Cooking instructor offers tips for stocking your pantry

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published October 9, 2013

 Lisa Howard, of Berkley, teaches a program about getting to know groceries and explains the benefits of unrefined oil, such as extra virgin olive oil, at the Shelby Township Community Center Sept. 24.

Lisa Howard, of Berkley, teaches a program about getting to know groceries and explains the benefits of unrefined oil, such as extra virgin olive oil, at the Shelby Township Community Center Sept. 24.

Photo by Sean Work

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — While many people think they may be practicing healthy eating, Lisa Howard, of Berkley, gave a presentation called “Getting to Know Your Groceries” at the Shelby Township Community Center Sept. 24 that might have given the audience new ideas about stocking their pantries and refrigerators.

Howard, a cookbook author, culinary speaker, recipe developer and cooking instructor, conducted the program as if traversing the aisles of a grocery store.

She began in the fruit and produce section.

She said that there is no such thing as  “super fruit,” or one magical fruit that will cure everything. In order to reap the benefits of fruits, a wide variety is necessary.

“You’ve probably heard ‘eat the rainbow,’” she said. “It’s a truism, because all the pigmentation in those products represents the antioxidant the plant forms that’s beneficial to us.”

For example, beta-carotene forms a red, orange or yellow hue and is turned into vitamin A when digested.

She also explained why she prefers organic produce.

“A plant that has to fight a little bit and is not just blanketed with spray is actually going to be a stronger plant and healthier option for us, so that’s why I think organic plants have a higher nutritional value,” Howard said. “And they taste better, too, I think, than their conventional counterparts.”

She warned that the more broken down a fruit or vegetable is, the less nutritional value it contains, such as apple products. A whole apple will have a good amount of fiber and nutrients, while apple sauce will lose some of its nutritional value, and juice “is pretty much sugar.”

Howard also encouraged shoppers to experiment with new types of produce. Anything downward-growing is generally starchier and can be prepared like a potato; green, unripened fruits can be prepared like vegetables.

The next section she addressed was nuts and seeds.

“Nuts are a really good source of fat and protein if you’re on the run, and they’re really satisfying,” Howard said.

She also introduced chia seeds. People can eat the sprouts within two to three days of sprouting, sprinkle the seeds on cereal or salad, or even make chia chips by blending them with water and a little potato flour and drying the mixture on a baking sheet.

“They taste like potato chips, but they’re totally chia and really yummy,” she said.

Chia seeds, she said, along with flax seeds, are good sources of omega-3 and anti-inflammatory fats.

Another trick, she added, is to replace refined, processed flour by grinding up softer nuts, such as almonds or sesame seeds, to make a powder.

“All you need is a $10 coffee grinder to do it,” she said. “It’s half the price of buying almond flour and takes 10 seconds.”

For baking, she recommended substituting half the amount of flour with the nut flour. Howard also said the nut flour is a tastier, more nutritious alternative for breading chicken or fish, especially mixing half almond flour and half grated parmesan cheese.

Next area: grains.

Again, Howard recommended getting a wide variety of grains in diets. She presented a visual aid with several grains that strayed from the normal wheat, corn and rice, including buckwheat, kasha, quinoa, teff, millet and amaranth.

Whole wheat flour, she said, is made from grinding up the entire grain, or wheat berry, and is a better option than “enriched” flours.

Howard added that manufacturers avoid sugar being in the first few ingredients on a nutrition label by adding several different types of sugars and listing each out separately. As ingredients are listed in the order of highest concentration first, sugar becomes lower on the list, but if all the separate sugars were combined, oftentimes sugar would be the first ingredient.

Howard next steered the conversation to the virtual oil section.

Unrefined oil, she stressed, is much better than refined oils, which can be recognized by their light golden color and packaging in thin, plastic bottles.

From oil, Howard transitioned to the dairy section.

While many consumers shop for “low fat,” Howard stressed that low fat equals high sugar, as the lost fat often is supplemented with sugar to bring the taste back.

Stacy Parke, of Sterling Heights, attended Howard’s lecture at the Shelby Township Community Center and also attended one of her talks at the Warren Public Library.

“I follow her website and I use her recipes, and she’s very valuable,” Parke said. “We’re all gluten-free. She helps you to try new things and expand.”

For more information about Lisa Howard, recipes she’s crafted or upcoming events she is involved in, visit her website at