Wondering how to fill your kitchen and pantry with healthy real food so you can cook nourishing meals even during emergencies? Here are my top tips on how to stock a paleo pantry!
I’ve heard from many Nomsters—especially those who are brand-new to Paleo—who’ve read my Paleo 101 overview and want to dive right in, but they don’t know how to prep for the journey. And while I’ve posted about my own home pantry before, I know mine’s got a bit more stuff than most folks need. (I tell myself it’s ’cause I develop recipes for a living now—but to be honest, it’s also because I’m a recovering hoarder.)
Ready? Let’s fill your kitchen with all the good stuff that’s going into your family’s belly!
Stock up on protein!
I’ve said it before: The most sustainable, nourishing, and flavorful animal protein comes from healthy beasts that chow down on whatever nature intended them to eat. When filling up your freezer or fridge, prioritize the purchase of grass-fed (and grass-finished) beef, lamb, and goat, as well as pastured poultry/eggs and sustainable seafood.
Yeah, I know—these items aren’t cheap, but I make it work by buying ground meat and lower-cost braising cuts (e.g., chicken thighs, whole chickens, chuck roast, brisket, beef shanks, Boston butt roast). Plus, I always stock up when there’s a sale.
I also keep “emergency protein” on-hand to ensure quick meals whenever I’m too tired, lazy, or stressed to whip up more complicated recipes. These pre-cooked items include canned seafood, (like wild salmon, sardines, and tuna), hard-boiled eggs, sausages, and organic deli meat. And when I’ve got absolutely nothing in the house, I’ll swing by my local market and buy a salt-and-pepper-seasoned rotisserie chicken that I can serve with a giant green salad. But to be frank, I try to always have stuff in the pantry, ’cause the only way to ensure healthy meals is to be prepared!
Key thing to remember: don’t make perfect the enemy of good. Just do the best you can. (True confession: we have some cans of Spam in the pantry, too.)
Online healthy meat sources
I have personally shopped online at these vendors and highly recommend their meat and seafood:
Fruits and Vegetables!
People wrongly assume that eating Paleo is a MEAT FEST, but I respectfully disagree. Sure—on my dinner plate, you’ll find a palm-sized portion of high-quality protein, but the rest of my plate is overflowing with vegetables. It’s become a Paleo cliché, but I eat more plants than I did when I dabbled in vegetarianism many years ago.
I prioritize purchasing in-season, pesticide-free produce and I make sure my family eats a variety of fruits and veggies. Of course, I have to make sure that I actually eat ’em because there’s nothing worse than pulling open my vegetable crisper and finding melted and moldy produce.
Vegetables and fruit with a longer shelf life:
- Winter squash (e.g. butternut, kabocha, spaghetti, and delicata varieties)
- Citrus (e.g. oranges, tangerines, lemons, grapefruit, etc.)
- Cabbage (e.g. Napa, green, red, and savoy)
- Potatoes (store them in a cool, dark place)
- Onions, shallots, and garlic
Stock your freezer with veggies!
I also stock up on “emergency greens” by stocking my freezer with organic frozen vegetables (e.g. kale, spinach, peas, mixed vegetables, cubed squash, riced cauliflower, etc.). After all, when the veggies are pre-washed, pre-cut, and in my freezer already—I don’t have an excuse not to cook with them.
Healthy Cooking Fats!
Replace the bottles of highly processed, omega-6 dominant vegetable oils on your shelves with healthy cooking fats like ghee, coconut oil, rendered animal fats (e.g., lard, tallow, bacon drippings, and duck fat), avocado oil, algae oil, or extra-virgin olive oil. Remember: fat is not the enemy. You just need to make sure the fats you consume are the right fats. (You can read more about healthy fats in this cooking fat primer by my pal, Diane Sanfilippo!)
Nobody wants blah food, right? I have certain items on-hand all the time that will magically transform meat and veggies from boring to nomtastic! The number one thing to know is which ingredients naturally boost umami, the fifth taste. I extoll the virtues of umami whenever I can because it truly is the shortcut to deliciousness. You can read about it in both of our cookbooks or listen to this podcast episode to learn more.
Here are the flavor boosters that I stock in my kitchen:
- Coconut Aminos: This dark, salty, aged coconut tree sap tastes remarkably similar to soy sauce, but without gluten or soy. I combine it with fish sauce for the perfect seasoning.
- Red Boat Fish Sauce: Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in a number of Southeast Asian cultures. It’s literally umami in a bottle. Yes, it smells a little gross, but don’t judge a condiment by it’s nose. A few drops makes every savory dish taste better.
- Fresh garlic, ginger, scallions: I do a lot of Chinese cooking so I always make sure I have these three items on hand—the holy trinity of Cantonese cooking.
- Fresh herbs: Fresh herbs add brightness and flavor to your meals, so make sure you have plenty on hand. Watch this Periscope video to see how I store fresh herbs so they last up to two weeks.
- Dried spices and seasonings: My spice cabinet always contains dried thyme, bay leaves, garlic, and onion. But my secret weapons are the Nom Nom Paleo Spice Blends. All four (Magic Mushroom Powder, Umami Stir Fry powder, Nomtastic Grilling Powder and Spicy Sichuan Powder) can be used in lieu of salt but will instantly add extra umami and umph! without any extra steps. Read more about them here.
- Assorted vinegars/citrus: Acids are a key component in cooking, and one of the most valuable flavor enhancers in your pantry. A splash of vinegar or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice often adds much-needed tartness and brightness to your finished dishes. Just make sure that your vinegars don’t contain gluten (e.g., malt vinegar) or additives.
- Prepared sauces/dressings: It’s always better to make your own sauces and dressings from scratch, like my All Purpose Stir-Fry Sauce and Sesame Ginger Dressing. Still, I keep a few bottles of marinara sauce, Thai curry paste, and salsa in the pantry. All feature Paleo-friendly ingredients, and enable me to quickly throw together a meal. (Feeling ambitious? Make your own Paleo-friendly sriracha. I even have a Whole30-compliant version!)
- Dried Mushrooms: Add a blast of umami to all your stews and braises by tossing in a few reconstituted dried mushrooms. You can also use them to make the best seasoning blend of all time, Magic Mushroom Powder.
- Tomato Paste: Just one spoonful will add depth and umami to your stews and braises.
- Bacon: Bacon is delicious, but I use it more as a flavor booster than as the main dish. Make sure the bacon you choose is made with pastured pork and no crazy additives. If you’re on a strict Paleo challenge, avoid bacon with added sugar. My kids go crazy over my Roasted Broccoli & Bacon, because BACON.
I frequently update this Amazon store with my favorite paleo kitchen pantry items, including the stuff I mentioned above!
Your mother is 100% correct about water being the best way to hydrate, and I’m not going to disagree with her. You can make your agua fancier by adding sliced fruit or cucumbers (spa water!) or you can guzzle sparkling water. But if you’re craving something different, I recommend kombucha, assorted teas (with no sweetener or dairy), coconut water, or black coffee. Homemade almond milk is also kind of awesome. (Just omit the vanilla extract if you’re on a Whole30.) On chilly mornings, one of my favorite drinks is a warm mug of bone broth, which you can store frozen in convenient portion sizes. Don’t knock it ’til you try it!
After I started eating Paleo, I discovered that I was a lot less hangry, and I didn’t need to snack every couple of hours. Once my body got acclimated to eating real food again and responding to my natural satiety cues, I found that I wasn’t hungry all the time. In fact, when you go Paleo, you’ll probably only reach for nibbles because you’re bored and feeling like chomping on something. If I’m at home and my stomach rumbles ’cause I didn’t quite fill up on my main meal, my snacks tend to be mini versions of meals (like fruit or vegetables + protein + healthy fat).
Packable paleo snacks!
Of course, there will be times when you’ll be traveling or stuck in a Paleo wasteland in between meals (say, at work or school) and you might want to have a little something in your bag to tide you over. My favorites are salted and roasted macadamia nuts, beef jerky, and dark chocolate (85-90% cacao). I don’t
indulge in sweets too often, but when I do, I make sure it’s worth it and I won’t feel terrible afterwards. (Reminder: If you’re doing a strict Paleo challenge, you should avoid even Paleo-fied versions of your favorite treats. Sugar is still sugar, even if it’s in the form of honey or maple syrup.)
Okay, Nomsters—keep well-nourished and stay healthy!
[Originally posted on December 28, 2015. Updated on June 14, 2022.]
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017) and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022).