All the Right Stuff
For low-stress meal prep and healthy eating ease, plan ahead and be prepared. A well-stocked pantry is a must for busy people. “Well-stocked” means having basic heart-healthy ingredients on hand at all times. “Pantry” means your cabinets, fridge and freezer.
- Stock your pantry or cabinets with “dinner builder” items like low-salt canned beans, tuna, salmon, tomatoes and marinara sauce.
- Include whole-grain pastas in a variety of shapes, brown rice and other easy-to-make whole grains like bulgur, couscous and quinoa.
- Have an assortment of dried herbs and spices on hand to add flavor to your home-cooked creations.
- Limit the amount of bakery products you purchase, including doughnuts, pies, cakes and cookies. Look instead for fat-free or low-fat and lower-sodium varieties of crackers, snack chips, cookies and cakes.
- Buy healthy cooking oils in limited amounts. Buy a nonstick pan or use nonstick vegetable spray when cooking.
- When you must use oils for cooking, baking or in dressings or spreads, choose the ones lowest in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol — including canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil and vegetable oil.
- Pick up nuts and seeds, which are good sources of protein and polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. But remember, they tend to be high in calories, so eat them in moderation. It’s best to buy nuts in small quantities, as they can become rancid. Larger amounts of nuts should be stored in the freezer.
- Choose whole-grain, high-fiber breads and cereals, such as those containing whole wheat, oats, oatmeal, whole rye, whole grain corn and buckwheat. Choose breads and cereals that list whole grains as the first item in the ingredient list. If you don’t use a lot of bread on a daily basis, store extra in the freezer.
- Select fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk. Avoid milk that contains added flavorings such as vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. They usually have added sugars and calories.
- Choose fat-free, low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses. Some hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, may be higher in fat, but they are also intensely flavorful, so you only need a small amount.
- Use egg whites or egg substitutes instead of egg yolks. (Substitute two egg whites for each egg yolk in recipes that call for eggs.)
- Don’t buy a lot of butter, cream and ice cream. Save those for special occasions and, even then, limit how much you eat. They have more saturated fat than whole milk.
- Choose soft margarines that contain “0 grams trans fat” instead of buying butter. (These margarines usually come in tubs.)
- Choose reduced-fat, low-fat, light or fat-free salad dressings (if you need to limit your calories) to use with salads, for dips or as marinades.
- Buy and prepare more fish. You should eat one serving of grilled or baked fish at least twice a week. (A serving is roughly the size of a checkbook.) Don’t buy breaded or battered fish fillets. Good examples of fish to buy include salmon, trout and herring.
- Choose lemon juice and spices to eat with fish, instead of tarter sauce or cream sauces.
- Choose cuts of red meat and pork labeled “loin” and “round”; they usually have the least fat. Buy “choice” or “select” grades of beef rather than “prime,” and be sure to trim off the fat before cooking.
- When buying or eating poultry, choose the leaner light meat (breasts) rather than the fattier dark meat (legs and thighs). Try the skinless version or remove the skin yourself.
- Always have on hand a selection of frozen vegetables and fruits packed without sauces or sugar.
Be Label LiterateLearn about how to read and understand food nutrition labels.
Choose Fruits and VegetablesFruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber and low in fat and calories. The American Heart Association recommends eating nine or more fruit and vegetable servings every day. An average adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for 4.5 servings of fruits and vegetables each a day.
- Fruits and vegetables that are deeply colored throughout – such as spinach, carrots, peaches and berries – tend to be higher in vitamins and minerals than paler ones, such as potatoes and corn.
- Buy more fruits and vegetables that are good sources of fiber, including beans, peas, oranges, bananas, strawberries and apples.
- When shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, let your senses be your guide. Select those that look fresh and appealing. Leafy greens should be vibrant, with no hints of yellowing or wilting. Root vegetables like carrots, turnips and beets should be hard.
- Ripe fruit ought to be plump and wrinkle free. As a general rule, naturally hard fruits and vegetables will keep longer than naturally soft ones.
- Use your nose to tell if a pineapple is ripe—there should be a strong sweet smell at its base. A ripe cantaloupe or honeydew will also have a sweet smell at its base and will be slightly soft.
- Cut watermelon should have black, not white, seeds. Citrus fruits should feel heavy.
- Optimize taste and nutrition by buying fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re in season. The price will be the lowest then, too. But remember, you can enjoy the taste and nutrition of fruit and veggies any time of year—canned, frozen, dried, it all counts!
- Choose canned fruits packed in water, not sugary syrup, and look for canned vegetables without salt. Frozen fruits and veggies should be pure and natural without added sauces and sweeteners.
Article copyright © 2015 American Heart Association. This recipe is brought to you by the American Heart Association's Simple Cooking with Heart © Program. For more articles and simple, quick and affordable recipes, visit heart.org/simplecooking.