How to Equip Your Kitchen and Pantry for Heart-Healthy Cooking

By James M. Rippe

Equipping your kitchen with a few basic pots, pans, and utensils and your pantry with some basic ingredients enables you to jump right into cooking heart-healthy dishes without having to make an extensive shopping trip.

Equipping your kitchen

Having the right food-preparation and cooking tools enables you to make heart-healthy meals “from scratch” without taking too much time. Preparing your meals from whole foods and staple ingredients enables you to reduce your reliance on convenience foods and other prepared products that may be higher in sodium, added sugar, or saturated fat. You probably have many of these kitchen tools already in your kitchen. You can probably fill in any gaps without spending a fortune:

  • Items that let you easily prepare whole, fresh foods: Healthy cooking makes use of whole, fresh ingredients, and you need the tools to help you prepare them easily and quickly. To that end, opt for a food processor, which lets you slice, dice, and otherwise chop fresh fruits and vegetables quickly. A stick blender is also a very hand piece of equipment because it lets you blend cooked vegetables into a creamy soup or sauce right in the pot. You will also need sharp knives (two paring knives, one boning knife, one chef’s knife, and one serrated slicing/carving knife) and two cutting boards, one for vegetables and fruits and one for meats. Opt for dishwasher-safe plastic, flexible silicon, bamboo, or wood.

    Get the best knives you can afford and keep them sharp. They’ll work for you for a lifetime of good eating.

  • Slow cooker: The truth is, preparing healthy meals takes more time than throwing together a prepackage meal or ordering pizza. Preparing things ahead of time and storing for later use can even the scales. Therefore, a slow cooker is a must because you can make things the night before. Get one large enough to cook extra, and you have enough left over to freeze for another quick meal later.

    If you like hot whole-grain cereal like oatmeal but don’t have time to fix it on workday mornings, try cooking it overnight in the slow cooker.

  • Nonstick cookware: Heart-healthy eating means low-fat eating. Nonstick cookware lets you reduce or eliminate entirely the fats (butter, shortening, and oil) that are often used to keep foods from sticking. The must-haves: a 12-inch skillet, a stock pot, a casserole with a lid, and a basic set of nonstick bakeware. If you plan to do a lot of cooking, opt for sauté pans, sauce pans, and so on.

  • Mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoon, and other necessary implements. A nest of three mixing bowls and a set each of measuring spoons and cups (including 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup) makes a good start. A heavy-duty silicon scraper/spoon, wooden stirring spoons, a spatula, and a sturdy whisk do many mixing jobs. Also invest in a vegetable peeler, a zester, a steamer basket, a colander, a sieve, and an instant-read thermometer. Don’t forget the oven mitts/potholders.

Stocking your pantry

Of course, you can keep many more ingredients ready in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. However, these are some that are frequently used in heart-healthy recipes:

  • Oils — olive oil, canola oil, cooking spray

  • Canned tomatoes (low sodium if possible) — whole, diced, crushed

  • Tomato paste and tomato puree (low sodium if possible)

  • Canned beans — chickpeas/garbanzo, black beans, white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans

    Always drain and rinse canned beans to lower sodium.

  • Dried lentils

  • Canned tuna, salmon, or chicken breast (packed in water)

  • Whole-grain pasta — whole wheat, buckwheat, quinoa

  • Oatmeal (regular rolled or steel cut , not instant)

  • Herbs and spices

    • Dried herbs — oregano, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, dill weed, basil, garlic powder

    • Fresh herbs — cilantro, parsley, garlic

    • Spices — turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, mustard seeds/powder, chili powder, ancho chili powder, nutmeg, allspice, cloves

  • Vegetables — Onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, sweet peppers, salad greens, and any other fresh or frozen vegetables your family likes

  • Dairy (or dairy substitute) and eggs — nonfat milk/milk substitute, yogurt, low-fat cheese, cheese for grating (Parmesan, Romano, or pecorino), eggs or egg substitute

  • Fruit — any fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruit (if canned, opt for fruit in 100 percent juice, not syrup)

  • Nuts and seeds — pecans, almonds, pistachios, or walnuts (or others you like) in the shell or raw shelled; dry-roasted, low-salt peanuts and nut butters (peanut, almond); sesame seeds and flax seeds