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How to Stock Your Mediterranean Food Pantry

Updated on February 8, 2013

Keeping What You Need On Hand for Quick, Tasty & Nutritious Meals

You may have heard about the natural health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and maybe are interested in adding Mediterranean lifestyle foods to your or your family's menues. I hope to encourage you by showing how easy and inexpensive it is to make the gradual changes to begin eating better, as well as showing the variety and flexability of the different foods and spices.

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to eat more healthy and knock off so much of the hydrogenated additives with which our fast foods and "quick fix" foods are filled. I don't plan on suddenly changing overnight or make myself feel like I'm depriving myself of anything, I just hope to gradually discover and build up repertoire of what I like.

To me, a well stocked pantry is the key to success. Making sure you have everything you need when you want it helps you resist the urge to stop and pick up fast food on the way home because it's late and you're hungry, or you can't think of what to fix when hungry kids are waiting.

(The above photo is my own; all rights reserved; 2013)

Psssst . . . In This Case, "Diet" Doesn't Mean Deprivation

Think of the term, "Mediterranean diet" with a small "d", as in the usual food and drink consumed regularly by people of several Mediterranean countries; not the "Capital D" word meaning Diet and Deprivation. (You may not be on a weight loss quest, a better quality or healthier life may be your goal).

I hate the word "diet" in Mediterranean Diet, because diets really don't work over years. If people don't introduce their body to good food, and change their eating habits, the majority of people will regain their hard-lost weight because:

1) The problems and stress in their life never changed and they never learned new coping habits;

2) Life didn't suddenly get wonderful when they lost the weight; and

3) The old habits of stress-eating kick in again.

As a Rational Hedonist, I believe it's better to accept and be happy with who you are, try to live a life doing the things you love, surrounded by those who really like and care about you, take care of your health and don't over-indulge, and then, if you happen to lose weight along the way, great!

Getting Started

The first thing I did was to take account of what I had in my cupboards and fridge, and set the items I can use for Mediterranean recipes in one section.

Who can afford to throw out a bunch of food? I just end up buying my favorite "comfort" foods again anyway, and eating food I love isn't something I want to feel guilty about. I just separated it, and either will finish it off over the next month, or save it for one of "those" days. It's easier for me to let our backstock get used up and just replace it with either a healthier brand, or a healthier alternative (ie: beans or couscous instead of white rice or potatoes).

I went through my list, and based on my likes, picked out a favorite items to start with, based on a few easy recipes, and shop around for the easiest things to buy, and give the total cost of what I spent to stock with starter items.

Setting up a shelf or section in your cupboard or pantry specifically for Mediterranean ingredients makes it easy to quickly put together lunch or dinner. I have stocked up on on-sale or seasonal frozen vegetables for the freezer, even salt-free canned vegetables on sale are good and convenient to start off. Veggies and couscous are a meal when mixed with romaine lettuce. If it's not there already and not fast, you probably won't want to take the time when you are tired and hungry.

It's time to experiment with new foods that are healthy to stock up, but buy slowly a few items here and there as you begin to experiment with recipes (bulghar wheat may be a flop but couscous may become the favorite to replace white rice). Once you find a few recipes you like with these newer foods, then stock up on them, otherwise you will have wasted money on food you'll never eat.

I may feel adventerous and want to try a recipe using pickled lemons, and be willing to order a jar online (if I'm not lucky enough to have an exotic grocer nearby - which I don't), but it wouldn't be practical for me to make that recipe a part of my regular fare.

One recipe I tried called for "orange blossom water". I searched WalMart, several grocery stores and Mexican grocery stores. I didn't feel like waiting a couple days for it to arrive via Amazon, and it only called for a tablespoon of the stuff, so I substituted the best I could. It's best to stick with ingredients that are easy for you to get and/or the stuff you discover you really like.

Photo Attribution

Vegetables Don't Have To Be Expensive - Canned Vegetables Have Nearly the Same Amount of Nutrients As Fresh - And Can Be Very Inexpensive

Some Easy Ingredients You May Already Have . . .

Easy to Find, Inexpensive to Buy

The Mediterranean diet is based on the old style way of eating, from the farm rich areas where they depended more on plant-based protein foods like beans, lentils and grains. Nowadays, people in the Mediterranean have access just as we do to fast foods and are eating more meat, resulting in growing health problems. It's too bad they've become more influenced by us, instead of us following their example, but this is what eating the foods of the old-days Mediterranean is about.

  • Fish:
  • (containing omega three fatty acids - and
  • not
  • bathed in butter or breaded and fried):
    • Fresh or Frozen:
    • Salmon (Not "Atlantic" Salmon as this is usually farm-raised), Mackerel, Albacore Tuna, Bluefin Tuna, Lake Trout, Herring, Sardines, Bluefish, Orange Roughy, Cod, Halibut
    • This also includes quick-fix fish:
    • Canned Albacore Tuna
    • Canned Salmon
    • Canned Sardines
    • For more adventurous palates:
    • Anchovies, Shrimp, Crabs, Crayfish, Octopus, Squid, Oysters and Clams
  • Chicken or Beef Broth
  • (from cans, carton or cubes) - for a quick mix let's-get-rid-of-the-veggies-and-meats-soup
  • Seasonal/"On Sale" Fresh Vegetables
  • Frozen Vegetables
  • Canned Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Any of these beans can be bought in a can, easiest for quick, spontaneous, hungry-now meals, or dry packaged (which, with the exception of lentils, means pre-soaking).
  • White Beans (Cannellini - Not the same as the Northern White Bean).
  • Black
  • Pinto
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas (Garbanzo)
  • Grains:
  • Basmati Rice
  • Brown Rice
  • Pearl Barley
  • Oatmeal
  • Couscous
  • Eggs
  • Cheese:
  • Hard Cheeses (Not Velveeta or sandwich cheese)
  • Feta Cheese
  • Plain Yogurt (lowfat)
  • Olive oil
  • - for cooking, and using instead of butter for grilled sandwiches, drizzling on salads
  • Honey
  • - instead of white refined sugar (ie: tea).
  • Seeds:
  • Almonds
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Pine Nuts
  • Walnuts (are high in Omega-3) - If you don't love fish so much, walnuts crushed or sprinked as toppings can be substituted).
  • Flaxseeds (If you aren't a fish lover, flaxseeds sprinked over food is a good substitute)
  • Tahini
  • Seasonal/"On Sale" Fresh Fruit
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Photo Attribution

Seasonings

I didn't want to go out and just buy a bunch of seasoning I may never use, or use up, so I'm starting with what I already have in my cupboard, and choosing a few recipes I want to try to buying the seasoning for those. Most people have several of these spices in their cupboards already.

Basil

Black Pepper (eventually you want to aim for freshly ground peppercorns).

Chili Powder

Cinnamon (ground)

Cumin

Curry Powder

Dill

Fresh Garlic

Garlic Powder

Ginger

Onions (dried)

Oregano

Parsley

Paprika

Rosemary

Salt (not Iodized)

Sea Salt

Thyme leaves (dried)

Tarragon

Photo Attribution

Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid Food Storage Set, 40-Piece
Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid Food Storage Set, 40-Piece

Go ahead, make a double recipe. Freeze it for a lazy or hectic day. Save leftovers.

 
Plastic 3 Piece Cereal Dispenser Set - Dry Food Storage Containers (Red Lids)
Plastic 3 Piece Cereal Dispenser Set - Dry Food Storage Containers (Red Lids)

Good for storing the bulky stuff - pasta, beans, rice and grains. It's cheaper to buy in bulk.

 
Rubbermaid 1776473  21-Cup Dry Food Container
Rubbermaid 1776473 21-Cup Dry Food Container

Great for storing pasta and beans.

 

Graters are Grrreat!

Eating Mediterranean style means using as much of fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables as possible. Using a grater quickly slices or chops up bite-sized pieces for munching or for recipes. Even pre-sliced and shredded cheese in the stores may have preservatives and extras added to keep it from drying out, so buy small blocks of cheese and grate what you need for fresher, tasty cheese. Finely grated zest from oranges and lemons are sometimes used for adding a fruity, citrus flavor.

Did You Make a New Year's Promise to Start Eating Better This Year?

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