Stock your cupboards with long-life essentials and you’ll always have something healthy to rustle up in the absence of fresh food.
When we’re constantly reminded to eat ‘fresh’ foods, it can be easy to forget that not all healthy food has to be fresh.
In the early days of lockdown, when we were avoiding supermarkets and facing food shortages, many of us had to rely largely on what we had in the store cupboard and it turns out that this way of eating is not as unhealthy as it might at first sound especially as it’s reduced our reliance on over-priced ready meals and helped us get into the habit of cooking from scratch.
While fresh produce, as we’re frequently told, is often best, those foods we typically find in our store cupboards can be packed full of goodness, too.
If your cupboards are looking a little sparse, here’s what to stock up on so you always have healthy fall-back meal options.
This ancient seed has become a nutrition buzzword for good reason: it contains fibre, protein and an abundance of nutrients.
Three-quarters of a cup of quinoa contains around 8g of proteindouble the equivalent of rice, says Suzie Sawyer, clinical nutritionist and founder of Nutrition Lifestyle. It’s also a great source of manganese, magnesium and zinc.
It’s gluten-free too, unlike wheat based grains, such as couscous. It can taste a bit bland on its own, but cooked in one-pot dishes like chilli or curry, it will take on the flavour of the sauce for a high-protein, filling meal.
Not too far behind quinoa when it comes to protein content, buckwheat is often mistaken for a seed, but is actually part of the rhubarb family. And, just like rhubarb, it’s helpful for balancing hormones.
Buckwheat has a high lignan content,’ Suzie explains. ‘Lignans are a class of phytoestrogens – naturally occurring substances in food that have a positive oestrogen-like effect.
Despite its name, buckwheat contains no wheat or gluten, but it is packed full of B vitamins, which are often lost during refining. Buckwheat flour is great for pancakes, or you can use it as the base for a tasty filling salad or in place of rice.
If you have a tin of these beans gathering dust, it’s time to put them to good use.
Cannellini beans are known as alpha amylase inhibitors, which means they help block the starch-digesting enzyme amylase, so foods are absorbed further down the digestive tract,’ explains Suzie. ‘This lowers their Gl value, keeping blood-glucose in balance.
They’re are also high in protein, fibre, calcium and potassium. Add to salads, soups and pasta sauces to make them more filling.
This breakfast staple is 100% wholegrain and great for keeping energy sustained throughout the morning.
Rolled oats are full of fibre so are great for keeping bowels running supersmoothly,’ says Suzie. They also contain a type of fibre called beta-glucan, which has been found to help lower cholesterol levels.
A standard 40g serving of rolled oats with 300ml of semi skimmed milk contains 15g of protein – another reason they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer. Be sure to stick to rolled, though, instant oats have had some fibre stripped away during processing.
Government advice is to eat two portions of fish (one oily) weekly but, for most of us, consumption has remained consistently below these dietary recommendations, says Suzie.
Often this is because people are unsure how to cook fish-well, there’s a meal in a can right here! Sardines and salmon also supply super-healthy omega-3 fats, essential for the heart, eyes, skin, hormones and joints.
Tinned meat and fish can last around two to four years unopened. Once opened, keep leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge.
For a simple, protein-rich meal, mash with olive oil and herbs, spread onto crusty white bread and pop under a hot grill.
Fresh Fruit And Veg Sell-Bys
In the fridge or a dark cupboard or box, most fruit and veg can last past its sell-by date,‘Go by the colour and feel of the food instead.
The Shelf Life Of Rice
Uncooked white rice can last for up to 20 years in an airtight container, despite the pack date! Be more wary of brown rice, as the oily bran and germ can go rancid.
Should Opened Jars Be Kept In The Fridge?
In a nutshell, yes. ‘Even then, many like pesto don’t keep long once opened, ‘Foods with a high sugar content, like jam, may last much longer if not subjected to dirty knives.
The Facts On Frozen
Frozen fruit and veg make easy, nutrient-rich additions to meals with no waste!
Despite the fresh-food hype, most frozen fruit and veg are frozen straight after harvest, so retain their nutrient content. ‘Generally, frozen is as good as fresh,’ says Suzie. In fact, often, fresh fruits and veg are stored for long periods before being sold, which reduces their nutrient content.
The downside of frozen fruits and veg is that they’re often sold prepared”. Any food preparation, including chopping or peeling, reduces nutrient content because much of it is found just under the skin.
Most fruit and veg can be frozen for around 18 months. However, fresh meat and poultry that is then frozen only lasts around six months before drying out and losing taste.