Trying to eat healthy but don’t know where to start when it comes to grocery shopping? Do you worry about buying too much and wasting your money if it spoils before you can eat it or are you unsure what foods to buy together to maximize your meal mileage? You’re already shopping for food. Why not build up your pantry with a handful of new whole food purchases each week or whenever you go shopping until you have slowly replaced the more unhealthy buys over time?
Here’s how to build a whole foods based pantry week by week 5-7 foods at a time to minimize the stress and cost to your wallet while learning how to integrate new foods and ways of cooking into your routine. This way the shift to eating a whole foods-based diet happens smoothly and effortlessly.
Whole Foods Primer
Whole foods are real food, not processed or only lightly so. They are plant-based and don’t contain additives or preservatives. They include fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes and pulses (aka beans), whole grains, tubers, and nuts and seeds.
A whole foods diet has proven health benefits over the standard American diet. These benefits include lower rates of disease and sickness such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, metabolic disorders like diabetes and high blood pressure, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, and more. The longest-lived populations and cultures in the world eat primarily a whole foods diet. Some, like the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California – who live 10 years longer on average than most Americans – are even vegetarian.
Good eating habits provide the backbone of good health. What we eat can even influence how our underlying genetics get expressed, switching off and on certain genes in some instances. We don’t always have control over many things in life but we can take control of our food choices. The best way to health starts with diet and especially a whole foods one.
Disclaimer: While not all suggestions for the pantry shopping list will be whole foods, they will account for roughly 90% of the recommendations and help support the whole foods way of eating.
Now onto the shopping list.
Week 1 Shopping List
In this first week we’ll start introducing some basic foods fundamental to building a stocked whole foods pantry (i.e. fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, tubers, and nuts and seeds). This week’s list will provide ingredients for breakfasts and light lunches so you may be able to start cutting back on or cross out less healthy foods you would have bought for those meals. This week’s items will be relatively inexpensive too. Here’s the list of 5-7 items to throw in your cart when you next head to the grocery store.
Suggestions are for one person for the week.
Week 1 List:
- Tomatoes – 3-6 roma/plum tomatoes or other medium/large tomato type
- Cucumbers – 1 pack of mini cukes (usually 6 in a pack)
- Canned (2 cans) or dried chick peas (1 lb)
- Raw Sunflower Seeds (not salted or roasted) – 10 oz to a 1lb
- Oats – 1 x large canister
- Berries – raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries, 1-2 pints
- Avocados – 2 or 3
How to Maximize Your Purchases
With these 5-7 items, you can mix and match to cover quick breakfasts and lunch for most of the week. Additionally, these foods make great ingredients in a range of dishes. Here’s how to use what you bought.
3 lunch ideas:
- Tomatoes and cucumbers make a nice salad when chopped together or added with other food you bought or might have at home, such as greens or feta. You only need salt and pepper to taste or a splash of vinegar.
- Add a half or whole chopped avocado to the tomatoes and cucumbers for a really delicious lunch that’s pretty filling on its own. Just add salt and pepper to taste, though a splash of white vinegar or lemon juice is fantastic.
- Mix a can of drained, rinsed chick peas with the chopped tomatoes and cucumbers for a cold bean salad – another fantastic lunch. Dress with vinaigrette or even just a splash of vinegar.
1 breakfast idea:
For breakfast, make the oats and add a handful of the sunflower seeds and a handful of berries for a nutritious meal and a sweet burst of flavor. This will power you through the mornings. In summer, I like cold overnight oats with a teaspoon of chocolate cocoa powder stirred in but in winter I like the oats hot and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Tomatoes. Great sliced fresh on their own or in salads. Add them to stews and soups, salsa, sauces.
Cucumbers. Perfect as a fresh snack when cut into spears and sprinkled with salt, lemon pepper, or cayenne. Use them as dippers for dips and sauces. They add well to salads and yogurt (think Greet tzatziki).
Chick peas. Wonderful in bean salads or soups and stews. Blend them for hummus and bean dip. Toss onto traditional garden salads or in rice dishes.
Sunflower seeds. A great snack. Toss a handful in yogurt, oats, smoothies or add them into salads, stir fries, grains, trail mix. They’re highly versatile. I’m always finding new uses for them in my meals.
Oats. Perfect for for a hot or cold breakfast but also useful in baking treats. Easy to steep with water to make your own oat milk.
Avocados. Have half a sliced avocado as part of your breakfast. They go well with eggs, on toast and with breakfast tacos but don’t forget how good they are as guacamole or in salads.
Berries. Put these in yogurt, smoothies, batter for pancakes and muffins, or eat as a treat by themselves. Top them on desserts.
Tip: Berries can go bad quickly. If you’re not going to eat them within 3 days, freeze them in pint or quart bags to preserve them. For best storage and use, divide them into individual servings. They’ll keep for months and you can grab a serving out from the freezer as you need them.
When it comes to building a whole foods pantry, you want a good assortment of foods while minimizing waste through spoilage. Too many fresh vegetables and fruits risks them rotting or going bad before you can eat them all. Starting small with only a few items lets you learn how much you will eat in a week, how long the produce will last, and how to incorporate them into your meals.
Staples like grains, nuts and seeds, can sit on your shelves a bit longer since they don’t have such short expiration dates and in general take longer to use up. After all, a serving size of nuts or seeds is only a handful (28 g).
The trick to eating healthy is learning how to enjoy real food over your less healthy food habits. Start simply by experimenting with the foods or dishes suggested this week. Then put the items on this week’s shopping list into your regular shopping rotation, taking out less wholesome purchases or cutting down on them. Maybe you’ve been eating sugary cereals, donuts, pastries, etc. for breakfast. Start rotating in the oats. Freshen up your lunches too by dropping the heat and serve meals or fast food for bean salads and tomato/cucumber medleys. Your body will thank you with better health and vitality.
Your Whole Foods Pantry So Far:
- Sunflower Seeds
- Chick peas
In the following weeks, the shopping lists will build up your pantry and recipe repertoire. Soon you’ll feel like a whole foods pro.
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