Just like the perfect mattress, the perfect pantry can add immeasurably to the quality of your health.Start first with the actual real estate. Few would admit to having enough space in their kitchen. “The tug of war is always counter space versus pantry space,” says Fred Dodd, whose Kitchen and Countertop Shoppe, LLC, based in UCity, sells Merillat cabinetry and other storage solutions. Dodd helps homeowners redesign even small kitchens to maximize space. “I tell customers first to squeeze as much storage as possible by going vertical,” says Dodd. “Countertops are always at a premium,” he adds. “Things like ‘lazy susans’ under the counter, roll-out drawers and a system of ‘folding’ shelves don’t cost much at all if they’re installed during the building phase It costs more afterward to add these features to make the kitchen more functional.”Chef Michael Rosen of The Speedway Club restaurant at Charlotte Motor Speedway offers his professional perspective on storage and organization: “There’s never enough space in a kitchen so you have to utilize all of it. Free up as much countertop as possible. One great idea is to get yourself some S-hooks and hang pots and utensils on a rack suspended from the ceiling over the stove. It doesn’t have to be a fancy arrangement, but it works. Or buy a baker’s rack and stick it in the corner. It can be both functional and decorative.”Got an actual pantry? “One of those modular racks over the door can add a bunch of storage,” says Rosen, a UCity resident. “It works just like a shoe rack in your bedroom closet.”If you’re building or remodeling a kitchen, both Dodd and Rosen advise, discuss with your builder how best to maximize every inch of space, including the installation of an island and space-enhancers like roll-out shelves.Your cupboards are now organized magnificently. What do you put in them?“Food is not rocket science,” says Chef Rosen. “But you need to use common sense.” His principal advice: “Buy fresh, buy local and buy often.”Denise Hairston of Huntersville, who teaches healthy cooking classes at Carolinas Medical Center-Northlake Mall, agrees. “Keep your food and its sources as close to you as possible,” she says. “That means buying fresh produce, fresh ingredients, making your own meals rather than getting them out of a box.” There are few shortcuts, no one-stop shopping. “This is your health we’re talking about,” says Hairston, who prepares mostly meatless meals. “Yes, this takes more time, but it pays off in taste and nutrition. And you feel better!”The key, Hairston maintains, is in the seasonings. “We all want our food to have great flavor, don’t we? Keeping a variety of seasonings on hand will give your food the kick it needs to make it interesting and flavorful.”Becky Kepley of Concord, a busy mom of two and a fitness instructor at University YMCA, is studying to be a holistic health coach. She has strong opinions on how to stock a pantry: “I ask people, ‘How many sick days are you willing to miss work or school because you’ve fed themselves and your family poison?’ This question may sound harsh, but what we put into our bodies governs our health,” Kepley says.Food, she explains, is the fuel that keeps us running, and if we put in junk fuel, we shouldn’t be surprised if the machinery eventually breaks down.When shopping for groceries, Kepley says, one must read labels. She prefers to keep products made with high-fructose corn syrup and dyes out of her cupboards. “Those dyes pop up in juices, soft drinks, even relish. Not good!”“Multi-grain” is not necessarily “good,” either, Kepley says. She advises to look instead for whole wheat products. And be careful of overstocking the pantry with convenience foods: “I’m not saying ‘no’ to cans, but you should still read those labels, and never buy anything with an expiration date beyond six months.”How to make this switch? Kepley advises implementing it with little goals. “Maybe take one day when you don’t eat any product that comes from cellophane or a box, and see what happens. Start slow. Just like any diet, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.”
Be preparedYou’re busy and you have neither the time nor inclination to spend hours every week running from farmer’s markets to grocery stores AND cooking 21 healthy meals from scratch. The experts understand your dilemma. Most of us are accustomed to making a grocery list based only on next week’s meals. It takes a little discipline and planning, but nutrition teacher Denise Hairston says in the long run the following strategy will save you time and money: Set aside one block of time to devote to the issues of kitchen storage and food staples. Buy lots of sturdy, stackable, see-through canisters at a store like Walmart or HomeGoods. While you’re at it, drop by IKEA to check out their storage solutions, like a baker’s rack or rotating shelf accessory. Stock up on basics like brown rice, flour (whole wheat is great), pasta, nuts, whole grain cereals, dried herbs and other items sold in bulk. Also shop for canned staples like low-sodium creamed soups, chicken broth, tuna and tomatoes; tea; frozen vegetables; peanut butter; and sale items that meet high nutritional standards. Good sources for these investment purchases are Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Healthy Home Markets, Sam’s Clubs and Earth Fare. Stop by Barbee Farms in Cabarrus County or another local farmer’s market and stock up on seasonal fruits and vegetables to eat today. Consider what you might be able preserve for later by canning or freezing. Label the canisters and store your goodies. Most of these items have a shelf life of six months or more. The next time you’re in a rush and don’t have time to run to the store, fret not: You’ve already got the makings of a meal right on your shelves.