Pantry Investments- shopping list for new cooks

I love when fan question’s inspire posts and today we have one. Amanda asked what kind of oil I prefer and what herbs, fresh or dried. After writing nearly a book back to her about the two, I figured there must be more of you out there wondering the same.

So to start, here’s my thought process on foods. First and foremost I look at what an ingredient does for my body THEN I look at the calories. Oil vs. butter is a great example. Butter has nearly zero health benefits, but olive oil has many. They both have about the same amount of calories and fat, so I prefer olive oil. It has the same effect on my caloric intake, but olive oil is by far better for my body.

Here are 4 categories of my favorite kitchen essentials, make a small investment in your pantry and fridge staples and you will be more likely to cook more and lose more weight.

  1. Herbs
  2. Oils and vinegar
  3. Fridge staples
  4. Smart swaps


Many of you have the luxury of living in warm climates and therefore have the ability to keep up a year round garden. Others, like this gal, have the frost to worry about. I’m thrilled that spring is here and I get to plant my garden this weekend! I don’t have much space to work with so I keep it to the absolute necessities, even if you have only a windowsill you have the ability to plant a garden, and now is the time.

Keeping a garden is a great workout! Talk about some serious squats, what if I told you each day you spend an hour in your garden, you can skip going to the gym? One of the best forms of therapy is gardening, it’s great for your mind, body and soul. Even though growing your own herbs may cost the more initially, the $20-$30 you spend upfront will save you three times as much in the long run.

I keep a stock of both fresh and dried at all times. When I can’t grow my own I get it from the Farmer’s market or the organic section of the grocery store.  Below is a list of herbs I cannot live without. Look up your favorite 5 recipes and write down what herbs are in the recipes, you may see some redundancies (for instance 3 of the 5 have basil), in that case get both fresh and dried. This way you never run out of your favorites.

Fresh                                   Dried

Basil                                      Garlic Powder

Sage                                      Oregano

Mint                                      Chilli Powder

Rosemary                             Basil

Cilantro                                Cayenne


I wouldn’t say I’m a snob on this subject, just very lucky to live in an area that’s known for award-winning Olive Oil. I keep several different kinds of olive oil on hand, but the staples that I encourage you to purchase are Olive Oil and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Olive oil has about the same amount of calories as other oils, but many more health benefits. Since I have made the swap my hair is longer and shinier, my skin clearer… and did I mention I LOST 150 LBS?

So, what’s the difference between Olive Oil and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)?

Olive oil won’t have much flavor and is great to cook with. Don’t spend a ton of money on regular olive oil, try to get organic if you can afford it.

EVOO is the most raw form of olive oil you can get, if it’s good it will have a TON of flavor. This is what you want to use in salad dressings, dips and to pour over food before serving. You do not want to cook with EVOO, adding heat will cause it to lose its flavor. EVOO is more expensive, but remember this is only for dressings, dips and topping of food. It will last 3 times as long as regular olive oil, make an investment in the best you can afford. I’m currently obsessed with Stillwaters award-winning olive oil.

Vinegar are an important investment as well, my favorite is Balsamic. It adds tons of flavor without adding tons of calories. The important thing to remember with vinegar is that you will rarely cook with it, therefore you will be using it raw and you want great flavor. When it comes to balsamic, you will know it’s good if it’s sticky. Basically, if it’s a pain to clean up… you got the good stuff.

Apple cider, white, or white wine vinegar will also be a good investment, don’t go all out on cost but don’t get the cheapest either. This will last a year or two so spend an extra $5 and get the best you can afford.


One of my most popular posts, Grocery List for Weight Loss Success already has covered my must have fridge staples, but here are the five I cannot live without and always have in my refrigerator.

0% Greek Yogurt– a great swap for cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise, try in my Angel Eggs.

Unsweetened Almond Milk- great for cooking, saves loads of calories! Use it to replace regular milk in cooking, you will won’t be able to tell the difference! Try in my Mac and Cheese.

Unsalted butter- one of the worst things you can put in your body is that fake butter, it is full of chemicals and will only add fat to your body. If you must use butter, get the real stuff!

Hot Sauce!- Hot sauce adds tons of flavor, and most add zero calories. My favorite is Pepper Plant hot sauce, when I can I buy it in a gallon jug… really! 

Mustard- I have Dijon, Spicy and English mustard. Adds loads of flavor and minimal calories, try in my Whole Baked Chicken and Potatoes


Everything I have mentioned so far is technically a . Smart swaps are ingredients that will save you calories and add nutritional benefits to your food. For instance, Greek yogurt can be swapped for sour cream, mayo and cheese. You can even add some homemade jam and fruit for an instant sweet treat, it has half the calories and fat than mayo, cheese and sour cream, plus tons of protein and calcium.

I wanted to give you 5 items you can keep in your pantry that will save you tons of calories, and make cooking and baking easier and tastier.

Unsweetened Apple Sauce- Use in place of sugar and butter in baking, like in my Cherry Almond Scones.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips- Use in place of milk chocolate and save tons of calories. Grab a couple of tablespoons to nibble on instead of a candy bar. Try in my Cherry Garcia Yogurt..

Honey- I try to use honey in place of sugar anytime I can. I have allergies and local honey helps build immunity to local allergens. Try in my Nutty Banana Roll Ups.

REAL Maple Syrup-
Did you know maple syrup has fewer calories than sugar, honey and agave? Make sure it is real, you need to read the ingredients to be sure. I like to use in baking, it adds a ton of flavor and sweetness and you don’t need as much, which also helps you cut the calories. Try in my Skinny French Toast.

Baby food- REALLY! Baby food is great for baking, just like apple sauce it is a great swap for butter and sugar. I keep both pear and peach in my house at all times. Try my Peach Cobbler Cookies, I brought them to a radio interview and the DJ couldn’t stop talking about how shocked he was that there was baby food in them… but of course I didn’t tell him till he was on his third cookie.

A big thank you to Amanda K. who inspired this post, below is a grocery list for a quick reference while on the go.


  • Olive Oil
  • GOOD Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • White, white wine or apple cider vinegar
  • Greek Yogurt- 0%
  • Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • Unsalted butter
  • Eggs
  • Mustard- I have Dijon, Spicy and English mustard.
  • Unsweetened Apple Sauce- get the little cups they are ½ cup each
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • Honey
  • REAL Maple Syrup
  • Baby food
  • Your favorite herbs- see above herb section to make your list.

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2 thoughts on “Pantry Investments- shopping list for new cooks”

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