Don't we all despise that question? Variety is the spice to life and it's no different when it comes to planning and preparing our meals, which to me is really the key to success.
I remember housesitting for a friend of a friend and peering into their fridge and thinking, “this is how I want my pantry to be”. It displayed an array of bottles and jars representing the world; it was exciting and enticing. Cooking each night could be inspired just by searching the fridge! In the pantry, there were the staples that ultimately are the foundations of building a healthy, balanced meal and should always be on hand, ready to create anything from scratch.
The other thing I also tend to think about when scanning the cupboard is - 'what cuisine do I feel like tonight?' Think of flavour combinations such as Chinese (soy, ginger, garlic, lemon), or Thai (coconut, lime, chilli) or Italian (tomato, basil, oregano, garlic) or French (cream, mustard, white wine vinegar, capers) or just simple additions to your meat and 4 veg (lemon, oil, garlic, mayonnaise, chilli sambal, parmesan or feta cheese).
So, in order to help you set up a helpful and inspiring pantry, I have listed below my top 20 essential ingredients that I believe you need in the cupboard to plan, prepare and cook scrumptious healthy meals.
Just to note: it goes without saying that fresh fruit and vegetables are already essential everyday foods and need to be in your fridge (or freezer!) at all times, therefore leaving me a few other spots to play with.
Baking Products 1. Flour (self raising & plain) - to make sauces from scratch as well as healthy muffins/loaves with overripe fruit 2. Desiccated coconut - for easy baked slices or crumbing alternative 3. Cocoa powder 4. Rolled oats - porridge, homemade muesli, slices/biscuits, crumbing alternative
Fresh 5. Milk - to add to breakfast cereals, as a snack or for sauces 6. Eggs - boiled, poached, fried, baking (sweet or savoury), to help combine ingredients such as patties 7. Cheese (tasty, parmesan) - to add flavour to dishes or as a snack 8. Plain yoghurt - can be used in meals, to make dips, as a condiment or in salad dressings
Sauces & Condiments 8. Soy sauce - use as a marinade, to flavour stir fries and as a dressing 9. Extra virgin olive oil - important for the start of most dishes and dressing of foods 10. Honey - as an alternative to sugar in baking 11. Vinegar - recommend balsamic which can be used in salads but also in sauces to provide a tangy flavour 12. Mustard - use in salad dressings, as a condiment to meats or in stews to enhance flavours 12. Stock powders/liquids - flavour foundation for soups, stews, casseroles 13. Herbs and Spices (thyme, oregano, chilli flakes, bay leaves as a start) - use these in different combinations for a healthier hit of flavour. Avoid packet sauces as they are high in salt and hidden sugars.
Grains 14. Pasta - preferably wholemeal for a hit of fibre, but this cooks in less than 10 minutes and can provide a base for for a wholesome meal 15. Basmati rice - an easy side to stir fries, curries, casseroles 16. Quinoa - a higher nutrient option to rice and pasta, but versatile for sweet or savoury dishes (porridge, salads, side dish)
Canned foods 17. Chickpeas or 3 bean mix - high fibre (and a filling option) to add to salads, casseroles, rice dishes, Bolognese sauce or to make hummus 18. Coconut milk - to make a quick curry or even breakfast puddings 19. Tuna - a lean protein that can be added to salads, pasta bakes, patties, wraps 20. Tinned tomatoes - to make pasta sauces from scratch, add to curries or stews for a tomato-based meal