruit at every meal and as a snack will help you get the servings of vegetables and fruit you need each day. Explore the variety of colours, tastes and textures this food group offers. They are full of the essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that we need each day to stay healthy.

Meat and Alternatives

Canned beans, peas, lentils, chili or baked beans are good choices because they are full of the protein, iron and minerals we need each day. Dried beans and peas will need to be soaked and rinsed before they are added to recipes. Also include canned tuna and salmon as well as peanut butter to your pantry. Keep a dozen eggs in your refrigerator as well.

Milk and Milk Alternatives

Not only is milk an excellent source of calcium, it is fortified with vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium. Some people like to keep skim milk powder on hand. Cheese and yogurt are also good choices of milk. Add milk products to your weekly grocery list.

Fats and Oils

Choose an unsaturated fat like canola, olive, grape seed, or margarine to add to your shelf. These fats are essential for growth, development and cell functions, but cannot be made by our body's processes, so we need to eat two to three tablespoons a day in our food.

Seasonings and Condiments

Choose some condiments like salt, pepper, garlic powder, soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, mustard, relish, hot sauce, basil, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, mayonnaise, vinegar or a salad dressing that you enjoy.  They are not necessarily nutritious, but they make food taste great! Check out the grocery store flyers each week for items on sale and then decide what you would like to eat. For example, you might like to buy some broccoli to complement a pasta dish, some cheese for a snack or sandwich, or a piece of fresh fish.

Remember, the key to healthy eating is balance. Try to add something from every food group at each meal, which means including milk, either meat, dried peas, beans, lentils or soy, as well as a fruit or vegetable and a grain product.

You will find that when you have some basic foods on hand to start your meal, it becomes easier to add the foods and flavours you like, and you will enjoy becoming more creative with food preparation.

Susan Wehrle is a  professional home economist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Chili Con Carne

1 lb of ground hamburger
1 large onion
1 can of kidney beans
1 can of tomatoes
2/3 cup of water
1 to 2 tsp of chili powder
1 tsp. of vinegar
1 tsp of salt


On medium heat, stir and cook the ground beef until it is no longer pink, and drain off the fat.

Stir in onion, beans, soup, water, chili powder, salt and vinegar. Heat until boiling.

Turn heat down to low.  Simmer, uncovered, for 30 or 40 minutes and serve.

Wave: September / October 2016

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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Click here to read more about the WRHA's efforts towards reconciliation

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