A list of what I consider “essential” in order to prepare healthy meals on a budget.
Today I want to share with you what’s in my kitchen and foods that are a MUST on my shopping list, what I always need when trying to prepare healthy meals for me and my family. I will start with my food cupboard and talk about my fridge, freezer and fruit and vegetable choices in my next posts. So, here it is.
Food Cupboard Essentials
Here is where you need to start, if you want to get rid of your old habits and start your journey to a healthier lifestyle. Try and get rid of sugary and unhealthy snacks, such as crisps, cakes and biscuits, if you know they are there, you will eat them. Make sure you stock up on more foods like the following.
- Oats: use gluten free certified oats if needed, they are great to make porridge or to add to your smoothie for a healthy and filling breakfast, or to prepare healthy snacks such as energy bars, or to bake delicious healthy oatmeal cookies.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are a great source of minerals and essential omega-3 fatty acids and you should aim to consume one tablespoon of nuts or seeds every day. They might seem expensive, but when you think about it, a bag of nuts goes a long way as you only need a little amount every day. I find cashew nuts and peanuts to be the most budget-friendly options, but I always have a bag of walnuts laying around as I looooove their nutty taste and their crunchiness. If you can stretch a few extra pennies, treat yourself to some pecans, they are the sweeter version of walnuts and a great addition to sweet snacks! Seeds are usually cheaper than nuts and you can find bags of mixed seeds that are great to sprinkle on your breakfast, salad or smoothies.
- Dried fruit: I usually use dried fruit to make energy bars, as I am not a great fan of dried fruit on its own. Also, if you just snack on it out of the packet you might end up eating way too much sugar, so it should be consumed in moderation and together with other protein/fat rich foods, to keep your blood sugars at bay. Dates are my favourite kind of dried fruit as they are a great emulsifier when making sweet snacks and desserts and they also have a bit of a caramel aftertaste.
- Peanut butter: A great way to eat nuts as you can add it to pretty much anything! I love other kind of nut butters, like almond butter, but unfortunately they are not as cheap as peanut butter. I usually buy a big tub of natural peanut butter online, as it doesn’t contain any nasty bits such as sugar or palm oil. I buy mine from http://www.musclefood.com (oh and here is where I buy my meat too), where I can pick up a big 1kg tub for only £4.
- Rice: a great cheap staple to add to most of your meals. I prefer brown rice and red rice as they are higher in fibers but I also use a cheap bag of white rice when I want to make risotto. Arborio or Carnaroli rice are the recommended kinds of rice for risotto and as an Italian I should know, but when all I have at hand is a 1kg bag of cheap rice for £0.40, that will have to do! I still manage to make delicious risottos that all of my family enjoys, so who cares? :).
- Gluten free pasta: I am a pasta lover, so I always have a bag of pasta in my cupboard. Since I can’t eat gluten, I have to stick to gluten free pasta and I usually buy the regular supermarket-own-branded one, but there are a lot of other healthier alternatives such as brown rice pasta and buckwheat pasta, which are more expensive though. So I stick with the cheaper one and make sure I add some extra healthy ingredients. If you can eat gluten, I recommend you eat wholewheat pasta instead, as it contains more fiber and has a lower glycemic index, so that you will have energy for longer and it will fill you up more.
- Gluten free plain flour: I don’t use it too often but I always have a bag around whenever I feel like baking or just to use in the preparation of some main meals. There are a lot of other gluten free flour alternatives, but this is the most versatile and economical option (rice flour is also a cheap alternative).
- Dried pulses: dried pulses are cheaper than their tinned counterparts, although they require longer cooking times and sometimes soaking overnight. I usually buy dried lentils as they don’t require soaking and they are cheaper than buying them in tins or pouches. I love green lentils and red split lentils, they are so nutritious and versatile!
- Tinned beans: cannellini beans, red kidney beans, butter beans, aduki beans, the choice is huge! They are a great and cheap source of protein and fiber, so make sure you stock up too! Red kidney beans are amongst my favourites though, because they are very economical and I love to use them to make chilli or as an addition to salad bowls. I always have a selection of different tinned beans in my cupboard, just to add a bit more variety to my diet.
- Tinned chopped tomatoes: oh my dear lovely tomatoes! These are definitely a must and sometimes I find myself buying 10 tins of chopped tomatoes just to make sure I have enough. They are great to make quick tomato sauces or soups or to prepare many main meals. You can buy plum tomatoes instead if you prefer a chunkier texture or passata (sieved chopped tomatoes), for a smoother texture.
- Dried herbs and spices: again the possibilities are endless, but the most used in my kitchen are definitely cinnamon, mixed spice, smoked paprika, cumin, turmeric, mixed herbs, such as herbs de Provence and oregano. I never really use dried herbs such as basil or parsley, as their fresh version definitely taste better!
- Extra virgin olive oil: my go-to fat for cooking, lovely taste and rich of unsaturated fats. A must for any healthy diet!
- Coconut oil: Brilliant for cooking, as it adds a coconut hint to the food without being too overpowering. Be aware though when eating it raw, as it’s high in saturated fats. Coconut oil is also a great beauty product, try to use it as a conditioner or as a skin moisturizer, it’s A-mazing! It might seem expensive, but a tub of it lasts a very long time, as you don’t need to use too much when cooking.
- Wine: hey hey, slow down all the excitement! This is not for drinking, although feel free to have the occasional glass, but it’s a brilliant base for many meals, as it brings out all the flavour of the food and gives it a richer note. You can pick up a bottle of wine for very little and it will lasts you for quite a few meals. I usually go for the cheaper red or white wine I see on the shelves, which is around £3 per bottle.
- Stock cubes: cheap and essential in many meals. I go for the basic ones I can find that cost less than 50p a packet. Vegetable and chicken flavours are definitely the most used!
- Eggs: A great source of protein and they can be cooked in so many ways! I like to have mine soft-boiled and eat them as a quick snack whenever I feel hungry.
- Green tea: I always start my day with a cup of green tea and it’s a great way to hydrate your body after a whole night sleep. I prefer the decaf version as I cut out caffeine a few years ago and I drink mine with a slice of lemon in to give it a bit more flavour. Although sometimes, I prefer it plain and simple, as it should be.
Well, obviously there is more but these are the basic ones I couldn’t live without, let’s put it this way! What do you have in your food cupboard that consider essential when trying to eat healthy on a budget? Let me know!