Store cupboard meals

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Good cooking starts with a versatile store cupboard, whether you’re packing kids off to university this September or brushing up on some skills, explains our Senior Dietitian Victoria Taylor.

A few simple recipes combined with some store cupboard ingredients is all it takes to cook a variety of meals.

Check out our recipe finder for some classic, easy-to-cook, basic recipes that can be adapted to form the basis of several different dishes. Our cottage pie filling works just as well on spaghetti or in lasagne, or as a jacket potato topping. An oven-baked ratatouille can be served with eggs, grilled meat, or with tinned beans stirred in - or you can serve with jacket potatoes or pasta for a more substantial meal. Our apple and blackberry crumble can be made with different fruits, or you can serve the fruit filling without the topping with for breakfast with porridge or yogurt.

For the more experienced cook, they are a handy reminder of how easily you can reduce the saturated fat and salt in a few old favourites. By having a supply of basic ingredients from all the food groups to hand, you can ensure a balanced meal is never far away. Here is my guidance on the types of food to keep in your cupboard or freezer.

Fruit and vegetables

Tinned, dried and frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as fresh, all count towards your 5-a-day. Keep a tin of tomatoes and vegetables tinned in water, such as sweetcorn, on hand and stock up the freezer with some frozen peas. Frozen berries are also good and cheaper than fresh when out of season.

Dried fruit, such as raisins, apricots and sultanas, are a good standby snack and can liven up savoury dishes such as couscous or a rice salad. They also add a natural sweetness to breakfast cereals, porridge or yoghurt. In addition, stock up on fresh vegetables that keep for some time, such as onions and root vegetables.

Tinned, dried and frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as fresh, all count towards your 5-a-day

Starchy carbohydrates

Dried foods, such as pasta, rice, couscous or bulgur wheat, are where the store cupboard comes into its own, and these are all good options that can form the basis of hundreds of different meals. Wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice provide extra fibre.

For convenience (although it’s not necessarily the cheapest option), you can buy pouches of ready-cooked rice. These can be useful if you are in a hurry. But if you are going for the flavoured types rather than plain rice, check the nutritional information to make sure they are still low in salt.

Milk and dairy foods

Most of us will have milk in the fridge for cereal and hot drinks. As it’s something we use regularly, semi-skimmed, 1 per cent or skimmed milk are the best options. Don’t overlook other dairy staples. Low-fat natural yoghurt can be used for both sweet and savoury dishes: as a replacement for cream, to eat with some fruit at breakfast time or to make a garlic and cucumber dip.

If you are going to have cheese, opt for a lower-fat version (this doesn’t have to be reduced-fat cheddar). Low-fat cottage cheese works well as a topping for jacket potatoes, toast or with a salad. Alternatively, try a reduced-fat mozzarella if you are melting cheese or for a salad. It’s soft and easy to use sparingly by tearing it rather than grating.

Meat, fish, eggs and vegetarian alternatives

Pulses, such as beans and lentils, are also good options whether you buy them dried to cook yourself or tinned in water and ready to use. While cured meats, such as ham or smoked fish, can be salty options, fish tinned in water, tomato sauce or unsaturated oil can be included in your store cupboard.

Read our healthy tips for eating fish

Keep cooked meat and fish in the freezer as an easy, ready-to-eat addition to your meals. You can also use your freezer to keep lean meat and fish in portions ready to cook. If you’re on your own, multipacks, which are often a better deal than single servings, can be portioned up before freezing. Alternatively, use a whole pack to make large batches of meals in advance and then freeze leftovers in portions to make your own ready meals.

Eggs make a great store cupboard staple as they are cheap, they last even if not refrigerated (although they will keep better in the fridge if you have space) and are a good source of protein.

Read our guide to perfect poached eggs

Herbs and spices

These flavourings aren’t a food group, but no store cupboard is complete without some. Not only do they add variety to your meals, they will also help you to cut down on salt. You don’t need a massive variety of options – black pepper, chilli powder, curry powder, oregano and rosemary are a good start and will help you to turn a pan of lean mince in tomato sauce into a bolognese or a chilli con carne. As well as the dried variety, you can extend your store cupboard to the garden or window sill and try growing some fresh herbs, which not only taste good but look good, too.

Fatty and sugary foods

Choose unsaturated oils and remember that a little goes a long way

Making sure you have the right fats on hand can help to keep your cooking healthy. Choose unsaturated oils and remember that a little goes a long way, as although these are healthier types of oil, they’re still high in calories. As well as using oil for cooking, it makes a good salad dressing.

Using different oils can help save money – opt for the cheaper, neutral-flavoured oils, such as sunflower, rapeseed or a lighter olive oil for cooking, and the more expensive ones with a more distinct flavour, like extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil, in dressings.

Get our list of the top 16 store cupboard staples

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