Pantry Raid: Cook Smarter to Lose Pounds

Featured Article, Healthy Cooking Tips, Healthy Meal Ideas, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition
on October 20, 2014
pantry raid cook smart to lose pounds

Are you stuck in a pantry pothole, buying the same ingredients week after week? You’re not alone—many of us load up our carts with foods we’re familiar with, simply because it’s easier and faster than exploring other options (especially when picky palettes come into play). That’s fine for a while, but know what’s even better? Switching things up! Experimenting with new ingredients, or different versions of your favorite ingredients, is incredibly rejuvenating and can have some serious nutrient advantages.

Take tomato sauce, for example. If you think your favorite brand of tomato sauce is simply pureed tomatoes and a few seasonings, think again. Many varieties have added ingredients like oil, sugar and copious amounts of salt (up to 500 milligrams per 1/2 cup). My Italian grandmother would cringe. Switch to no-salt added tomatoes and you can create sauces, chutneys, soups, and stews with whatever ingredients you choose to add. For smooth sauces, puree the tomatoes in a food processor and strain away the solids.

How about plain white rice and pasta? Choose quinoa and shave 10 minutes from your prep time while enjoying a bounty of nutrients and fiber. Gluten-free quinoa contains more protein than any other grain and it stands alone as a complete protein, meaning it provides all the essential amino acids in a balanced pattern. Quinoa is also a great source of iron and zinc, both key nutrients for healthy cells.

Now for butter. I’m sure you realize it’s a diet-destructor, lending heaps of calories and saturated fat to baked goods. Get this: 1/2 cup of butter has 803 calories and 58 grams of saturated fat. But, simply replace that butter with an equal amount of mashed avocado (120 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat per 1/2 cup) and erase 683 calories and 57 grams of saturated fat from your favorite cookie, cake, muffin, or quick bread recipe. Heart-healthy avocados lend a rich creaminess to batters without imparting any flavor. Avocados do, however, lend a shade of green – which my kids find extra appealing!

Here are three great recipes to pull you out of that pothole and into pantry perfection!

Instead of: Tomato Sauce
Try: No-Salt Added Tomatoes

Grilled Chicken with Tomato Chutney

chicken with salsa

For Moroccan-inspired chutney, add 1 teaspoon ground cumin and use cilantro instead of basil or parsley.

Note: This chutney is also excellent spooned over fish, steak, pork, and served alongside cheese and crackers.


  • 14.5-ounce can no salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 4-ounce can diced green chilies, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 4 ounces each)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parley


  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatoes, chilies, olives, sugar, and capers. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture is thick, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, coat a stove-top grill pan with cooking spray and set the pan over medium-high heat to preheat. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the hot pan and cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side, until cooked through.
  3. Remove the chutney from the heat and stir in the basil or parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the chicken with the chutney spooned over top.

Serves 4.

Instead of: Rice and Pasta
Try: Quinoa 

Quinoa Bites with Broccoli and Cheddar

quinoa bites 2


  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup broccoli florets, blanched or steamed in the microwave for 1 minute
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 12-cup mini muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Combine the water and quinoa in a medium saucepan and set the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy.
  3. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and add all remaining ingredients but the parmesan cheese. Mix well to combine. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin pan and press down slightly to make 12 compact mounds. Top the mounds with the parmesan cheese.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges of the cups are golden brown.
  5. Cool for 5 minutes before removing quinoa bites from the pan. Serve warm.

Serves 4-6 (makes 12 bites).

Instead of: Butter
Try: Avocado 

Mini Banana Muffins

mini muffins 2

Note: Instead of muffins, you can make one loaf: Pour the batter into an 8- or 9-inch baking pan that’s been coated with cooking spray and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a wooden pick comes out clean. For a gluten-free version, simply replace the flour with gluten-free baking mix, and eliminate the baking powder and baking soda.


  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large, over-ripe bananas
  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 1/4 cup milk (1% or 2%)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat 3 (12-cup) mini muffin pans with cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix with a fork to combine. Set aside.
  3. Combine the bananas and avocado in a food processor and process until mashed and blended. Add the milk, egg and vanilla and process until blended. Add the flour mixture and pulse on and off until just blended (don’t over-mix).
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, until each is 2/3 full. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted into a center muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins on wire racks.

 Makes 36 mini muffins.