Saturday, October 18, 2014

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - the Low Carb Pantry

I was asked about low carb foods for the pantry.  Since I only deepen the pantry with what I actually eat, I do have some suggestions that hopefully will help.   You will probably notice... as happens so often... many of the suggestions are what our grandparents had in their pantries.

If you are using these items in your meals, you will not feel like you are eating in an emergency.   Not to mention, many low carb items are good for the budget.  Just be very certain to store in proper containers (for me that is where mice cannot nibble on them!) and to rotate the items regularly by making certain the oldest dated items are used first and the newest purchases go to the back of storage bus.

I am going with the assumption that most people do not can their own veggies, meat, etc.  Except I have one friend in South Dakota who has gone canning crazy.  She will be seeking help once her garden has all been preserved.  ;)  Actually, I am quite jealous of her garden!

Hopefully, these pantry ponderings will be a start to help you in your efforts for low carb deepening the pantry.

A lot of produce that store well and can be utilized in a low carb kitchen are available in the fall.  Just a few are butternut squash, spaghetti squash, onions, garlic, and yes... potatoes!

I now purchase mainly bags of small or "new" potatoes, both red and Yukon Gold.  They are boiled (with just enough salted water to cover them) or roasted with the skins on.  Which provide more nutrients and less carbs.  I also use whole sweet potatoes that are baked.

I rarely have mashed potatoes, mainly as a treat on Holidays and then with gravy (the fat helps the carbs not spike the blood sugar as much). 

Frozen greens are a staple item to add nutrition to our meals.  If you live in a climate where you can grow all year round, then the cool weather crops like kale, spinach, collard greens, chard, etc. can be FRESH from your garden.

Grains, Rice, and Pasta
I do always keep on hand extra flour, sugar, etc.  Just because I still bake once in awhile.  Instead of large loaves of say... pumpkin bread, I bake the batter in mini loaf pans and then freeze part of them.  I also bake as gifts.

But as for low carb grains, do remember that all carbs are not the same.  Wheat, corn, oats, etc. can be an excellent choice.

If you grind your own wheat or corn and make bread, there is so much fiber there... as long as you don't make a pig of yourself and I could when it comes to bread... you are getting a lot of healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber in that bread.

Wheat is easy to store and if you decide to store corn, look for a source of bulk popcorn.  It grinds easily for cornbread but also can be ummm... popped.  And pop corn in moderation is full of fiber and is fine.  Just don't eat the big kahuna by yourself a the movie theater.

If you do decide to store wheat and/or corn, there are two very important Truths to remember.  First, you need to incorporate these whole grains in your diet already.  For our bodies cannot go from Twinkies to 100% whole grain bread.  You will find yourself very, very uncomfortable. 

Second, if you store wheat and/or corn, you must have at least a manual grain grinder and use it.  I have my old (circa 1990s) electronic grinder that I baby and it still works fine.  But I also have... somewhere on a shelf... a manual grinder that looks quite similar to the old fashioned meat grinders. 

If I were just purchasing a grinder, I would choose a really nice manual grinder.  There are some available now that are almost as pricey as an electronic grinder but they do an excellent job and are engineered to require less strength to use them.

Don't forget oats!  A grain that is easy to store (if in a proper container) and that has a great shelf life is old fashioned oats.  They are great for diabetics.  I once bought a 50 lb. bag (accidentally if I remember, instead of my usual 25 lb. purchase at the co-op) and they lasted two years.  I do know a lot of people store oat groats or Irish oats.  I have a couple boxes but we do prefer the taste of old fashioned (aka: 5 Minute) oats.

As far as instant oatmeal in a box, I think it does have a place on our shelves for emergency situations.  Look for those without a lot of added sugar.  But you can make your own healthy version by putting old fashioned oats in a food processor and pulsing two or three times.  That is how instant oatmeal is made by the large companies but with bigger equipment.  Just be sure you carefully pulse the food processor because then you are creating oat flour.

I'm not a big fan of rice unless it is fried rice and that is not really healthy.  But a previous endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in the pancreas and thyroid) told me brown rice is an excellent choice for diabetics.  It gets down to that whole fiber thing again.  It needs to be stored in the freezer for long term storage. 

But I have done a little research in the past and Uncle Ben's original converted rice and converted brown rice has some of the fiber left and stores much better.  I tend to use the pasta orzo, cooked just al dente, most of the time in place of rice. 

As far as regular white rice, it is not a good choice for a low carb diet.  It ranks up there with instant mashed potatoes and white bread in the way it can spike your blood sugar.

There are so many other grains now to put in the pantry, like quinoa (technically a seed).

No wonder it is great pantry food for dried pasta can easily last a couple years in the pantry if stored properly.  What you have to do is think "less carbs" instead of "no carbs".  As my nutritionists have always reminded me, diabetics do not throw out carbs.

So for instance, using angel hair pasta would be a good option for recipes because it is thin.  I don't care for most whole wheat pastas even though I like other whole wheat products.  Sometimes there is an after taste.  But I find the options where they have mixed semolina and whole wheat to be very good.

Remember that by cooking pasta al dente, it also makes it better for diabetics.  The softer the pasta becomes, the higher glycemic it is.  It has something to do with how fast the carbs hit the blood stream.

I have pasta in my pantry but I have learned usually to combine them with a lot of vegetables added to the recipe.

Nuts and Seeds
For best results, fresh nuts should be stored in a freezer unless they are in their whole form.  But they are good for diabetics and a great choice for when the power is out and we may not have a working stove.

Roasted nuts and seeds store well without being frozen.  Of course, whole nuts store extremely well.  Just ask the squirrels in my back yard.  Do you know when you can buy whole nuts cheap?  After the Christmas holidays!  I usually purchase a few bags of whole nuts priced to sell and pour a bag at a time into a wooden bowl with the nutcracker next to it!

Of course, unless you have an allergy to it there is always peanut butter (the jars with no added sugar are best).  But if you are going to have it on your pantry shelves, most people do eat it on bread or crackers.  But I have known some children to eat it out of a jar with a spoon!

As an aside from low carb and all... Nutella and similar products are great for the pantry if you have kids.  For a treat of Nutella on whole grain crackers or a box of simple shortbread cookies can be a quick and easy "dessert".

I read an article about how people survived WWII food shortages and was surprised to find the number one item they lacked was a source of fat.  Contrary to articles in flashy modern magazines, fat is an essential part of the diet to remain healthy (a daily Big Mac is not).

Fats are friendly for diabetics when used with common sense.  Whole fats help carbs not spike as much when consumed together.  So when you have that occasional tall pumpkin spice latte, have them use whole milk like I do.

Storing fats are important, you would really notice if you had no cooking oil!

Options are:

Butter, salted:  I always have an extra pound of butter in the freezer and prefer to have much more than that frozen.  Just slip two or three pound packages in a Ziploc bag for extra protection, date, and freeze.  I date items placed in a Ziploc bag by putting the date I'm freezing them on a small slip of paper (big enough to see easily) and then slipping that paper inside the bag so it is easily seen when I'm taking the food out to use.

I keep a stick of salted butter in its' container on the kitchen counter all the time.  I have read that salted butter can go unrefrigerated safely for a couple weeks but I have never proven that.  It does last around a week without a problem in my kitchen.  But be sure to buy SALTED butter, salt is a preservative.

Coconut Oil:  I'm just now beginning to use more coconut oil as I buy the better brand when on sale. I also now buy it only in a glass jar as I had a plastic container split open and cause a real mess in my kitchen cabinet.   It is suppose to last two or three years if stored properly.

Crisco:  I was surprised to find it can go rancid, perhaps these days because it is not sold in metal containers as it once was.  Given that... I opt for the Crisco sticks since they are used for cookies, especially during the Holidays.

But you can make a candle from a can of Crisco (just google it, lots of articles are available).  Also, opt for regular Crisco instead of the Butter Flavored.  It has a longer shelf life.  So I have read.

Olive Oil:  Buy small amounts of extra virgin olive oil in dark bottles and rotate if you do not use it often.  If you do, you could get away with buying it in the large cans. I have read so many different opinions about how long you can keep olive oil on the shelf that it makes my head spin.  From as little as three months to indefinitely.  The truth is most likely somewhere in between when stored properly.  As with any oil, once you open it... use it as quickly as possible.

Veggie Oils:  I buy as large a container of canola oil as I can afford for cooking.  But I purchase small bottles of certified GMO free canola oil for using in salads when I do not use extra virgin olive oil.  Other people I know have their own preferred vegetable oils.

Lard:  You know, researchers are now finding what great grandmother knew all along... fats we were told were terrible are good for you in moderation.  So if you have access to real lard (not the highly refined stuff in most grocery stores), add that to your list.  Turns out fats like real butter and real lard are handled well by the body.  Go figure...  ;)

Beans and Legumes
Okay, here are the real secret stars of the low carb pantry.  Not to mention everyone would probably do better by eating more of them.  Most of these foods are not only low glycemic but are good for keeping blood sugar down.

Beans:  I think the one "Truth" I have found about cooking with beans is simply finding which beans I like better.  For instance, I used to make bean soup with northern beans because that is what my mother's recipes called for.  They were... okay.  But then I made a batch of pinto bean soup and really enjoyed them.

Christopher and I used to go to a restaurant before the occasional fencing class (his... not mine) that gave the option of black beans in the tacos.  I was surprised at how good they were.  So black beans were added to the pantry.

Hubby brought home a case of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) from a food pantry and was later given more when the people who ran the pantry said they could not give them away.  Most Americans just did not cook with them.  But I already knew we liked hummus and then started experimenting with other ways to use them.  Since they are so popular in the entire Middle East, it was easy to find recipes.

I find dry beans the least expensive as well as the easiest to store since a lot of packages can be placed in one small Rubbermaid style container.  But I do like having canned pinto or kidney beans on hand for chili and I like canned black beans to use when making tacos.  I need to think ahead and freeze beans from time to time!

I also keep refried beans on hand for a quick no meat taco or burrito option.  They are high in fiber and protein and really fast food.

I rarely cooked beans when the kids were growing up but now we enjoy them quite often.  I wish I'd experimented more with different recipes back then.

To make a meal and add flavor to beans, it is good to have items like jars of salsa, canned tomatoes of various kinds, spices, garlic and onion powder, etc.  Some taco shells are shelf stable and all freeze well should your favorite way to eat beans be in a shell.

Oh, one of the next recipes I want to play with is making black bean burgers.  All kinds of options are online for those and they would make an excellent pantry recipe.

Lentils:  When I found out lentils was one of the best foods for diabetics, it was easy to include them in the diet. I love lentils!  I prefer French Lentils because they hold their shape better.  I used to buy them through a food co-op but now I get them in the bulk section of the health food store.

But the lentils you buy in packages at the grocery store are just fine, too.  You don't really notice the difference in soups, it is only in lentil salads that the French lentil's ability to stay a little firmer is preferred.  But since I don't have space for both... I buy the French lentil.

There are all kinds of beans and other legumes but those listed above are the ones I use the most.

Canned Meats and Vegetables
These are fairly obvious but sometimes we forget about canned sources of protein.  Tuna used to be the poster child for the pantry because it was inexpensive but then it has come out that the shelf life of canned tuna is not what we thought at first. 

But it is still a good option and just be sure... as with all things... to rotate the old and new.  I am like Julia Child, I prefer tuna packed in oil.  I always keep canned salmon in the pantry as salmon croquettes (mini patties) are a staple on the menu.

I have some canned chicken in my pantry and a few canned beef tins.  I actually like some kinds of SPAM so I have a few cans on hand.  It wouldn't hurt to have shelf stable canned ham on hand or shelf stable precooked bacon, both of which would give flavor to a bean soup.

Think outside the box and walk down the grocery aisle where canned meats are kept to see what is available.  Also, some items like canned chili without the beans have a place on the pantry shelf.

Don't forget items like summer sausage.  With the upcoming Holidays, shelf stable items will be available for gift giving.  Items such as cheese and meats that are packaged to be shelf stable, even if short term.  Give a gift to your pantry... or your pantry loving friends!

Sliced summer sausage or pepperoni and sliced cheese on a whole grain cracker... yum.  And a welcome addition to an emergency pantry as well as the kitchen shelves.  But you really have to store these safely from heat and varmints (the two legged kind as well as mice).

I keep a lot of canned veggies on hand, as well as canned tomatoes of various kinds.  Most canned corn is kept for various soups but from time to time it will be used as a side dish.  My husband likes a canned bean salad that is different than what I grew up with.  But either "recipe" of bean salad would be a good low carb option.

I always keep canned pumpkin, not only for the obvious high carb desserts but it can be used as a soup base (winter squash recipes), etc.

There is a lot of talk about BPA leaching into canned foods these days.  I do try to make wise purchases but it is not always financially feasible to go down the BPA free path (most are organic at the moment).  So as with all things, we do the best we can and pray over our food for the rest.

Other Low Carb Options
We are just now beginning to learn what previous generations knew already... pickled and fermented items are good for you.  They may have not known the nutritional chemistry behind it, they just knew by pickling items they would last for a long time.

So the obvious would be to add pickles, sauerkraut in jars, olives, peppers, etc. to the pantry and then actually use them in your meals.  I've teased my husband that I am going to buy a jar of kimchi for the pantry.  I had it once as a condiment in a Korean restaurant and thought it good.  He tried it in Viet Nam and thought it quite disgusting.

I recently started adding pickle relish to dishes like chicken salad to use less mayonnaise (the relish having far less calories).  There is so much to keep learning!

Gourmet in the Pantry
I have mentioned this before but if you have the money to spend, check the gourmet section of your store for items that would be helpful to have stocked in your pantry. So many of these items will add flavor to basic pantry foods.

For instance, if you have a package of sun dried tomatoes you can use them in many ways to add flavor.  And if you have sun dried tomatoes in a jar... you also have a highly flavored oil to use (often olive oil).  You can also usually find dried mushrooms, dried fruit, jars of chopped garlic and ginger, chutney, pesto, etc.

I think that will be enough to get anyone started on the path to a low carb pantry.  :)

Image:  Cookbook and Apples:


Cheryl said...

Such a great pantry post! My pantry is woefully short of protein options right now. A few cans of tuna, a can or two of chicken, and only a couple of pounds of dried beans. I hadn't really given it much thought until I read your post this morning. My freezer is in pretty good shape, but I should pay a bit more attention to shelf stable proteins in the next few weeks. Thanks for the reminder!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for spending the time to make such a detailed post on things for the pantry. I try to keep things stocked up on a regular basis, but you had a lot of great new ideas.

Dianne L

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great tips. My husband is diabetic, recently diagnosed and I'm always looking for any helpful ideas dietwise.

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

Good ideas for low carb options. I have recently found a brown rice pasta at our discount grocer and it is surprisingly good! I just eat less of it than the family to keep the carbs down!

I like black beans so I have those in my pantry, some tuna, some pasta sauce, some canned pumpkin and canned green beans. Peanut butter always is in our pantry. I think I should add some canned fruit, which would be a treat for the kids if we needed to eat from the pantry for a few days.

I've also recently seen almond milk on the shelves with the Parmalat whole milk. Something like that would be great for a pantry.


Living on Less Money said...

What a thorough post on stocking a low carb pantry. You gave me some great ideas.

My situation is a little different. I've done quite a bit of research and have read that grains can cause a spike in blood sugar. Most are GMO's these days. When I became diabetic I went on a modified Paleo diet. My blood sugar is now normal and so is my blood sugar. I'm so thankful.

I also discovered that I have food intolerances that cause joint pain and weight gain. Dairy and nuts are the worst.

I can still use some of your suggestions and look forward to deepening my pantry. Thank you so much!

Oh, and I wondered what size freezer you have other than your kitchen one?