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5 Great Pantry Items I Won't Live Without

I'm breaking open my pantry this week to share with you some of my favorite food discoveries and new tools that have made it into my home this year (so far).

1. Easy espresso

I'm not a big gadget person, but despite my initial skepticism, I found that the AeroPress coffee makes some incredible at-home coffee. It's a new kind of coffee press that is micro-filtered for grit-free brew, providing uniform extraction. The espresso has just one-ninth the acidity of French Press coffee for a smooth, full flavor.

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It is small and breaks down easily for quick cleaning. It's totally portable so it's a great choice for camping. At $30 device's brew rivals that of machines costing a hundred times as much.

2. No-cal flavor

I'm a Stevia girl. I love the sweetness with zero calories and zero-carbs, so I was even more excited when introduced to Sweetleaf Liquid Stevia Sweet Drops. I tried two of its new flavors—coconut and watermelon. My kids and I loved them both. These drops are made with USDA-certified organic stevia leaf extract and natural flavors. They have great flavor intensity, and all you need is a few drops added to foods or beverages—from yogurt to oatmeal, water to coffee, sauces to smoothies—for sweet, sugar-free flavor. If you have a SodaStream or device like it, you can add one of the 17 flavors to sparkling water and create healthier sodas.

3. GoPicnic

In moments of rare grocery-store weakness, I have at one time or another almost succumbed to my children's begging for the highly processed Lunchables. I don't know if it's the marketing or peer pressure at school, but my older son, in particular, claims he "needs" this. Well, I've found something much, much better: the ready-to-eat meal called GoPicnic.

I was introduced to this brand from a friend at the pool, who unveiled these nutritious meals that require no preparation. They are compact enough to add to your child's backpack or your purse for work, and they have high-quality packaging and good ingredients with no trans fats, no high fructose corn syrup and no added MSG, artificial colors or flavors. There is a balance of protein, fruit and fiber plus a small dessert—all under 500 calories (for those who are counting.) There are also vegan, Kosher and gluten-free options available.

4. Coyote Oaties

These delicious cookies are made without white flour, white sugar or preservatives and use cage-free eggs, sweet butter and premium chunks of goodness to form the base for flavors like Milk Chocolate Walnut, Raisin Walnut and Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Cashew. I pair these with my "milk" of choice—Almond Breeze Almond Milk, which is an excellent alternative to cow or soymilk with ample nutrients (Vitamin, A, D, & E) and low in calories. For a satisfying, low-cal treat go with unsweetened chocolate.

5. School Meal Day

Here in Colorado, the Colorado Departments of Agriculture and Education invite Colorado schools to participate in the annual Colorado Proud School Meal Day, a day to celebrate agriculture and to educate schoolchildren about healthy eating and the importance of eating foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

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Parents, encourage your school administrator to find resources and help them organize activities and plan meals featuring locally grown and processed products. Circulate free materials to other students and perhaps encourage a local chef to do a cooking demo at your school.

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