Store Cupboard Basics
When I think about a store cupboard, I think about my granny’s larder and the amazing meals and treats she magicked from the ingredients in there. Whilst the range of foods that we have access to has changed massively since then, a well-stocked store cupboard is still the first step towards being able to cook healthy, tasty meals.
So, what staples should you have in there?
1. Tinned tomatoes
Tinned tomatoes are the top of my list and for a very good reason! They are inexpensive and healthy – I often stock up when they are on offer for even better value. It is worth noting that the more expensive brands do contain less water and can be more flavoursome. They are an essential ingredient for chilli and Bolognese dishes and can form the basis of a pasta sauce or a casserole - so super for single pot or slow cooking. Fry off a chopped onion, add some garlic, the tomatoes and a pinch of dried basil for a super quick pasta sauce.
2. Herbs, spices and black pepper
Adding flavour is so important and dried herbs and spices are an inexpensive way of doing just that. They also remove the need to add salt and are a fantastic way of increasing your micro-nutrient intake. Dried herbs store well in an airtight container and out of sunlight. Choose according to your personal taste (cumin seeds, coriander and turmeric for Indian flavours; basil, oregano, garlic, thyme for Italian etc) Worth noting that fresh herbs can be frozen so don’t be deterred from buying fresh just because you only need a little. Use what you need and pop the rest into the freezer in a sealed plastic pocket or container.
3. Unsaturated oil
Choose unsaturated fats like rapeseed, olive, avocado and sunflower oils for cooking rather than butter, lard or ghee. They have a lower burn point than some other oils (in particular the avocado oil) and are generally considered the healthier alternative to those fats that are solid at room temperature. If you are managing your weight, consider replacing with low calorie spray oil.
4. Whole wheat pasta
Higher in fibre than white pasta, whole wheat pasta will keep you feeling fuelled for longer. Quickly cooked, it’s very versatile and can be used as a main meal, an accompaniment or, chilled, in a pasta salad. Try getting a variety of shapes as different textures hold sauces and flavours differently which can impact their taste.
5. Brown Basmati Rice
Brown rice is a whole grain and, because both the germ and the bran has been retained, it contains four times the amount of fibre than white rice which loses much of its fibre during the refining process. An excellent accompaniment for a main meal, it can also be used cold in a rice salad – try mixing with red onion, roasted red peppers, chilli and a lemon dressing. Mixing in some wild rice will add texture and a nuttier flavour.
6. Tinned fish
Tinned tuna can be is a really useful sandwich filling, or to top a baked potato or salad. It also works well with pasta, stirred into a tomato sauce or a cheese sauce for a tuna pasta bake. Other oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines are equally versatile, a tasty salad choice and a wonderful source of essential fatty acids. Choose fish tinned in water, tomato sauce or sunflower oil.
7. Tinned pulses
Tinned beans, peas and lentils are great for bulking out casseroles and stews and are a fantastic source of vegetable protein. Because they are pre-cooked, they are ready to eat from the tin making them a quick and easy way to create a satisfying meal. Most dried pulses take much longer to prepare. Red lentils are the exception and would be a staple in my cupboard for adding to soups and rustling up a quick dahl.
8. Plain flour
A bag of plain flour can be useful for making pancakes and scones, and also to thicken a sauce or casserole.
9. Tinned fruit
Tinned fruit keeps for very long time and will count towards your “five-a-day” It’s also a great way to still get (low carbon footprint) non-seasonal fruits and more exotic fruits such as pineapple and mango into your diet. Choose fruit tinned in fruit juice rather than syrup and be sure to use the juice too!
Whether in a cooked dish, or added to a salad, the common onion is a very versatile ingredient. Use yellow (standard) onions as a basis for soups, stews, casseroles etc and red onions in salads and when you want a more peppery flavour. A contributor to your “five-a-day”, they keep well stored in a cool, dark place without needing to be in your fridge.
11. Dried fruit
Not only for cakes and biscuits, dried fruits such as sultanas, dates and apricots can add sweetness to breakfasts, stewed fruit and adding to casseroles. It can also make a tasty, nutritious snack though worth rinsing first.
For breakfast, lunch and dinner eggs are possibly the quickest and most versatile source of protein to cook. They can be boiled, scrambled or used for an omelette. When poaching, use them at their freshest. They store well and are one of the few foods that provide all your essential amino acids.
Boiled, baked or roasted eat with the skins on for extra fibre. Store in a cool, dark place (at room temperature they will keep for 1-2 weeks, if stored dark and between fridge & room temperature, they will keep up to 3 months).
14. Frozen fruit and vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables often have more nutrients in them than fresh and will count towards your five a day. Having a bag of peas or sweetcorn in the freezer means you will never be short of a vegetable to serve with your main meal and, defrosted, you can also use them in salads. Frozen spinach can be stirred into a pasta sauce or dahl for an additional portion of vegetables while a bag of frozen vegetables, with a couple of other ingredients can make a great soup.
Like tinned, frozen fruit can provide a range of exotic or out of season flavours. Defrost before use unless you’re making smoothies when it can be used straight from the freezer.
Don’t forget that you can wash and chop fresh fruit and vegetables and freeze them yourself – there is no excuse to letting them waste! Most vegetables will need be cooked from frozen to avoid any deterioration in texture.
A sliced loaf of wholegrain bread in the freezer can be really useful. You take out individual slices as and when you need them. I also find it useful to have a packet of whole-wheat tortillas in the freezer for the same reason.
15. Low fat milk
Whether for cereal, drinks or making a sauce, most of us will have milk in the fridge. Using low-fat milks like semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk will help to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Unsweetened non-dairy alternatives include hemp, almond, rice and coconut milk.
16. Low-fat yogurt
A low-fat yogurt is more versatile than a flavoured one as it allows you to add your own fruit for a dessert or use it over cereals and for dips. Added to oats and apple juice it can give your overnight oats a creamier texture.
This list is by no means complete but I think my granny would agree that it's a pretty good start and would definitely provide a range of meal options.