How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Essential Groceries

by | Apr 10, 2009
Fresh Herbs

Fresh Herbs

Having the necessary pantry items is critical to getting started eating healthy, but obviously you need a lot more than that if you actually want to cook fresh, delicious food. Today I have prepared a list of groceries that should always be in your refrigerator. Many of these items are fresh, which means you need to buy them regularly.

(This post is part of the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Part one is Stock Your Pantry. Subscribe to Summer Tomato to get more free healthy eating tips)

As I have explained before you must set aside a small amount of time once a week to do your grocery shopping or else healthy eating will be nearly impossible. This time needs to be non-negotiable; you must find a way to make it happen.

So why not start to upgrade your healthstyle this weekend?

Put these groceries on your weekly shopping list and never take them off:

  • Shallots or leeks These are members of the onion family, but milder and sweeter than you might be used to. Even if you think you do not like onions, I recommend starting most vegetable dishes with one of these ingredients. Shallots are like small, mild red onions. Leeks are like large green onions, but tender and delicate in flavor. Here you can see pictures of leeks and shallots.
  • Garlic People feel very strongly about garlic, some can’t get enough while others avoid it. I have found myself in both camps at some point, but now I am somewhere in the middle. I go through a small bulb every week, but rarely use more than one clove per dish. With subtle amounts of garlic you can add depth and dimension to your meal. Too much can overpower all the other flavors.
  • Lemon As I explained when discussing vinegar, acidic foods are extremely important in cooking. Lemon has the added bonus of possessing an amazing zest that adds both sweetness and brightness to your food. I panic a little if I don’t have lemon in the house.
  • Parsley Flat leaf or “Italian” parsley is the perfect herb for everything. I always buy it, even if I do not know what I am going to use it for. It is also rather robust and keeps longer in the fridge than more delicate herbs, like cilantro. If you do not normally cook with parsley, definitely buy some and try it in your next vegetable dish. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
  • Fresh herbs Of all the other fresh herbs, I usually only pick one or two to have in my kitchen at once. Which ones I choose depends on the other foods I am buying. Mexican food thrives with cilantro and oregano. French style vegetables are beautiful with thyme. I cannot live without rosemary on my roasted potatoes. Mint is perfect with Moroccan food. Experiment! Fresh herbs can change the way you approach cooking. If you don’t know how to use something, Ask Me! or ask Google 🙂
  • Eggs I do not buy eggs every week, but I buy them regularly (always a half dozen farm fresh eggs). They are incredibly versatile and a great, quick meal any time of day. Check out my favorite scrambled eggs recipe.
  • Tofu or tempeh However you think you feel about tofu should probably be reexamined. It can be very delicious when prepared correctly. Regardless of the claims of Dr. Atkins, science tells us it is actually much healthier to get your protein from vegetable sources. I love meat in all its forms, but during the week I usually stick to vegetable protein and fish. And sometimes eggs.
  • (Soy) milk I use soy milk for my cereal and in my coffee. I know many people prefer different kinds of milk, and whatever you choose is fine. If you currently drink dairy milk, my only warning is to use it very sparingly. Consuming cow’s milk is strongly linked to increased risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis (I know!), acne, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. If you were raised in America and do not follow nutrition science, I’m sure this sounds insane (it did to me). Unfortunately it is true. Easy on the milk.
  • Condiments I mentioned last time I keep my soy sauce and almond butter in the refrigerator. The other condiments I keep handy are tahini, mustard, tomato paste, capers and olives. None of these are absolutely necessary, but they are nice to have around to mix up your flavors. They do not need to be purchased very often.

These groceries are always in my refrigerator and it is fair to say that I consider them essential. However, this list is by no means exhaustive.

Please share with us your favorite essential groceries so we can all benefit.

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29 Responses to “How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Essential Groceries”

  1. Eleanor says:

    I go grocery shopping once a week. Usually, by the end of the week I’ve run out of fresh produce and I’m making pancakes or nachos for dinner. Here are a few vegetables I always try to buy because I can count on them to stay fresh for many days: cabbage, cauliflower, avocados (buy unripe), bell peppers, celery, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, and my favorite go-to ingredient, frozen spinach.

    I envy you west-coasters who can supplement your shopping year-round from the farmer’s market… Here in northern N.E. we have a very brief growing season. Love your site — what a great resource. Keep up the good work!!

    • Darya Pino says:

      Excellent point Eleanor, judging the correct amount of food to buy and when to cook each thing is something of an art form that takes practice. Be sure to come back tomorrow when I post about seasonal shopping.

  2. Mark Lewis says:

    We are getting ready to plant our herb garden this year. Last year’s herb garden was a success.

    I find buying herbs at the store somewhat wasteful because I can never use all of the herbs in time before it goes bad. Having an herb garden allows me to pick what I need and have a plentiful variety. Saves a bit of money too!

    It’s amazing how much more enjoyable food can be when you start playing with herbs and spices.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Wonderful! I agree buying herbs is wasteful, but here in the city it is hard to avoid it. Good for you!

    • Greg says:

      I agree about always wasting too many herbs; buy a bunch (and at $1-2 per bunch, with multiple different kind) and that sometimes ends up a lot of wasted $ and I feel bad too, almost regretful. What is a good way to make sure to use all the herbs?

      • Rachel says:

        Great, very useful blog post.

        I grow some of my own herbs but also buy some too.

        When I do my meal planning, I try to arrange it so I can use up a bunch of herbs in various meals. Cilantro (or coriander as we call it in Australia) goes brilliantly with lots of styles of dishes – add it to vietnamese rice paper rolls, thai curries, mexican bean salads, etc. You don’t need to eat it in the same way 2 nights in a row.

        I live inner-city and have a very tiny garden but herbs can grow well in pots on a balcony if there’s enough sun, or you can also look at planting a small community garden with your neighbours. You will make friends and eat healthy and cheaper at the same time!

      • Darya Pino says:

        Thank you, Rachel. You are right, it is possible to have a small herb garden almost anywhere. And now I really want to get some cilantro!

      • Katie says:

        One thing you can do, which probably goes along with Miz Tomato’s philosophy, is just cook the dish immediately and put it in the fridge or freezer- that way nothing will go to waste, and it will be ready for reheating. My experience is that a dish that was made from fresh produce and then frozen is far better tasting than something bought from the freezer aisle in the grocery store.

  3. Travis says:

    Hi Darya,

    Do you have any references for the strong associations between it and those diseases you mentioned? It’s not that I don’t believe you, I’ve just come across a lot of conflicting references lately in terms of milk being good/bad/indifferent, and would be curious to read any reviews or research you might have links to.



    • Greg says:

      Haven’t you seen the Milk Mustache adds? Thats proof enough for me, drinking milk causes mustache cancer!

  4. Amy says:

    Loving this series, thank you! There seems to be a lot out there about soy-based products, especially the more processed ones, being something you should limit or avoid. Having grown up vegetarian, this has been tough to follow. What’s your take on soy? Thanks!

  5. Great post! I’m sure people will find this incredibly helpful! You’ve listed some of my favorite fridge staples!

    Do you have more details on the milk info? What about organic milk?

    Soy milk (and in general) is so controversial right now, I’m always a bit hesitant. I thought I was playing it safe by doing organic skim — what are your thoughts on that?

    Love these posts, girl, keep ’em coming 😉

  6. summertomato fanboy says:

    Love your new series Darya, this is an awesome foundation you are making right now; I’m so surprised I haven’t seen a practical approach to starting a healthy lifestyle like this before.

  7. Greg says:

    I had no idea about how much you use lemons, and how important it is to always have ’em around. And if you don’t use them, unlike the herbs, you can just make some lemonade!

    • Katie says:

      I do like her idea of always buying fresh lemons. Have you ever bought that lemon juice in a bottle from the store?! Ugh! Might as well just use pure citric acid….

  8. Beachcomber says:

    Great post. Hubby and I have been trying to buy more fruit and vegetables. We have been buying a lot of leeks. We don’t always see Shallots in our store but when we do we buy them.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for visiting! You have certainly chosen a great time of year to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Farmers markets are just a few weeks away from exploding in stone fruits like cherries 🙂

  9. Garlic, yes. Eggs and milk. I was doing the soy thing for awhile but lately been realizing that too much soy with it’s hormones may not be the best thing either. We do organic whole milk and use sparingly, on occasion get ourselves to the farm for raw milk!

    • Darya Pino says:

      I agree. I do not think any milk product, dairy or soy, should be consumed in large quantities. But FYI, despite the phytoestrogens in soy, its consumption is linked with decreased breast cancer rather than increased. Caution is always a good idea, but there is not a lot of strong data to suggest soy is actually bad. I have referenced several articles in the comments link above.

  10. Healthyliving says:

    This is a wonderful list! Herbs truly are the spice of life, and I like how you highlight them with the picture on your must-buy grocery list.

  11. Katie says:

    I like to always buy avacados when I can. They keep for a good amount of time, and can be used on a variety of dishes. And if nothing else, can be made into some Guac!

  12. NB says:

    +1 for garlic as the most essential grocery

  13. Sarah says:

    Do we have to have shallots/leeks or are regular onions okay instead?

  14. Heather says:

    One permanent resident of my fridge is a jar of grated horseradish which adds flavor to beef, pork, cole slaw and other salads and dishes needing a bit of savory flavor and tang.

    A staple in my pantry is a bottle of Tabasco sauce, used to spike up meatloaf, casseroles, eggs, soups, and other dishes calling for peppery heat.

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