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Manuel's Top Five: Tips for Stocking Your Cupboards

By L.K. Regan

Last week, our nutrition expert Manuel Villacorta of MV Nutrition, MS, RD, CSSD, one of the leading nutritionists in the San Francisco Bay Area, creator of the RealJock Healthy Weight-Loss Programs, and founder of the interactive weight-management web site Nutrition for You, stocked our fridge with healthy food that can keep us on a good nutritional track even on busy days. As he tells us, "I am always thinking about making nutrition easy, given that most people have no time, and while they know they need to keep good health, they are so busy." So in his continued efforts to keep the pizza-man at bay, Manuel is going to stock our pantry this week with five things every guy should keep on hand. "These are things that you can make in advance and refrigerate," he says, "or eat as an emergency if you are trapped with no time. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert—you can cover all of them with just a few purchases."

  • Steel-cut oats: Eating breakfast is so important for jump-starting the metabolism, and preventing hunger cravings throughout the day. So for a healthy breakfast, stock up on some uncooked oats. "Boil a bunch of these at one part oats to three parts water," Villacorta says, "as much as you need for a few days. I do about three dry cups at a time, and that's enough for five to six days if I eat about one to two cooked cups in the morning." How much you should eat per day will depend on your total energy expenditure—and to calculate that, see Villacorta's new free site, This previously difficult-to-find number can now be calculated in a few steps.

    "Cooking the oats takes about 30 minutes on Saturday or Sunday," Villacorta says, "and then you can store them in the fridge, and you're ready to go." Each morning, scoop out a serving of the cooked oats and heat them up with yummy additions for flavor. Manuel suggests two tablespoons of flax seed meal (see our earlier piece on stocking your fridge for more on flax seed), blueberries (use frozen local berries when fresh are out of season), one to two tablespoons of walnuts, and one percent milk. If you're really pressed for time in the mornings, mix all the ingredients except the milk the night before, take them to work, add the milk, and heat the mixture there. "It takes two minutes to mix," Villacorta says, "and since the oats are cooked the heating is fast. Champion breakfast!" And by champion he means full of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory fat, and omega-3s.

  • Quinoa: This is, Villacorta tells us, an easy-to-cook grain that is also nutritious. Villacorta says to mix one part quinoa to two parts water and the cooking can be completed in 10 to 20 minutes. As with the oats, Villacorta recommends cooking enough for several days and refrigerating it to eat throughout the week. "This grain is wholesome, delicious and versatile," Villacorta says. "Throw it in salads, into soups, under a chicken breast; once it's cooked you can use it however you want." To add flavor, cook your quinoa in broth (chicken or vegetable) rather than water, and sauté onions and garlic to stir in with it. "The bottom line," Villacorta says, "is that you need whole grains in your diet. This is a whole grain that is rich in antioxidants and has good protein." An excellent choice.

  • Canned beans: Dried beans take forever to cook, so many people avoid them. But there is no reason to fear canned beans, Villacorta says, so long as you drain the beans and rinse them in a strainer to reduce the added sodium. Once they've been cleaned up, they're ready to mix with salads, or with quinoa. "I keep a can each of black, pinto and garbanzo beans in my cupboard at all times," Villacorta says. Once you have them on hand, a quick, healthy snack is moments away. Villacorta recommends mixing a can of garbanzo beans with a tablespoon of the water they were canned in along with a little cumin and a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix these in a blender and you have a fast, low-fat, healthy hummus. Here's the rub: people often don't eat beans because they're difficult to cook, but, Villacorta emphasizes, it's better to eat canned beans than no beans at all.

  • Canned salmon: Keep a can of wild Alaskan salmon on hand instead of tuna fish. Salmon is better than tuna because it has omega-3s, Villacorta says. To use it, chop some veggies for salad, open up a tin of garbanzo beans, mix in some canned salmon, add a little lime juice and salt and pepper to taste, and you have grains, protein, and healthy fats in less than 20 minutes. You can also use the salmon to make a sandwich with whole grain breads.

  • Fun food: Everyone has cravings, and it's no good just to deny yourself. So, keep a treat on hand—but the right treat, doled out in a measured way. Villacorta recommends keeping dark chocolate—the darker the better. "Only buy chocolate that is 75 percent cocoa and up," Villacorta says. "I finish every day religiously with two squares of dark chocolate," he tells us, "so as to end my day with a touch of sweetness that is also rich in anti-oxidants." But, he reminds us, that's only if you can limit yourself to two squares. "If you can't stop after two or three, then this one is not for you," Villacorta warns. "And if you have a chocoholic in the house, you may need to hide the stash from him." But if you can practice mindful eating around it, dark chocolate is a healthy choice. "Just remember," Villacorta says, "it's two little pieces and then step away from the counter!" Words to live by.
  • Not all of these foods may be right for every single diet. But in general, there are ideas here that most guys might benefit from. And, Villacorta reminded us, the most important thing is to enjoy your food.