Stocking your kitchen Part 4: The Healthy Store Cupboard!

By Gillian Farren

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Keep your kitchen free of pre-packaged ready-meals by stocking up on non-perishable store cupboard food items.  These can offer a healthier alternative without considerably adding to your work-load. 

Prepared and packaged meals can be more expensive and less healthy than meals you make at home.  Lower your costs and take control of what you are eating by going home-made when you can.  Start with these simple make-at-home ideas:

  • Tomato passata or soup: toss together a large carton or tin of tomatoes, a few peeled cloves of garlic and a chopped onion. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast in a baking dish in the oven until vegetables are soft. Blend on its own for passata, or with low-salt chicken or vegetable stock if making soup; warm through before serving. Add basil for a twist.
  • Home-style pizza: Lightly brush a whole grain pizza crust (or a wholemeal pitta bread or English-style muffin if you are watching your weight and portion size) with a little olive oil. Top with lots of spinach, fresh chopped tomatoes or passata (see above), a sprinkle of black olives, basil, black pepper and a little reduced-fat feta or mozzarella cheese. Bake and enjoy your healthier at-home pizza!
  • Chicken or pork chop casserole: dress a skinless chicken breast or a rindless pork chop with chopped mushrooms, courgettes and other vegetables of your choice, cover with tomato passata and bake in a medium oven for 35-45 minutes as a healthy alternative to using “cook-in” sauces from a jar.
  • Legumes, including tinned or dried peas, beans and lentils: These protein-rich plant foods make satisfying soups, stews and chilies that are deliciously nutritious. Check for added sugar and salt, especially if in sauce (e.g. baked beans).
  • Tomatoes and other vegetables: whole, diced or crushed, in tins. These make a beautiful base for a simple pasta sauce, soup or casserole.
  • Fruit: dried, jarred or tinned. Opt for varieties in natural juice or water rather than syrup, to keep the added sugar content to a minimum. These make a great addition to breakfasts, puddings & suppers; handy to have in stock when fresh fruit is in short supply.
  • Fish, such as canned salmon and tuna: look for varieties tinned in water, tomato sauce or brine, rather than oil or creamy sauces. These make tasty, protein-packed sandwiches, and they’re healthy and convenient additions to casseroles, fish pies and pasta dishes.
  • Starchy staples (e.g. pasta, rice, noodles, couscous, oats, quinoa, and instant mash): these make excellent alternatives to fresh starchy foods (e.g. bread and potatoes), some of which are very quick and easy to prepare when time is short (e.g. couscous and instant mash). Opt for whole grain varieties when you can, and remember too that they may need a little more cooking time than standard varieties.  Be mindful of portion size; when cooked, aim for these foods to be about a quarter of your total meal if you are trying to lose weight, and about a third of your meal if you are at a healthy weight.

Foods for your store cupboard:

  • Legumes, including tinned or dried peas, beans and lentils: These protein-rich plant foods make satisfying soups, stews and chilies that are deliciously nutritious. Check for added sugar and salt, especially if in sauce (e.g. baked beans).
  • Tomatoes and other vegetables: whole, diced or crushed, in tins. These make a beautiful base for a simple pasta sauce, soup or casserole.
  • Fruit: dried, jarred or tinned. Opt for varieties in natural juice or water rather than syrup, to keep the added sugar content to a minimum. These make a great addition to breakfasts, puddings & suppers; handy to have in stock when fresh fruit is in short supply.
  • Fish, such as canned salmon and tuna: look for varieties tinned in water, tomato sauce or brine, rather than oil or creamy sauces. These make tasty, protein-packed sandwiches, and they’re healthy and convenient additions to casseroles, fish pies and pasta dishes.
  • Starchy staples (e.g. pasta, rice, noodles, couscous, oats, quinoa, and instant mash): these make excellent alternatives to fresh starchy foods (e.g. bread and potatoes), some of which are very quick and easy to prepare when time is short (e.g. couscous and instant mash). Opt for whole grain varieties when you can, and remember too that they may need a little more cooking time than standard varieties.  Be mindful of portion size; when cooked, aim for these foods to be about a quarter of your total meal if you are trying to lose weight, and about a third of your meal if you are at a healthy weight.

More flavour from your store-cupboard: Add flavour boosters such as fresh garlic, spices, flavoured vinegars and reduced-salt stocks.

Healthy tip: Store “treat foods” (e.g. crisps, sweets, biscuits, cakes & chocolate – if not in the fridge or freezer) in a cupboard of their own which is a little harder to reach; take a moment to decide what exactly (and how much) you really want or need before you reach for it.