Your kitchen cupboard essentials...
Life can be busy and like all families we go through vast amounts of food in my house. The next meal is somehow always just around the corner and I believe that having the right ingredients to hand is often half the battle.
Here is what I always try to keep in stock (and a little about the 'why') and what makes rustling up a healthy after school snack, quick pack lunch or comforting dinner which should be ready the minute you get through the door a little less challenging.
Fruit and Veg
There is only so much of it you can have at home at once before things start to go off. I try to make sure the fruit bowl is always full, there is no excuse for unhealthy snacks when there are plenty of bananas, apples and satsumas around. Berries and certain fruits which go off quicker are best bought on the day or go with a frozen option when possible.
A good stack of root vegetables as well as cauliflower, squash/pumpkin, most dark leafy greens, pepper, courgette, celery, fennel and all kinds of cabbages will easily last up to a week or more.
More delicate veg like spinach, chard, lettuce and broccoli is best used within around 3 days. I tend to buy these in smaller quantities whenever I pass a greengrocer.
Brown rice, Barley, Quinoa, Freekeh, Bulgur and many more. Grains can be stored easily and provide a very nutrient as well as fibre rich basis for most meals. Whole grains contain substantially more of all the good stuff than their white and more processed cousins and keep energy - and mood - levels higher for longer. Keep a bowl of any cooked grain or grain mix in the fridge to speed up cooking time when the kids want to eat the minute you get home.
Also part of the grain family, I feel like being a favourite for most children, pasta deserves to be mentioned separately. Again I recommend to stick to whole grain pasta, there are so many types and shapes available, that most kids will see past the slightly darker colour quickly.
Beans and Pulses
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really discovered beans, now I can barely go through a day without them. My personal favourites are black beans, butter beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils, but there’s a whole lot of other varieties - cannellini beans, adzuki beans, lima beans, navy beans and black-eyed peas to name just a few. All of them are a great source of protein and fibre and help regulate blood sugar levels. To make life easier I always keep a few tins in the cupboard (ideally just beans in water), but whenever I have the time and remember to soak them overnight (very important!) I try to cook a large batch from scratch to save the planet from yet more tins and tetra packs. They can be frozen for up to six months or kept in the fridge for a few days. Then there is of course the wonderful and hugely versatile soybean, which provides us with a whole range of products (you will always find a block of tofu or tempeh in my fridge).
Nuts and Seeds
Nut spreads are a wonderful replacement for butter. There are tons of different brands and varieties available, with prices varying significantly between different types of nuts. Peanut butter is the most famous as well as cheapest of all and it can be a bit of a mission trying to find the best one amongst so many different brands. I recommend to stick to the one with the fewest ingredients, ideally it's made of 100% roasted peanuts and nothing else. The same applies for all other nut butters, the higher the actual nut content, the better.
Fresh nuts and seeds are equally great to have in the house, add walnuts, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp and ground flaxseed to any breakfast muesli or porridge. Sprinkle seeds over pretty much any dish for added crunch and healthy, unsaturated fats to keep everyone fuller for longer.
While all nuts and seeds have great nutritional properties, walnuts, hemp seeds (or hemp hearts, the shelled version if you aren't too keen on the crunchy shell) and flaxseed contain the highest amount of omega 3 fatty acids.
Oats are simply amazing, I’m such a big fan of these versatile little grains that they get their own mentioning despite being part of the grain family. They are a great addition to all kinds of sweet and savoury dishes and feature in most days' breakfast as well as on the go snacks in my family. They are filling, slow burning and amongst many other benefits a great source of various minerals.
It's a real joy to see how the plant milk aisles in most supermarkets have grown over the last few years. There are so many options available, there is oat milk, soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, rice milk, hemp milk - it's easy to get choice paralyses. I mainly buy soy and oat milk, occasionally I'll get some almond milk too. Soy milk is high in protein (containing all nine essential amino acids) and oat milk seems to win my childrens "taste award" (although I often mix the two without telling them ;-). I always make sure to read the list of ingredients and stay away if a brand contains added sugars/ sweeteners or any other unwanted additives like emulsifiers, stabilisers or flavouring. The only additives you want are calcium (calcium carbonate, calcium phosphates or lithothamnium calcareum), vitamin B12, D2 and B2 (riboflavin), Calcium being the priority for me as we all take a supplement which covers us for B12, D2 and B2.
* Consuming ground flaxseeds enables the body to absorb the nutrients more effectively.
* Peanuts are technically a legume, but most people (including myself) think of them as nuts, which is why I included them in this section.
Nature provides us with a whole bunch of wonderfully sweet foods, which not only taste amazing on their own, but can often be used as the main source of sweetness in cooking and baking. Dates, bananas and berries are healthy and tasty sweeteners and if you need something more ‘sugar like’ I recommend date sugar, the powder you get when grinding whole dried dates. Not only does it look like brown sugar, it tastes fantastic while still maintaining all it’s natural fibre, vitamins and minerals.
There are tons of refined sugar replacements on the market, all of them claiming to be a healthier option which can be pretty confusing. I would say the same rule applies with sugar as does with most other foods. The less processed and the more whole any source of sweetness is, the better. Eating an apple beats drinking a glass of apple juice by large, because of the lack of fibre in the latter. Pure fructose has a very similar effect to cane sugar in the sense that it causes spikes in our blood sugar levels, which doesn’t occur if it is consumed as part of a whole fruit or berry.
A few raisins or any dried fruit can make a meal much more appealing to a child and add iron on top of it. One of my sons can be pretty fussy when it comes to trying new things, but he will agree to eat almost everything if I sprinkle a little handful of raisins on top.
Turmeric doesn’t only look like gold dust, it's gold for our health too. With it’s hugely anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties it's a great spice to keep in stock, be it the powder or the fresh root (beware of the staining when using the root). Even a small sprinkle of black pepper boosts the absorption of turmeric significantly. Add a quarter of a teaspoon to your morning smoothie or sprinkle a little over your kids' pasta, it has a very subtle taste which is easily overpowered by the other elements of the dish.
A note on B12*
Anyone on a plant based diet or with a low meat intake should supplement with vitamin B12, including children starting as soon as they aren't breastfed anymore. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the right supplement for the right age.
*For more information about B12 and other nutrients to look out for on a plant based diet go to "notable nutrients".
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT