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There are things that I always seem to have on my grocery list. Milk, eggs, and peanut butter make the list, but some things are a must in my house and have found their way into more than one recipe. My top five multitaskers are Greek yogurt, reduced sodium tomato paste, canned 100% pumpkin, baby spinach and coconut oil.
Greek yogurt: I use this guy instead of sour cream all the time — tacos, baked potatoes, everything. I substitute Greek in for mayo in chicken salad by using the most solid part and straining a bit to make it as close to mayo consistency as possible. I cut calories in soft cheeses like cream cheese in cheesecake or ricotta in lasagna or alfredo. Greek yogurt makes a great dip; just add ranch powder or a couple teaspoons of buffalo sauce, as a thick calorie reducer for homemade hummus and guacamole. Greek yogurt blended with a bit of honey and diced fruit makes a great snack and if frozen an even better popsicle. Blend with frozen diced bananas for an ice cream alternative that has plenty of health benefits.
>> Read more: Greek Yogurt 50 Ways
Low sodium tomato paste: This fairly inexpensive can deserves more respect than to thicken up chili or red sauces (yes I use it for that too). I use this in my eggplant farm, enchiladas, and meatloaf, especially with turkey to counter the lower fat content so everything sticks together, because there is just way too much sugar in ketchup. I pretty much use it for any recipe that calls for ketchup. “Pizza pin-wheels” are a go to appetizer when we entertain and LSTP keeps those stuck together better than regular marinara.
>> Recipe: Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes
Canned 100% pure pumpkin: This is another staple year round. I can use pumpkin in brownies, pound cake, cookies by substituting for half the called-for butter. Skinny Mom has a great pumpkin pasta recipe that has become a family favorite after we tweaked it to our tastes. I mix pumpkin into meatloaf, oatmeal, blend with Greek yogurt, honey, and nutmeg for a party dip (or to eat with a spoon), thicken up chili, in smoothies, cheese soup. If something calls for a creamy sauce I will try pumpkin in there, this chameleon food can take on so many flavors for a relatively low amount of calories. I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to pumpkin recipes.
Baby spinach: This is something I buy fresh weekly. We eat so much that I bought a special “green” box to hold off mushiness as long as possible. I use spinach instead of iceberg on sandwiches, tacos, salads, wraps and spring rolls. I mix it with kale to make pesto. After I cut off the stems I shove as much into the blender as will fit for smoothies. I chop spinach finely for lasagna, quiche, omelets, and soups. Spinach, feta cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes make one of my favorite pizzas. I can dehydrate leaves to make chips just like kale; try with powdered mustard, sea salt, and EVOO.
>> Read more: The Power of Spinach
Coconut oil: My last, but surely not least! I use it to bake and fry, instead of Crisco for my cookies and to keep my cast iron pan seasoned. Anything that calls for oil or grease can use coconut oil, just turn down the heat as there is a lower flash point on coconut oil than rendered animal fats or other vegetable sources. It can get gum out of hair, soften puppy paws, or mix with coarse sugar and a few drops of essential oil (try lemon/ vanilla or lavender/ peach) for a hand and body scrub. A thin coat over scars help them to soften up, or inside my dog’s ears ward off mites and other summer creepies. I use it in homemade hand soap in hopes of adding a moisturizing agent, and my girls and I have tried our hand at making lip balm and lotion. While a cool craft is more expensive than picking up equivalent products at the drugstore. Coconut oil makes great hair masks; mixed with tea tree oil it is a great preventative for some (ah-hem) things that children sometimes bring home from school, alone a decent split end and pool water repair/protection aid, and blended with avocado helps my hair rebound from a summers on a copper heavy river. With all of the personal care options I do offer a caveat, that while useful there is no sun protection factor naturally occurring in coconut oil, hair masks and skin protectants are best used at night or in conjunction with something that has SPF.