Rita Makri, AXA PPP healthcare Registered Dietician

Healthy meal ideas using store cupboard ingredients

1 May 2020

Food storage top tips

  • Choosing products with longer expiration dates, such as canned and frozen foods, will help keep supermarkets visits to a minimum.

  • Canned fish maintains its nutritional value so it’s a good – and cheaper - alternative to fresh, but remember that it may be preserved in brine or oil, so pour off the juice from the can before using, to reduce salt or fat intake.

  • Similarly, tinned fruit may sometimes be preserved in sugary syrup, so choose those  that are canned in water or a light fruit juice for an healthier option.

  • Frozen fruit and vegetables can actually be better for you than their fresh counterparts, as they’re frozen immediately after harvesting, locking in nutrients. Frozen corn, green beans and blueberries, for example, have greater levels of vitamin C than fresh, while frozen broccoli contains more riboflavin (Vitamin B2) than its fresh equivalent.

  • Be smart with the way you store your foods in order to help them last longer. Make sure to store your legumes, pasta and rice in a cool, dry and dark place.

  • In order to prevent oils from going stale, storing them the same way as above is critical, particularly if they come in clear or light coloured containers.  As well as exposure to light tainting the oil, exposure to air causes oxidation, so it’s important to keep this to a minimum too. Try to use containers that leave as little air as possible in contact with the oil, and if you buy large bottles of vegetable or olive oil, make sure to have smaller ones available at home so you can switch container when they start to empty.

  • If you have a block of cheese, such as Parmesan or Cheddar that you don’t want to waste, go ahead and cube or grate it, put it in a freezer safe bag, and save it for pasta dishes, cheese sauces and soups.

  • Combine your legumes with rice. Most beans are low in methionine and high in lysine, while rice (both brown and white) is low in lysine and high in methionine. Together they form a ‘complete protein’, which means they contain adequate proportion of each of the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet. Lentils and chickpeas with rice produce the same effect. A perfect way to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of protein in your diet if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

  • The preservation of fresh products by freezing at the end of their shelf life in a refrigerator is safe.

  • Freezing eggs is not a good idea. It’s likely that the shell will crack, and you’ll need to discard the egg. Also, the egg yolk will not blend very well with the egg white or other ingredients. However, you can safely freeze cooked egg, for example in an omelette or frittata.

  • Spices and dried herbs do not go bad easily and can make any meal more exciting! Whole spices are a better choice than ground where possible, because their scent and flavour stays more intense.

Here are some examples of recipes that include a few of the long-expiration-date foods that most of us have at home:

Tasty recipes that showcase store cupboard ingredients

Meals made from store cupboard ingredients don't have to be dull! Here are some recipes that are simple to prepare, healthy and above all, tasty! Read on to find out how to make the simplest ingredients really shine.

Spicy chilli bean soup

An easy-to-prepare soup with canned beans for someone who’s not 100% confident with cooking dried beans.

Nutritional highlights

High protein and fibre content.

Ingredients

(Makes 4 servings)
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp mild chilli powder
½ tsp ground cumin
400g can chopped tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
400g can mixed beans, drained and rinsed
1 red pepper, cut into chunky dice
Tortilla chips, to serve
4 limes wedges, to serve

Directions

Heat the oil in a deep saucepan and fry the chopped onion over a medium heat until tender. Add the garlic and tomato purée, stirring for 1-2 mins until combined. Sprinkle in the spices and cook for another 1 min.

Tip in the chopped tomatoes, half fill the can with water, and add to the pan. Pour in the stock and simmer on a medium heat for 10-15 mins, uncovered. Season, then whizz using a hand blender until smooth. Add the beans and red pepper and cook for another 15 mins until the pepper is tender.

Serve in bowls topped with a small pile of tortilla chips and a lime wedge.

Top tips/healthy swaps

  • In order to increase the protein content, you can add any leftover cooked meat you have in your freezer. Make sure to cut your meat into small pieces before freezing it, so that it heats through in a few minutes, after being added to the soup.  Ensure the meat is piping hot before consuming.
  • When using canned legumes in a recipe, consider that the final meal is going to include double cooked ingredients, and should therefore not be reheated. In order to avoid wasting leftovers, try not to overdo the quantity for one meal, but cook just enough!
  • If you like the hint of lime tin this recipe, but can’t always get hold of the fresh fruit, try making small ice-cubes with their juice so you can add to your cooking whenever you want that citrus kick. You can do the same with lemon juice, and say goodbye to the odd mouldy half fruits left behind in your fridge or fruit bowl!

Greek white bean soup

A relatively easy soup with dried beans that’s full of flavour and rich in fibre.

Ingredients

(Makes 4-6 servings)
Preparation Time: 8-12 hours soaking time, 20 minutes preparation
Cooking Time: 90 minutes

Allergen advice: Celery, (milk and fish if including feta cheese and anchovies)

1/2 kilo beans, white, medium sized
1 level teaspoon(s) salt
2 sprig(s) celery
3 carrots
1 onion
5 clove(s) of garlic
2-3 tablespoon(s) olive oil
1 tablespoon(s) tomato paste
3 bay leaves
2 sprig(s) rosemary
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 apple, red
2 litres water

To serve:
chili flakes
olive oil
salt
pepper
feta cheese
salt-cured anchovies
olives
thyme

Directions

In a bowl, add the beans and fill it with enough water to completely cover them.

Add 1 level teaspoon of salt and gently stir. Allow them to soak for 8-12 hours.

When ready, drain and wash them well with very cold water. Drain again and set aside.

Chop the celery into 1-2 cm pieces and chop the carrots into 1-2 cm rounds. Coarsely chop the onion and thinly slice the garlic cloves.

Place a pot over a medium heat and immediately add the olive oil and vegetables.

Sauté for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften.

When all of the juices have evaporated and the vegetables have softened, add the tomato paste and sauté for 1 minute while stirring.

Add the beans, bay leaves, rosemary, bouillon cube and the apple, whole. Adding the apple whole will help the soup thicken better. It will be removed when the soup is done.

Add the water and cover the pot.

Simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Check on the soup from time to time in case a little more water needs to be added. If you do add more water, make sure it’s boiling so that the simmering process is not interrupted.

About 10 minutes before the soup is done, add salt and pepper and cover with the lid again.

When ready, remove from heat, remove the apple from the pot and discard.

Finish the soup by adding some chili flakes, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve along with feta, anchovies, olives, thyme and olive oil.

Top tips/healthy swaps

  • This soup freezes really well, so don’t be afraid of the recipe’s large volume! Just divide it up after cooking, cool, then transfer to the freezer for long term storage.
  • For a thicker consistency try adding a cubed potato into the soup halfway through the simmering stage, or 2 heaped tablespoons of cornflour, mixed to a smooth paste with water, when you season the soup, 10 minutes before the end of cooking time.

Hummus: The Easy Way

A smooth blended chickpea dip with tahini and garlic that's versatile and good for you, this easy hummus makes a great snack or lunch.

Nutritional highlights

High protein and low-fat content.

Ingredients

(Makes 4 servings)
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: n/a

Allergen advice: sesame seeds, milk

1 x 400g can chickpea, don't drain
1 tbsp tahini paste
1 fat garlic clove, chopped
3 tbsp 0% fat Greek yogurt
Good squeeze lemon juice

Directions

Drain the chickpeas into a sieve set over a bowl or jug to catch the liquid. Tip the chickpeas, tahini, garlic and yogurt into a food processor or blender and whizz to smooth.

Whizz in a tbsp of the chickpea liquid at a time until you have a nice consistency, then scrape into a bowl.

Stir in a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste.

Top tips/healthy swaps

  • You can freeze hummus for up to four months. Here’s the trick: it takes a few hours to completely thaw, so don’t freeze hummus in big batches. Instead, break it down into smaller portion sizes before freezing, and be sure to stir it well before using.

‘Pasteli’ - Greek honey sesame bars

Easy, cheap and gluten-free snack/dessert.

Nutritional highlights

Rich in good fats and fibre.

Ingredients

(Makes 4 servings)
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 8 minutes, 20 minutes cooling time

Allergen advice: sesame seeds

200 g sesame seeds
200 g honey
1 pinch salt
zest, of 1 lemon

Directions

Place a frying pan over high heat.

Add the sesame seeds and toast them for 2-3 minutes until golden. Remove and set aside.

Place the same frying pan back on the heat.

Add the honey and let it come to a boil.

Add the sesame seeds, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes, constantly mixing with a wooden spoon.

Remove from the heat and add the salt and the lemon zest.

Pour the mixture into a 20 cm round cake pan lined with non-stick paper and spread it well with a spoon.

Allow 20 minutes for it to cool before serving.

Top tips/healthy swaps

  • The longer you let the pasteli cool, the more it will thicken.
  • You can add any nuts you have to the main recipe – crushed or whole.
  • After leaving your nut pasteli to cool, you can also coat it with dark chocolate.

References

www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-safety.html
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27033627
www.health.com/nutrition/what-is-a-complete-protein
www.food.gov.uk/food-safety
www.sciencedirect.com/topics/food-science/food-preservation
www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/spicy-chilli-bean-soup
www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/easy-hummus-recipe
www.akispetretzikis.com/categories/ospria/fasolada
www.akispetretzikis.com/categories/snak-santoyits/pasteli

Further information

You can find lots more expert-led information on diet and nutrition, plus recipes that pack a healthy punch, in our diet and nutrition hub.