Improving your pantry

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Improving your pantry

Many of you who have been preparing meals are becoming more aware of how you are preparing and serving food, so that it is healthier for your participants. When we say “healthier,” we mean that you are using low fat cooking methods like baking, boiling, steaming and serving fewer fried foods, more fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat milk and more whole grain products. We want to encourage you to continue preparing and serving food in a way that limits fat, salt and sugar.

To get to the point of preparing and serving healthy food, the first step in EATING right is BUYING right. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for improving your pantry:

White flour

Add whole grain flour to your grocery list. You can actually combine a 50-50 mix of white flour and whole wheat flour and use it the same as you would white flour. When the whole wheat and white flours are mixed together, it’s more convenient to use, and it improves the fiber content of everyone’s diet.

Whole wheat bread

When buying whole wheat bread, the first ingredient will read “whole wheat flour.” If it says anything like “enriched wheat flour” or “unbleached wheat flour” that is just another name for “white flour.” If white flour is listed first, it will not be a whole wheat product. Many brands of dark bread have caramel coloring added to make the bread appear to be whole grain. Don’t be mislead, read the ingredient label to know for sure.

Canned vegetables

To help reduce salt, drain and rinse canned vegetables. Restock your freezer shelves with a variety of frozen vegetables. If you prefer the taste and texture of canned vegetables, purchase the no added salt vegetables.

Canned fruit

Drain heavy syrup from fruit and rinse lightly before serving. When you restock your pantry, look for fruit packed in fruit juice, light syrup or water. This will help reduce the amount of sugar being served. Take advantage of seasonal fresh fruit to replace some of the canned fruit that is being served.

Pancake mixes

If you buy mixes, look for the mix where you have to add milk, eggs and oil. You can control the kind and amount of ingredients that you add in these mixes. On the other hand, a “complete” mix already has the milk, eggs and fat added in and all you do is add water. It may be a little easier, but you then have no control over cutting back on the fat and cholesterol in the product.

Crackers and cookies

Look for reduced fat and/or low salt crackers and reduced fat cookies. If you make your own cookies from scratch, you may be able to adjust the amount of shortening and sugar to reduce the fat and sugar content.

Dairy products

Almost every dairy product now has a fat free or low fat alternative. If the local grocery store does not carry these products, ask the store manager to order a small amount; it may become a popular item at the grocery store.


When buying meat, keep in mind where the meat came from. The areas of the animal that have the most muscle will be the leanest. Select cuts of beef from the loin and round and select extra lean ground beef. lean cuts of pork would also come the loin and tenderloin, and from the leg, where ham comes from. For veal and lamb, the same information applies.

When buying processed meats, 1 gram or less of fat for every 30 calories can be used as a general rule to ensure that lean meats are selected. Also read the labels when trying to limit sodium, as different brands of the same product may vary in nutritional value.


Select skinless poultry products or remove the skin during preparation. Ground turkey and poultry can be quite lean if only a limited amount of fat has been added during the grinding process. Read the labels of processed poultry items like chicken patties and nuggets to ensure that they are lower in fat than the regular items.


Fish is generally low in fat, so preparation and recipes need to be reviewed to see that fish is still low in fat by the time it is consumed. Buy tuna packed in water instead of fat. Look for lower fat versions of processed fish items.

Watching what you buy is a good place to start to make your meals and snacks healthier.

Source: Food Technology , June 1995

Updated August 22, 2017 7:09pm