Category Archives: Better Pantry

Mix, Match, and Simmer Your Summer Dinner

Easy dinners after a long day sound nice. You’re in luck! Easy can mean healthy too. Look no further than your own Better Pantry for a yummy, inexpensive soup recipe.

A good pot of soup starts with vegetables. Chop up onions, carrots, and celery before heating them on the stove with oil for the soup’s base. Use any fresh veggies you have in the fridge or canned veggies from the pantry. A bag of mixed vegetables works great if you have some in the freezer. Remember to mix and match your veggies to include lots of colors.

Be sure you also add in a food with protein. Maybe you have leftover chicken breasts in the fridge. Chop these up into bite-sized chunks and add them in with the veggies. A can of beans is another great source of lean protein that adds a hearty touch to vegetable soup. Just be sure to drain and rinse your beans before putting them in. Draining and rinsing can cut the salt content in half!

Next, you should include a grain such as pasta or rice. When you buy pasta from the store, go for whole grain shells or brown rice. Whole grain pasta won’t get soggy when you add it to soup and it’s heart healthy!

To finish off your pot of soup, fill your pot with water or broth. Try to choose a broth low in salt to keep your dish healthy. A can of tomato sauce works too for thicker soups. All you have to do now is leave your soup on the stove to simmer until the family is ready for dinner. Choosing ingredients is truly the hardest part. Try to create fun, new recipes using what you have on hand. Now just enjoy your quick, easy soup! #BetterPantry

mother and daughter cooking

Better Pantry Cooking Basics

The best first step to eating smart is to cook more at home. Cooking your own meals gives you control over the ingredients. You can also adapt recipes to fit your family’s tastes. Here is a collection of helpful resources showing basic cooking methods that help you cook healthy meals, save time in the kitchen, and most importantly, prepare delicious meals for your family. Continue reading

The Wonders of Dairy: Essential Nutrition in Many Forms

Milk is the most versatile food we eat. Dairy, which can come from several different animals, takes many different shapes, flavors, and textures, all while being an important source of essential nutrients. Quick, think about the foods you have in your house right now. How many different forms of dairy are there? I’m willing to bet you have quite a few: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, whipped cream, buttermilk, kefir, etc.

Despite dairy being such a popular and versatile food, many of us are not getting the recommended 3 servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy each day.

Nutrients found in milk

Thanks to the Midwest Dairy Association for this helpful chart. Found at 

Why Is Dairy So Important?

When we think of the nutrients found in dairy, calcium is probably the first thing to pop into your mind. In fact, milk and cheese are the top two sources of calcium in our diets. Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth, as well as helping our cells send messages to each other and telling muscles to flex.

But calcium isn’t the only important nutrient found in dairy. Dairy is also an important source of Vitamin D, protein and 6 other essential nutrients.

Vitamins and Minerals found in milk

A word of caution, however. Along with those 9 essential nutrients, dairy can also have a lot of unhealthy saturated fat. Saturated fat is bad for your cholesterol levels and raises the risk of heart disease. Full fat dairy products, like butter, ice cream, whole milk, whipped cream and certain cheeses have too much saturated to eat regularly. Low-fat (1%) and fat-free (skim) dairy products have less saturated fat (and calories!), so we should focus on adding more of these types of dairy.

Add More Dairy To Your Day

Getting more low-fat and fat-free dairy is easy. Here are some tasty tips:

  • Drink milk instead of sugary drinks.
  • Make a tasty smoothie and get more dairy, as well as fruits and veggies.
  • Treat yourself to a Yogurt Parfait instead of ice cream.
  • Shave some low-fat cheese on top of your meal for a flavor boost.
  • Use low-fat (1%) milk in your coffee instead of creamer.
  • Flavor yogurt to make a creamy dip for fruit or veggies.
  • Or check out these ideas from the National Dairy Council.

What’s your favorite way to get your essential nutrition from dairy?

Spice It Up Without the Salt!

Eating too much sodium is harmful to our heart health, raising the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. Even with all the reminders of this fact, we still are eating too much sodium every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that reducing our intake of sodium to recommended levels (1500-2300 mg per day) would potentially save 40,000 lives and $7 billion in health care costs each year. That’s a pretty good reason to cut back.

But putting down the saltshaker is hard. What will our food taste like without it? This is where herbs and spices come in. They add tons of delicious flavors without adding salt (or sugar or fat, too!). Check out these great ideas for adding spices to your meals.

flavor profiles of different herbs and spices

Fresh herbs can be more expensive, but are pretty easy to grow yourself, either in a garden or a pot. The best thing about growing them in a pot is that you can bring them indoors over the winter and have a fresh supply all year long.

Dried herbs and spices won’t go bad quickly and are great items to keep in your Better Pantry. Find a little wiggle room in your budget to start building up your spice rack one at a time. You’ll eventually have a nice variety to choose from when cooking. You can also buy herb and spice blends, like Italian Blend or Grilling Blend, which gives you more variety for your money right away. Just be sure that you’re buying salt-free blends to keep the sodium low.

My favorite flavors are:

  • Basil- I use this in just about anything savory. Basil and Parsley are pretty “generic” flavors that work well in many dishes. Fresh basil is awesome for making pesto from scratch. It’s very easy to grow yourself.
  • Dill- Dried dill is one of my favorite popcorn toppings. Fresh dill smells so good and is a perfect match with salmon.
  • Cumin- This smoky spice adds flavor, but not heat, to chili, Mexican recipes or beef dishes.

What herbs and spices do you use the most?

Better Flavor, Better Savor: Marinara Sauce

Written by Lindsey Wallace
Part of National Nutrition Month 2014

Have you ever considered how much money is saved by preparing meals from scratch? Want better flavor and be a better saver for your family? Consider preparing your own marinara sauce.

Save yourself from high sodium and mediocre flavor when buying store bought marinara sauces. Venture to make your own from fresh produce from your local grocer or farmers market.

homemade tomato sauce

Image by Lindsey Wallace

Your marinara will be flavorful and inexpensive compared to store brands. The savings are more than monetary; just 50mg of sodium per serving compared to most store brands of 400mg sodium per serving. Foods low in sodium keeps the heart healthy. Sodium in excess can damage the heart by making the heart work harder to pump blood.

The taste of homemade marinara with fresh ingredients is much more dynamic than store brands. The various herbs, spices, and aromatics are creating the flavor instead of salt. I hope you are up to the adventure of making your own. Enjoy the flavors!
Consider canning your sauce for serving up a quick. Safely canning practices allow you to savor these flavors year round! The recipe below is intended for canning 8 pints of marinara; however the recipe can be adjusted to fit your serving size needs. What’s your favorite meal to serve up your marinara?

how to can tomato sauceIngredients:

Yield: 8 pints

  • 1 1/4 cups chopped onions
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 8 lbs ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper


AmyZoe (2009, January 9). Canning marinara sauce. Retrieved from

American Heart Association (2014, February 19). Sodium (salt). Retrieved from