Welcome back to our first mini-series here at Living Healthy in the Real World, the Guide to Grocery Shopping! Before you read Part Two: Building the Basics, be sure to check out Part One: Preparation for Grocery Shopping.
You’ve cleared out your cupboards. You’ve got your lists handy. You’ve chosen some recipes. Now what?
Now, it’s time to build those basics.
1) The Equipment. To recap from and expand upon what we discussed in Part One, some of the essentials* you will need (or at least will make your life easier if you have them) are:
- Cookbooks: If you don’t own any, explore the Internet or check some books out of the library. My favourites include Better Homes & Gardens 14th edition (all of the basics), Veganomicon (vegan cooking), and Straight A’s College Cookbook: Quick Cooking for 1 or 2 (simple, fast, and easy recipes for beginners). You can check out a longer list of my go-to cookbooks on my Healthy Recommendations page.
- George Foreman Grill: I really don’t use any other piece of equipment when I’m cooking meat. It’s rare that I ever do cook meat these days, but George is great for grilling burgers (hello locally-raised grass-fed bison burgers!), fish, chicken, any kind of vegetables or fruit, and oh my goodness once you’ve had a veggie and hummus grilled sandwich on our boy George, you’ll never go back. He’s the ultimate for fast and healthy cooking.
- Blender: I use this primarily for smoothies/shakes, especially my morning green breakfast shakes (the blender gets used at least on a daily basis at my place between my roommate and I, if not several times a day), but it’s also useful for blending salad dressings or soup, or for making vegetable purees.
- Toaster Oven: My toaster is hidden in storage and what I’ve got on the counter instead is a toaster oven (it’s my sister’s toaster oven- once I’m living by myself in my new condo, she’ll be taking that toaster oven and I’ll be digging out my own toaster). Another piece of equipment that is used multiple times a day in my apartment, toaster ovens are perfect for when you’re making things for just one or two people. I most often simply use it for toasting bread, but it’s also great for making sweet potato fries or grilled corn on the cob.
- Pots and pans: Essential for soups, stir fries, scrambles, pilafs, the works! You need these. I especially like a non-stick pan; you don’t need any oil at all (or just a spritz of oil from a Misto). Woks can come in handy but they aren’t necessary if you’ve got a wide, deep pan instead. Make sure that you have lids for all of these; you can save on time and energy when you’ve got lids to trap the heat. A few different sizes of pots and pans are also a great idea: I use smaller saucepans for making sauces and eggs, and larger pots and pans for making big batches of soup or one-dish meals.
- Steamer: Definitely invest in this. I use it all the time, mostly to steam frozen vegetables which I then add to just about any dish. Mine is a very simple steamer that you just put directly into a pot (read: inexpensive!), but you can buy fancier rice steamers if you feel so inclined.
- Measuring cups and spoons: You can’t cook/bake without them! Well, you can, but the balance of flavours might be all off, and you won’t be able to control the health aspect of your cooking if you don’t use proper measuring utensils.
- Slotted spoon, ladle, and sharp knife: I didn’t realize the value of a sharp knife until I used one after my knife had been dull for months (and now I keep accidentally cutting my fingers because I forget that the blade is actually sharp. Ouch). I find my slotted spoon is essential for poaching eggs, although I have made poached eggs and used a ladle to scoop it out instead- but that’s not nearly as tidy as using a handy slotted spoon.
- Cutting board: Make that boards, plural. I own four and sometimes even that doesn’t seem like enough.
- Crockpot: It isn’t necessary, but it’s handy to have, especially if you’re short on time or don’t like slaving over a hot stove. I like piling in steel cut oats on Sunday evening; by Monday morning, I have a week’s worth of oats already cooked. I keep the cooked oats in the fridge and each morning I can mix in some banana, cinnamon, and nut butter, and I’m all set. Crockpots are also great for making stew, soup, and chili.
2) The Food. Dried and canned goods are fantastic because they will keep forever in your kitchen. These are what I always have on hand:
- Flour: Whole wheat, all-purpose white, whole wheat pastry, buckwheat, spelt. I also own chickpea flour, green pea flour, and soya flour, but I use these much less frequently than the rest. The white flour is used very sparingly (but it’s useful for thickening sauces and for sprinkling on the cutting board to prevent dough from sticking; whole wheat flour doesn’t work quite as well for that).
- Herbs/Spices: Black pepper, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram, and bay leaves are what I use the most interchangeably. It’s also nice to have nutmeg, ginger, garlic powder, turmeric, rosemary, and cayenne pepper on hand. Always keep whole garlic bulbs in the pantry, as well as onions; those are two items that really add a great kick to any dish (maybe not a dessert. You know what I mean).
- Canned/bottled goods: Tomato paste, diced tomatoes, chickpeas, mixed beans, honey, agave nectar, red kidney beans, olive oil (both in a bottle and in a Misto spray canister), balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, white vinegar, grapeseed oil
- Dried and packaged goods: Wholegrain rice, wild rice, quinoa, brown basmati rice, whole wheat spaghetti, buckwheat soba noodles, brown rice pasta shells, vegetable fettuccine, dried chickpeas, dried Great Northern beans, dried 15-bean medley, green split peas, nutritional yeast flakes, whole buckwheat, steel-cut oats, rye flakes, spelt flakes, barley flakes, wheat flakes, rolled oats
- Condiments and refrigerated goods: Bragg’s soy sauce, wheat germ, ground flax seed, whole grain mustard, nut butters, applesauce, instant yeast, maple syrup, Earth Balance
Let’s hit the road! Armed with your list and all of your cooking equipment, we’re ready to go to the store and start shoppin’.
Don’t miss Part Three of our Grocery Shopping Mini-Series: Grocery Shopping for the Time-Restricted (plus tips to prevent impulse buys), coming up next!
*These lists are by no means exhaustive, but they are some of the things that I have found to be particularly valuable- my kitchen is always stocked full to the brim! These things are not all necessary to have, but I have found them to be very useful for the kind of cooking that I like to do.