The healthy pantry makeover

Faced with a choice between cooking a healthful meal and ordering out, many weary (or wary) cooks will opt for take-out. But with take-out they can be taking key nutrients out of their diets. If you have your local eateries on speed-dial, you could be under-nourished and overspending. A smart pantry makeover will put nourishing meals and wholesome snacks within your reach.

Open your cupboard. Is it bare as Old Mother Hubbard's? Do you see a castle of untouched cans? A spice rack gathering dust and losing flavour? Individual tastes may vary, but for a robust, useful cupboard, fill up on the following staple items. Mix and match: They can become the fixings of many a quick snack or hearty meal.

Essential elements

These are the go-to items that pull everything together.

  • oils and vinegars that are low in saturated fats
    • olive oil
    • canola oil
    • balsamic vinegar
  • herbs and spices
    • oregano
    • basil
    • dill
    • sage
    • thyme
    • peppermint
    • salt and pepper
    • rosemary
    • garlic
    • ginger
  • sweeteners
    • honey
    • blackstrap molasses
  • grains, nuts, seeds
    • sesame seeds
    • pine nuts
    • oats
    • granola

Meal makers

The meal makers are those items that bulk up or provide the base for lunches and dinners.

  • broths and soup stock
  • rice
  • pasta
  • dried beans

Can do

Canned foods are affordable pantry standbys. Long shelf-lives make them convenient and handy in a pinch. Closely eyeball the labels to monitor salt, fat, and sugar content, and try to choose the ones with the simplest list of ingredients.

  • canned tomato sauce or paste
  • canned beans: garbanzo, black, navy, kidney
  • canned seafood: salmon, tuna, crab

Snack shack

Nutritious snacks are a necessity. For a boost of energy or just to fill in the gaps between meals, stash away some of the following wholesome, bite-sized treats.

  • sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
  • almonds, walnuts, peanuts
  • peanut butter
  • popcorn
  • dried cranberries, apricots, sun-dried tomatoes
  • whole-grain crackers

Ways to wash it all down

The cupboard can be home to a few beneficial beverages.

  • green tea (has antioxidants and may reduce cancer risk)
  • mint tea (may help in digestion and soothe the stomach)
  • hot chocolate (chocolate may protect against heart disease)

Shady foods

Some foods thrive in the shadows. For vegetables, this precaution prevents sprouting. For other food items, it's just a matter of preserving freshness and flavour.

  • potatoes
  • yams and sweet potatoes
  • onions
  • coffee
  • dried herbs
  • garlic

Click here to print up a shopping list for your healthy pantry makeover.

Home, safe home

The typical Canadian home is full of toxic substances, which are any chemical or mixture that is harmful to humans, animals, or the environment. We know about a lot of them - we bring them home in the form of household cleaners, detergents, furniture polish, and other products. Others may not be so obvious, such as lead paint used in older homes.

Read the labels of household chemicals carefully. Look for safety information and symbols that say: "caution," "warning," and "danger" (the latter being the most serious). Use only as directed and keep them in the original containers out of the reach of children and pets. Don't spray or store products near human and animal food and water.

Safely discard expired products (find out if your community holds "hazardous waste" days). Store items that are flammable away from your living area and appliances, and keep all toxic substances out of the reach of children or pets.

Let's look at common hazardous items and how to handle them safely.

Lead paint

Lead is dangerous when accidentally inhaled or swallowed. Exposure can cause brain damage and nervous system damage, which may lead to learning disabilities. Lead poisoning can also lead to anemia. Lead poisoning in kids is still a problem in Canada. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning because their developing bodies take up lead more readily.

Many homes built before 1960 have lead-based paint (it has since been banned for use in houses) in the interior of the house. Lead is also found in soil around homes with exterior lead paint, in household dust that contains lead from paint that is in bad condition, and in old painted furniture and toys. Lead-based paint that is peeling or cracking, or used on surfaces and objects that young children might chew on (such as windowsills and railings) is a hazard. Lead-based paint in good condition usually doesn't pose a threat. If you're concerned about lead, consult with your doctor and request for a blood test to assess how much lead you and your family is consuming. Don't try to remove lead paint yourself - doing it improperly could worsen the situation.

Lead may also be in your water if your pipes are made with lead or lead solder. Contact the health ministry and ask about water testing. Read more about lead from Health Canada's Effects of Lead on Human Health at

Products used around the house

We use a lot of products to keep our homes and clothes clean and fresh-smelling, including disinfectant, glass cleaner, laundry detergent, chlorine bleach, air freshener, metal polish, spot remover, carpet cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, and furniture polish.

These contain various chemicals that can be harmful to people if used incorrectly or with excessive exposure. For example, if bleach is mixed with ammonia, they can produce a lethal gas. Ammonia in glass cleaners can irritate the eyes and lungs and cause headaches. Hydrochloric acid in toilet bowl cleaners can cause burns or gastrointestinal problems if swallowed. Blindness can result if it is splashed into the eyes. Some laundry detergents can cause vomiting, shock, and convulsions if swallowed.

Be careful when using these products - follow directions closely, heed precautions such as wearing rubber gloves or ensuring adequate ventilation, and know what to do in case of injury. Keep these products tightly capped or closed when not in use, and store out of the reach of children or pets.

Products found in the garage and backyard

Antifreeze, motor oil, batteries, paint and paint thinner, insecticides, windshield washer fluid, swimming pool tablets, insect repellents - these are just some of the potentially hazardous items in garages across the country.

Antifreeze, for example, is poisonous if swallowed, and can damage the heart, kidneys, and brain. (Clean up spills so pets, who like the sweet smell, don't drink them.) Motor oil contains heavy metals that can cause nerve and kidney damage, and the sulfuric acid in batteries can cause blindness and severe burns. The organophosphates and carbamates in insecticides can cause headaches, twitching, nausea, and dizziness.

To prevent injury, make sure containers are not leaking and caps are on tightly, and dispose of these items safely - consult your public health department.

For more safety information about household chemicals, contact the Poison Information Centre in your area.

Natural alternatives

If you want to reduce the number of chemicals you use in your home, consider switching to natural alternatives. Only a few decades ago, people used items like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice to keep their homes clean. Here are some examples:

  • Baking soda deodorizes, cleans without scratching, and removes stains. To clear a clogged drain, for example, try a plunger first, then pour half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of white vinegar down the drain and cover it. (Don't use this after a commercial cleaner - it is dangerous.)
  • Vinegar makes a good window cleaner when mixed with water. Undiluted white vinegar also cleans stainless steel.
  • Lemon juice mixed with water is also a good glass cleaner.

Prepping your home for medical situations

If you looked inside your medicine cabinet at home, would you find the kinds of supplies you'd need to handle a medical emergency?

Whether it's antiseptic ointment to protect skin from infection or gauze pads for cuts and wounds, it's always a good idea to be prepared for any number of situations.

In fact, experts recommend that every household should have basic first aid materials and information on hand all the time.

A typical first aid kit in your home should include:

  scissors and tweezers
  flashlight and batteries
  bandages and gauze pads of various sizes
  antiseptic ointment
  adhesive tape
  plastic bags
  disposable gloves
  hand cleaner
  safety pins


While your medicine cabinet doesn't need to be stacked with a compendium of over-the-counter medications like in a pharmacy, certain ones for common ailments are suggested.

Your cabinet should contain:

  pain relievers (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
  stomach-settling medications (e.g., antacids)
  anti-nauseants for vomiting and nausea
  antihistamines for allergic reactions
  calamine lotion to treat bee stings or poison ivy


Sometimes keeping different forms of medication can also be a good idea. For example, children's medication can be available in liquid or suppository forms, the latter being more useful if the child is vomiting.

Many people keep their medicine cabinets in the bathroom, but health professionals say they should be placed in a dry, temperature controlled room, such as in a linen closet. Make sure that any medications are kept out of children's reach, preferably in a locked cabinet or box.

If you take regular prescription medications, it's a good idea to keep extra amounts available (such as a 10-day supply) in a safe place – just in case you need it. Don't let that supply sit around longer than six months, though – replace your "back-up" medications when you renew your prescription and use up all of your older supply.

If there are people with diabetes in the house who are prone to having low blood sugar, be sure to have certain supplies on hand to treat them in the event of an emergency situation, such as glucose tablets, candies or fruit drinks. Having a properly functioning blood glucose monitor would also be helpful, especially if you or a member of your family are taking insulin or other anti-diabetes medications and are prone to getting dips in your blood sugar readings. If you are not sure if yours is working correctly, call your pharmacist and make an appointment to see him or her to go over how to use it and ensure it is in proper working order.

In addition to medical supplies, emergency contact information should be displayed in a common area like the refrigerator, where everyone in your house can easily find it, no matter what time of day or night it is. Important medical information (such as allergies, medical conditions, and prescription medications) should also be recorded on a list that you keep with you at all times (like in your wallet).

Phone numbers and working hours posted on the fridge should include:

  family doctors
  local hospitals
  police (emergency and non-emergency)
  poison control centres


Up-to-date medical records of family members can also come in handy in a crunch, so you may want to find an easy-to-find location in your house to keep copies of vaccination records, as well as a list containing what medications people are currently taking and what types of allergies they have.

Also, make a point to regularly check the expiry dates on the medications you keep in your first aid kit. If they are expired, take them to your local pharmacy for proper disposal.

You never know when an emergency will unfold or what the nature of it will be, but the more prepared you are, the better able you'll likely be at coping with it.

Your best home workout moves

Home workouts have come a long way from the days of pumping iron in a dank basement corner, or keeping up with the cast of the "20-Minute Workout." The market is full of fitness equipment, clothing, and DVDs to help you achieve a fitter, slimmer body – in the comfort of your own home.

Consider the following home workout tips:

Keep your eyes on the prize

Establish your fitness objectives: Do you want to lift weights, do cardio, or both? Do you want to include yoga, Pilates, or tai chi in your routine? Perhaps you'd like to do a bit of everything?

Begin with exercise activities you know, like, and can afford and gradually add new and more challenging activities to your routine.

Location, location, location

Pick a spot in your home that's furniture-free and big enough to accommodate tall and bulky exercise equipment such as a universal weight-training machine, treadmill, or free weights. Basements are ideal exercise zones because they insulate the sounds (and smells!) of your workout.

Get the right gear

For heavy-duty exercise machines, comparison shop at different fitness stores or online. If you're on a tight budget, purchase one machine and complement your workout with do-it-yourself aerobics such as jumping jacks and invisible rope skipping as well as weight-bearing exercises such as push-ups and lunges.

Browse the aisles or websites of book retailers or fitness stores for suitable workout DVDs.

Choose comfortable, well-fitting workout clothes and running shoes, and any extra desired gear, such as a yoga mat, pedometer, or sweat bands.

Set the stage

If possible, install bright lights and mirrors on one or more walls to monitor your progress and to help you assess your form when doing exercises.

Use sufficient air conditioning or oscillating fans to keep the room cool and moisture-free.

Protect your flooring against the strain of machinery and heavy weights by installing thick, sturdy rubber mats.

Consider installing a TV to follow workout videos, or to minimize monotony when using cardio machines.

Go the distance

Fitness experts say that to lose weight, you should exercise for 45 minutes to an hour, 4 to 5 times a week. Diversify your workout to help you maintain momentum: mix up your cardio exercise with skipping and kickboxing moves; break up weightlifting time with abdominal crunches, push-ups, and movements on a core board (a three-dimensional muscle-strengthening device); and invite a friend to exercise with you.

Challenge yourself with increasingly longer and more intense workouts. If you stick with it, eventually the pounds will melt away to reveal a slimmer you.

Clear your chest

Clear your chest. Your medicine chest or cabinet, that is. When was the last time you cleaned it out?

If you're a regular headache sufferer or live with someone who is, then your cabinet is probably full of painkillers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).

You should make it a habit to check expiry dates and chuck out all outdated medications or those that show signs of breaking down. Just like food, medications do spoil over time. Old ASA (e.g., Aspirin®) and acetaminophen tablets that are ready to be thrown out may smell of vinegar. Liquid medications may become discoloured.

But don't throw medications in the garbage! Instead, take them to your local pharmacy for disposal. Many pharmacies have programs where they accept old medications and pay for special waste disposal companies to destroy them safely. Alternatively, check out local community newspapers advertising hazardous waste disposal days organized by your community. You can usually get rid of outdated medications at these events along with unwanted household chemicals like leftover paint and paint thinners.