Skinny Kitchen Staples

Featured Article, Healthy Cooking Tips, Weight Loss
on May 11, 2011
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Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

QUESTION: After years and years of on-and-off dieting, I’m ready to change my eating habits for good. Make it simple for me: What’s your go-to healthy food, the one thing you can’t live without? — Dianne

DEAR DIANNE: I’m afraid it’s not that simple. I’ve thought about this question a lot, but I just can’t seem to narrow my whole approach to healthy eating to one single food. I can, though, list some of the key items in my pantry, fridge and freezer, and how I use those foods to help maintain my weight. Here goes:


  • Old-fashioned oats and dry cereal. I have two go-to breakfasts: oatmeal made with skim milk and topped with raisins, and Cheerios plus a sprinkle of Kashi Go-Lean Crunch. The oatmeal satisfies my need for creamy, spicy-sweet carbs (I add a generous amount of cinnamon and stevia, a natural low-cal sweetener), and the cereal mixture gives me something to crunch on. Both are combinations of fiber-rich carbs and protein, to keep me full till lunchtime.
  • Balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I stopped using bottled salad dressings (even the light ones) and switched to simple oil and aged balsamic vinegar to help cut my salt intake—and now there’s no going back.
  • Dark chocolate. My favorite treat. I love Hershey’s Special Dark bars—three of the miniatures is all I need to satisfy my sweet tooth.
  • Pasta plus. I like the Barilla Plus pastas—they have more fiber and protein than the regular stuff.
  • No-salt-added canned tomatoes. I sauté a can of diced tomatoes with onions, garlic and olive oil, toss in frozen shrimp and cook till just opaque, and serve over pasta with a sprinkle of either feta or Parmesan for a quick weeknight dinner.
  • Sweet potatoes. A plain, roasted sweet potato is an easy, nutritious side dish. Yum!
  • Pita chips. Great for dipping and leaner than regular chips.





  • Fresh lemons and limes. Fresh lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and fresh parsley makes a great marinade; mix lime juice with soy sauce, canola oil and a drop of sesame oil for an Asian version.
  • Super skim. Enhanced skim milk is creamier than regular, making it an easier “sell” for my husband and son.
  • Aged cheddar, feta and Parmesan cheeses. Just a sprinkle adds a ton of flavor to any dish.
  • Sparkling water, and cranberry and grapefruit juices. I love fizzy drinks. Plain selzer with splashes of cranberry and grapefruit juices quench my thirst without a ton of calories. I also mix seltzer with white wine during the warmer months for a light and refreshing adult beverage.
  • Fat-free Greek yogurt (plain and flavored). Twice the protein of regular yogurt and infinitely creamier, Greek yogurt makes a great snack. I use the plain instead of sour cream to top chicken tacos and other dishes.



  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs. A must-have: versatile lean protein sources.
  • Uncooked shrimp. Defrosts quickly and adds great flavor to pastas and stir-fries.
  • Broccoli florets. My emergency stash of veggies for times when a trip to the store isn’t possible. I also use it to add bulk to Lean Cuisines—just steam it in the microwave and mix it in.
  • Ground turkey (93% lean). For burgers, chili, spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, meatloaf. The 93% lean version is moister (and cheaper) than the “extra lean” 99% lean.
  • Salmon burgers. Now, it’s possible to make your own salmon burgers—but it’s not easy. I’ve found a few pre-made frozen patties I like at Costco and Trader Joe’s. Serve them on whole wheat buns with sliced avocado for a hefty dose of healthy omega-3 fats.