In this month’s blog we explore how to make the most of store cupboard ingredients and take a look at how to reduce food waste.
As we face current uncertainty with COVID-19, we have seen an increase in the amount of food that households are buying. This is placing a strain on current food supply chains and reducing the availability of food to those most in need. COVID-19 has resulted in a number of shoppers bulk buying. It is important to listen to retailer’s advice and refrain from hoarding goods. UK supermarkets have assured customers there is plenty of supply and no need to hoard essentials. There are lots of things you can prepare with basic ingredients, and therefore less need to buy items that you may not use. Try to only buy what you need, so enough food remains on the shelves for other customers, particularly those most in-need!
Spring is always a great time to have a deep clean and declutter storage spaces. You can start by reviewing your store cupboard ingredients and check which food items are in- date. We like to take a ‘shelfie’ every now and again, which helps us to avoid buying items that we have enough of at home. When it comes to reviewing dates on food items what should we be looking at?
The Use-by Date
The use-by date is about food safety and therefore the most important date to look at. According to the Food Standards Agency, foods can be eaten until the use- by- date, but not after. You will see use- by dates on food that goes off quickly, such as meat, dairy products or ready-to-eat salads. For the use- by date to be a valid guide, you must carefully follow storage instructions. For example, if the instructions on the packaging tell you to refrigerate after opening, you should keep the food in a fridge at 5°C or below.
The Best- Before Date
The best- before date (sometime shown as BBE – best before end), is about quality and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date, but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture might not be as good. Best- before dates appear on a wide range of foods including frozen foods, dried and tinned foods. The best- before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the packaging.
How to store food safely and make it last longer?
There are a number of foods that need to be kept in the fridge to help slow down germs’ growth and keep food fresh and safe for longer. These are foods marked with a “use by” date and “keep refrigerated” on the label, such as milk, meat and ready meals.
- If you are keeping any leftover food, cool it down as quickly as possible (within 2 hours), store in the fridge and eat within 2 days.
- Avoid putting open tin cans in the fridge, as the food inside may develop a metallic taste. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions or place the contents in a storage container or covered bowl before refrigerating.
- Keep your fridge temperature at 5C or below.
- Top tip Keep your fruit and vegetables in the fridge as it will last longer (apart from potatoes, onions, bananas and pineapple).
- Keep bagged salad and spinach leaves fresher by putting a piece of kitchen towel in the bag – it will stop the leaves going slimy.
- You can freeze pretty much everything by placing the food in an airtight container or wrapping it tightly in freezer bags, before placing in the freezer, otherwise the cold air will dry it out.
- Label the food with the name and date it was frozen.
- When defrosting food, plan ahead so you leave enough time and space to defrost small amounts of food in the fridge. Food should be thoroughly defrosted before cooking (unless the manufacturer’s instructions tell you to cook from frozen).
- If you cannot defrost food in the fridge, you could put it in a container and then place it under cold running water. Raw meat and poultry (including large joints and whole birds), should not be defrosted under cold running water unless they are in a sealed container.
- You can also defrost food in the microwave on the ‘defrost’ setting. If necessary you could defrost food at room temperature. Follow the manufacturer’s defrosting instructions.
- Food should be left out at room temperature for the shortest time possible. Ideally, it is bet to defrost foods in the fridge.
- NHS choices has lots of useful information on how to safely freeze different foods
- You can find fantastic advice from Love Food Hate Waste on how to store household items correctly
A Healthy Diet
There has been a lot of talk recently about boosting our immunity to reduce our risk of developing COVID-19. Instead of thinking about boosting your immune system, it’s better to think about keeping healthy by following a healthy, balanced diet. There is no magic food or supplement that will boost your immunity. Vitamin and mineral supplements can help if you’re deficient in something specific, but if you’re eating a healthy balanced diet and taking regular exercise you’re probably already doing enough to keep your immune system in good shape! Vitamin D supplements are recommended for younger children and adults in the winter and autumn months.
A healthy diet means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Where you can, try to stick to a mealtime routine. If you are working from home and the children are being home schooled, try to stick to their usual meal and snack routine and remember to drink plenty of water across the day.
The Eatwell Guide provides lots of guidance on how to achieve a balanced diet across the week by:
- Aiming for 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- Base meals on starchy foods like potato, bread, rice or pasta
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives across the day
- Include beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein twice per day (three times if you are vegetarian)
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, include sparingly
- Drink plenty of water, at least 6 to 8 drinks across the day.
Let have a look at some handy store cupboard ingredients and how you can use them in day to day recipes.
Fruit and vegetables:
Aim for 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. You can count the following:
- Tinned tomatoes: Use these to create rich pasta sauces and use in dishes such as Bolognese and chilli. Here is one of our favourite recipes using tinned tomatoes: Chilli Jacket Potato
- Dried fruit: Dried fruits, such as sultanas, apricots, figs and dates, are useful for adding sweetness to breakfasts, natural yoghurt and desserts. While dried fruit won’t have the vitamin C that fresh fruit does, dried fruit still contributes to your five a day and can also be a source of nutrients like fibre and iron. Please note- only offer to children when added to cereal or pudding and not on its own, to reduce the risk of tooth decay. Here is one of our favourite recipes using dried fruit: Hot Cross Buns
- Tinned fruit and vegetables: Tinned fruit keeps for ages and will count towards your five- a- day. During the winter it can be a good way of getting more exotic, out of season fruits into your diet, like peaches and pineapple. Just make sure the fruit is tinned in fruit juice rather than syrup, and that vegetables are tinned in water, without added salt or sugar. Here is one of our favourite recipes using tinned fruit/vegetables: Apple and Pear Porridge
- Frozen fruit and vegetables: Frozen vegetables are much cheaper than fresh vegetables, and because a lot of them are frozen within a couple of hours of being picked, most of the time they’re going to be fresher. There is also less preparation time so they’re perfect to use in your evening meals. Here is one of our favourite recipes using frozen vegetables: Mac and vegetable slice
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
Include beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein twice per day (three times if you are vegetarian). You can count the following:
- Tinned fish in water: Tuna is perfect as a sandwich filling, to top a salad or jacket potato or for more substantial meals, like a tuna bake or in a tomato based pasta sauce. Try sardines on toast or with pasta. Anchovies add fantastic depth of flavour to sauces. Here is one of our favourite recipes using tinned fish: Salmon and cucumber wrap
- Tinned lentils, pulses: Pulses are a good ingredient to bulk out meat dishes, alongside being a great vegetarian source of protein. Dried pulses keep well too, but when they are tinned in water they are ready- to- eat, making them a quick and easy choice. Chickpeas or lentils for example, can be mixed with salads and pasta dishes, or used in soups and stews. They can also be used for making homemade hummus. Here is one of our favourite recipes using tinned pulses: Moroccan Vegetable and chickpea tagine
- Peanut butter: That jar of peanut butter in your cupboard is useful for more than just toast in the morning! You can also add to overnight oats, as a rice cake topping or in stews and curries. Here are some of our favourite peanut butter recipes: Nuttery Buttery
- Meat, Poultry: These ingredients can easily be frozen and used as required. Use mince for cottage pie, stewing cuts for one-pots, like beef stroganoff and fillets, or sirloins for a Sunday roast. Serve whole chicken breasts breaded, stuffed or cut into chunks in tasty stews, curries, salads and sides. Here is one of our favourite recipes using chicken: Sweet and sour chicken
Base meals on starchy foods like potato, bread, rice or pasta:
- Pasta, rice, cous cous: Pasta can be used as a starchy accompaniment for main meals, as well as having it cold in pasta salads. Couscous is very easy to cook: a bit of measuring and then simply soak it in boiling water. Serve it in salads, or with stews and grilled meat. Pearl barley has little flavour, so can be used in soups and stews as a thickener. Try it as a low-cost alternative to risotto rice. Here is one of our favourite pasta recipes: Pasta Carbonara
- Flour: A bag of plain flour can be useful for making pancakes and scones, as well as to thicken a white sauce or casserole. Great for padding out, lining and thickening dishes. It can be used to make bread and sauces. Here is one of our favourite recipes using this ingredient: Easy Bread
- Bread, pitta, bagels, wraps: Bread, pitta and wraps are prefect for breakfast, lunch and snack recipes. These items are also easy to freeze and can be defrosted as and when you need them. They are so versatile and there are lots of great toppings you can use to add flavour. Here is one of our favourite recipes using these ingredients: Salmon and courgette bagel
- Oats: Oats are a good store-cupboard ingredient for sweet dishes. Use them to make flapjacks, in crumble toppings, or add them to cookies and muffins. Keep a big bag of oats in the cupboard ready for any number of breakfast options. Make your own healthy take on a crunchy granola, soak in milk and yogurt for easy overnight oats ready to be topped with fresh fruits in the morning. Here is one of our favourite porridge recipes: Three bears breakfast
Dairy and alternatives
Have some dairy or dairy alternatives each day including the following:
- Milk: Fresh or long- life milk are great options. You can also freeze milk and thaw in the fridge overnight, when required
- Cheese: Some hard cheeses, like Cheddar, can last more than two weeks, as long as you make sure to store them properly. Shredded cheese can
last even longer when frozen. Grate your cheese and then freeze it – you can just grab a handful whenever you want a topping for pasta, pizza, and shepherd’s pie… whatever you like! Have a go at making the following Pizza
- Yoghurt: Plain or natural yoghurt are good healthy options. Try making your own tzatziki with low-fat yogurt, grated cucumber, minced garlic, fresh lemon juice, fresh mint, dill and chives, and black pepper. We love this Tazatziki recipe
- Custard: Use reduced-fat milks to make custard and milk puddings. Why not try this delicious Banana Custard recipe
Top tip for planning meals
- Write a meal plan for the week and only buy what you need.
- Get into the habit of checking what you already have in the fridge and freezer before you go shopping.
- Look out for foods that are approaching their use-by date and other fresh foods, that can go off over time, and try to use them up first. This includes:
- fruit and vegetables
- meat and fish
- cheese, milk or other dairy products
- Use your leftovers for meals the following day, or freeze them for future meals.
- Food doesn’t need to be frozen on the day of purchase and is fine to freeze up to the use-by date.
- Grow something that you can use in the kitchen, such as herbs, tomatoes and sprouts. If you’re a novice gardener, growing an indoor culinary herb garden is an easy place to start. All you need to get started is a nice, sunny place in your house for them to call home.
Food bank supplies are running low. If you can, consider donating food items, toiletries and baby items, to ensure people in your local community stays stocked. Visit the following websites for more information on how you can help.
A note on infant feeding:
Guidance is evolving as more is learnt about COVID 19. Here are some of our recommendations for families.
- First Infant formula: As with all shopping at the moment, it is important to remember that the UK supermarket supply chains are working efficiently to ensure there are regular supplies. Stockpiling risks the health of others. The recommendation is to use *first stage* infant formula, ANY BRAND. More information is available on infant formulas from First Steps Nutrition
- Mixed Feeding: Where your baby is mixed or combination fed, try to maximise your breastmilk wherever possible. Breastmilk produces antibodies to the virus, and breastmilk protects the family from the risks associated with panic buying of formula.
- Online support:
- As we all transition to increasing use of online and virtual support, please remember you can access our ‘Feeding Your Baby in the First Year’ guide free of charge. Simply use the code Weaning-Insta at the checkout.
- Start4Life has a range of resources for both if breastfeeding or offering infant formula