Select Your Recipes Then Set Up Your Pantry

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Healthy vegetables to make healthy food.

Healthy vegetables to make healthier meals.

Getting Past Burn Out

Like a lot of people, I have a love-hate relationship with my kitchen. I want to share the way I’m trying — emphasis on trying — to lose the hate part.

Over the course of a more than 30 year marriage, I cooked probably more than two thousand meals of various types. Once the marriage ended, I just didn’t want to apply myself that much. My physical and mental health are taking time to rebound. Plus, fast food is so much easier than cooking.

Of course, it is not healthy at all, for me or for my budget. So I want to select my recipes then set up my pantry to suit those recipes. This will make it easier to find something to fix for dinner.

Plan Ahead and Keep a Pantry

What I do to try to counter this is to make it easier to figure out what to cook. For some reason, that is often the hardest part of making a meal. If I haven’t planned the meal beforehand, I will most likely default to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or cheap fast food. So, planning ahead is one key to this problem.

Also, I try to keep a pantry of the most-used ingredients on hand. If I can’t find the necessary foods on hand, I will most likely eat something horrid.

Now, one of the things I’ve learned in more than 30 years of cooking is that certain flavors and certain foods equate to certain cooking styles.

If you have the right combination of herbs, spices and ingredients, you can produce a fancy-sounding ethnic or heritage dish that is very appealing to all the senses. Think of all the types of cooking you’ve heard of — Southern down-home, soul food, California healthy, Sonoma wine country cooking, down-home farm cooking, French, Italian, Spanish, Mexican — the list is wide and long.

These do not have to be fancy dishes, necessarily, but it helps introduce variety to the standard American meal of hamburger and fries, or pizza, or meatloaf with potatoes and gravy.

Mediterranean Recipes and Pantry

I talked to my daughters, with whom I live, and all three of us decided that eating mainly in line with the Mediterranean diet would suit us best. Now, the Med diet calls for a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are expensive. We figure, however, that frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are better than none at all, so we keep many of these foods in our pantry and refrigerator or freezer.

As far as what to cook and how to prepare it, I have found about four different helps — two cookbooks I can recommend and a website and a blog that are both very helpful.

My Favorite Cookbooks

My favorite Mediterranean cookbook is named “The Mediterranean Table: Simple Recipes for Healthy Living on the Mediterranean Diet” by Sonoma Press. It has some easy

Vine-ripened tomatoes

Lovely vine-ripened tomatoes!

-to-fix recipes, but it also has some that take a bit more effort. All of the ones I’ve tried have been full of good flavor.

Another enjoyable one is “Mediterranean Cookbook — Fresh, Fast, and Easy Recipes” by Marie-Pierre Moine and Elisabeth Louard. These recipes have beautiful photos and yummy flavors. It covers more than the normal Mediterranean area that a lot of people tend to think of. It includes foods from Tuscany, Provence, the Greek Islands, Morocco and Spain.

Excellent Internet Resources

For quick access to yummy recipes, take a quick internet trip over to where Suzy gives recipes and procedures for lots of recipes, many from her childhood home. Shakshuka for breakfast? Yes, please!

Another very useful resource is which is “a nonprofit site founded by K. Dun Gifford in 1990 to promote healthy eating and drinking”. There are some amazing resources on this site about the Mediterranean diet and also other traditional diets. You can find a Mediterranean food pyramid here, as well as a very useful pantry list. They also share many recipes for each of the diets they suggest.

The fact is that with the foods they list for their traditional diets, you can mix in a few pertinent spices and herbs, as well as some ingredients, and make several styles of food. The basic foods of heritage diets are a lot the same throughout the world. For Asian diets, more fish, rice and soy sauce will be called for. For the Mexican diets you will want to use different spices, as well as corn and different cheeses. Nonetheless, there are more similarities than not.

Filling Your Pantry on a Budget

One of the things I have discovered with these diets is that while fresh organically grown vegetables and fruits are best, I can and do substitute a lot of frozen or canned ingredients as necessary. Canned vegetables are definitely better than no vegetables at all. This allows me to eat healthier than I otherwise would, while staying within my budget.

Since I have limited access to transportation, the ability to keep these ingredients safely within my pantry is very helpful. I could not, however, purchase the whole list of pantry ingredients when I first started to eat this way.

I started by choosing one or two recipes for each meal — breakfast, lunch and dinner. I tried to choose simple but yummy-sounding recipes. I made a list of the necessary ingredients for all the recipes. I went to my pantry, refrigerator and freezer and checked off those ingredients I already had. The remaining items on the list were added to my grocery shopping list the next

A basket of healthy vegetables for dinner

A basket of healthy vegetables for dinner!


It was still a bit more money than I usually spent for groceries, but I found other areas I could trim temporarily. This allowed us to get started on a healthier diet.

I continued to do this each payday. This allowed me to build my pantry without losing financial control.

At first, we only had a few healthier meals each payday period, but eventually, my pantry became healthier overall. This allowed us to pick and choose healthier dishes each day.

Once you have a good pantry built up, it’s easier to maintain a healthy diet. You will build a repertoire of healthy recipes suitable for both family and visitors. It’s truly worth the trouble!