Start with the basics…

My youngest niece is graduating high school this week. She will be (god help us) moving in to her own apartment in the fall. Part of the reason I’m writing this blog is to help her with some of the basics of living independently. I’m going to start with the topic of food preparation because it’s my favorite thing to talk about (some may use the word preach, I think that’s a bit harsh).
If I can get just one message across to her, and anyone else who’s reading along, it is this. EAT REAL FOOD. Please. Perhaps we need to go over what I mean, exactly, by “real food”. Michael Pollan, one of my hero’s, tells us “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. Very good advise, but I think we may have to amend that to great-great-grandmother when it comes to this next generation of young adults. I could go on for days on this subject and will revisit it in future posts but, for now, you can try to follow a few simple guidelines. This list comes from reading countless books and articles on the subject of nutrition as well as following several popular diets over the years. And, of course, just by being your basic food geek.

  1. Eat your veggies and fruit. If you can’t buy organic, get a wash that will remove pesticides and chemicals – Trader Joe’s has a good one. 
  2. Read ingredients lists – if they are unrecognizable and hard to pronounce, you probably shouldn’t eat it
  3. Read nutritional labels – just say no to trans-fats, high fructose corn syrup, and anything with a high sugar content (no matter what kind) that has no fiber or protein
  4. Try really, super, duper hard to stay away from the fast food. I mean it. After a while, it won’t even taste as good.
  5. Don’t tell me you can’t afford to buy healthy food. You people have more toys, gadgets and services than I could even imagine when I was first starting out. Make your health a priority over purchasing the next Glee DVD collection. Think of all the health care costs you’ll save in the future.
  6. Take a bit of time to stock your pantry/cupboards and fridge so you always have something quick and easy to eat. It will save a lot of time and money in the long run.
Here are some basics that you might want to have on hand if you have limited time and space. I’ll spare you the fancy pantry list for now. If you don’t like or have an intolerance to any of these items, try to find an equivalent that works for you. For example, if you’re following a gluten-free diet, substitute rice or quinoa pasta for wheat. It will save money and you’ll have more room if you buy some of these items in the bulk section, especially spices. 
Basic Pantry Items
Salt & Pepper
All Purpose Flour
Sugar (white and brown)
Pasta
Rice
Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
Canned beans (black, red kidney, refried, etc.)
Real Vanilla extract
Spices (cinnamon, garlic powder, oregano, basil, cumin, red pepper flakes, chili powder)
Cocoa Powder
Baking soda & powder
Oatmeal
Canned, chopped tomatoes
Tomato paste
Jarred Pasta Sauce (Trader Joe’s tomato basil is really good)
Peanut Butter
Canned Tuna
Honey/Agave nectar
Chocolate chips

Basic Fridge Items
Eggs
Milk
Butter (real!)
String Cheese
Hard Cheese (cheddar/Parmesan/Swiss etc.)
Veggies (celery, peppers, carrots, greens etc.)
Favorite citrus fruit
Apples
Seasonal fruit
Ketchup
Mustard
Greek Yogurt, Sour Cream or Mayo (in order of healthiest, they can be used similarly)
Jam/Jelly
Protein of choice (meat, tofu, fish)

Please do not refrigerate the following (but, by all means, have them on hand)
Onions
Tomatoes
Garlic
Avocados
Bananas
Bread

Okay, I know it’s a lot of information. You can handle it though. Really, you can.
Easy recipes are coming!
It’s important not to take it all too seriously and make it a huge chore. Grab a friend and go grocery shopping together. You could even share items you don’t think you’ll be able to use up on your own. If you need to ask for a small loan to get you started, I think that this is one area your family might be happy to help.
Gotta go pick up my girls now… This was fun!

“Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos – the trees, the clouds, everything” Thich Nhat Hanh

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