Healthy store cupboard essentials you should always have to hand

Keep your kitchen well-stocked with our simple and affordable staples and you’ll always be able to whip up a tasty, easy and healthy meal.

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Think of it this way: If you already have everything you need to make a healthy and delicious meal, you’ll be far less tempted to reach for heavily processed convenience foods.

Once you have a well-stocked kitchen, you’ll always have the essentials to hand, meaning you can whip up all manner of healthy, easy meals with just a few extra ingredients – and some made only from what’s already in your storecupboard.

What are store cupboard essentials?

Store cupboard staples, pantry essentials, food cupboard must-haves… They all mean the same thing: the basic range of foods and ingredients that every well-stocked kitchen (or larder) should contain.

How do I start building a well-stocked pantry?

Crucially, you don’t need to go out and immediately buy everything on this list. That would be both expensive and unnecessary.

Instead, consider buying a few things each month and gradually building up your collection. Buy most ingredients as and when you need them, but add a few of these essentials over time.

Eventually you’ll have the kind of well-stocked store cupboard that dreams are made of.

Overview

Here are the categories we’ve split our guide into:

  • Basic ingredients are those you’ll use for most meals –salt and pepper, stock cubes, healthy oils, vinegar, sugar and maybe flour
  • Fridge essentials include milk, butter, eggs, table sauces, and a good few portions of fruit and veg
  • Tinned and jarred foods are absolute pantry staples, in particular canned fruit, vegetables, pulses, meat and fish
  • Starchy foods are things such as bread, pasta, rice, porridge oats and noodles
  • Dried fruits and nuts have a long shelf-life and contain nutrients including fibre and protein
  • Herbs and spices allow you to add great flavour and depth to your cooking without adding calories
  • Freezer essentials include vegetables (like frozen peas), chillies and herbs, fish or lean meat (or vegetarian alternatives), and pre-made meals for busy days

The basics

Aside from tea and coffee, there are certain basic ingredients that every cook should have in their kitchen. These are things you’ll use all the time and will want to keep a good supply of, rather than topping up every time you shop.

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Our favourite basics are:

  • Sea salt and black pepper, in grinders (remember to go easy on the salt)
  • Stock cubes (ideally low sodium)
  • Olive oil (regular for cooking and extra virgin for dressings)
  • Rapeseed oil (for dishes that need a flavourless oil)
  • Sugar (it’s handy to have both white and brown)
  • Flour (even if you don’t like baking, plain flour is handy for thickening sauces)
  • Vinegar (if you have room for three, white wine, red wine and balsamic are a good place to start)
  • Lemon juice (fresh or bottled, this really livens up salads, curries and pasta sauces)

In the fridge

Dairy products (or dairy-free alternatives)

Milk, plain yoghurt and cheeses are all very handy to have in the fridge. Opt for skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and low-fat or fat-free yoghurt, and remember that 30g is a generous portion of cheese.

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Butter is another staple, used in all sorts of dishes, from cakes to lasagnes.

If you are vegan or avoiding cow’s milk for other reasons, simply buy alternative versions of all of the above.

Eggs

Of course, not everyone eats eggs. But for those who do, they’re a fantastic source of nutrients including protein and iron.

Eggs can be transformed into a simple meal in minutes, from scrambled eggs on toast to a vegetable omelette.

Onions and garlic

Onions and garlic form the basis of so many meals from so many cuisines – French, Italian and Indian to name a few. Store them in the fridge or in a cool, dry cupboard.

Protein

It’s always handy to have a couple of sources of protein in the fridge to help you whip up a quick meal. If you eat meat, small amounts of bacon and chorizo can add intense flavour to dishes. Tofu is a great meat-free alternative.

Table sauces

Keep a few of your favourite sauces on hand to squeeze or drizzle over anything from bacon to vegetables.

Not all of these need to be refrigerated, but all of them can perk up a boring meal:

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  • Ketchup
  • Brown sauce
  • Mustard
  • Light mayonnaise
  • Soy sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Honey or maple syrup

Tins and jars

Tinned and jarred foods are fantastic kitchen cupboard staples because they have a long shelf life, they’re typically affordable, and often they’re full of nutrients.

Tinned tomatoes

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Tinned tomatoes are one of the most versatile ingredients in the world. Use them for curries, stews, casseroles or pasta sauces. They form the base of so many amazing dishes, from Shakshuka to spaghetti Bolognese.

As well as tinned chopped tomatoes, we recommend keeping a couple of tins of plum tomatoes (which taste better) and – if you can find them – tinned cherry tomatoes are a revelation.

Passata and tomato puree are equally as useful as tinned tomatoes so be sure to have some of these too.

Tinned vegetables

All manner of vegetables are available in cans these days, from peas and sweetcorn to carrots and potatoes. They aren’t always as tasty as their fresh counterparts but they are still packed with nutrients, and in stews and casseroles you won’t notice the difference.

Tinned fruit

If you have a sweet tooth, tinned fruits are the perfect satisfying-yet-low calorie dessert. Choose varieties tinned in juice, not syrup, and serve with good quality fat free yoghurt.

Tinned beans and pulses

These are a good way to bulk out your meals without piling on the calories, and they offer great vegan sources of protein and fibre.

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Some of our favourites are:

  • Kidney beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Borlotti beans
  • Lentils (dried are also great)
  • Black beans

Tinned fish

Don’t restrict yourself to just the classic tinned tuna. Sardines, anchovies, mackerel and salmon are all readily available in tins. Anchovies are particularly good for adding depth of flavour to sauces.

Other useful and versatile tinned and jarred ingredients include:

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  • Roasted red peppers
  • Coconut milk
  • Olives
  • Soups
  • Baked beans
  • Jam and other preserves
  • Curry pastes
  • Pesto
  • Baked beans

Starchy foods

Pasta

Everyone loves pasta, right?

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With a pack of penne of fusilli, a can of chopped tomatoes and little else, you can make that most wondrous of store cupboard meals: pasta in red sauce.

There are countless different shapes of pasta and it’s always fun to experiment, so try as many as you can find.

Wherever possible, opt for wholemeal varieties, which are simply much better for you than white ones.

Rice

Rice is another great staple food and can form the basis of so many different meals. Opt for brown rice over white as it contains less sugar and more healthy fibre. Rice is naturally gluten free so great for coeliacs.

Noodles

Like pasta, noodles come in various forms. Use them in stir-fries or to bulk out soups. Many noodle varieties are gluten free, so pay attention to the ingredients to find the right ones for you.

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Other great starchy foods to have on your shelf:

  • Porridge oats
  • Cereals
  • Couscous
  • Bulgur wheat
  • Quinoa

Dried fruits & nuts

If you’re someone who loves to snack but doesn’t always make healthy choices, dried fruits and nuts could be the answer.

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When it comes to nuts, choose unsalted varieties and pay attention to portion sizes as listed on the packet. Nuts are rich in healthy fats but that means they’re high in calories too.

Around 30g of dried fruit counts as one of your 5 A Day. Sprinkle a handful of raisins on your porridge or breakfast cereal to get a portion in first thing.

Herbs & spices

Herbs and spices can completely transform a meal, prvoiding amazing layers of flavour while adding almost no calories. It’s great to have a few fresh herbs to hand as well as the dried versions.

Adding herbs and spices to your cooking is also a handy tip if you are trying to cut back on your salt intake; you’ll find you simply don’t need to add as much.

Our most-used 10 herbs and spices are:

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  • Basil (fresh and dried are both delicious)
  • Dried oregano
  • Fresh coriander or parsley
  • Chilli powder and/or chilli flakes
  • Fresh or frozen red chillies
  • Paprika
  • Cumin
  • Ground ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Coriander

In the freezer

If you’re looking to eat healthily on a budget without spending hours in the kitchen every day, your freezer is your new best friend.

Fill it with pre-prepared meals that you can easily reheat when you’re short on time, and pre-portioned ingredients that save on prep time when cooking.

Frozen vegetables are an absolute must. You can buy these already frozen, or chop and freeze fresh veg that you won't use before they turn.

Some of our favourite frozen vegetables include:

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  • Sliced mixed peppers
  • Garden peas or petit pois
  • Sweetcorn
  • Chopped mushrooms
  • Diced butternut squash

Other handy things to have in the freezer:

  • Lean meats
  • Meat substitutes, like Quorn pieces or Linda McCartney sausages
  • Fish and seafood
  • Pastry
  • Fruit
  • Pre-sliced bread in case you run out

Recipes that freeze well include:

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