Store cupboard essentials, buying produce, reading labels & more
First things first, for food success, I strongly urge you to remove the ‘junk food’ or foods that you don’t want to be eating this if possible. If you can, give them to a neighbour. Otherwise, at moments of weakness, you are likely to find yourself resorting to food choices that might not be the best for your health.
So here are some store cupboard staples that I have my kitchen that are always handy to have. All have a good shelf life and should be available to buy in your local supermarket.
Beans and pulses
Tinned beans are great – try to buy organic tinned beans if you can, as the price difference is rarely very big and we think it’s worth the few extra pennies.
I usually have some of the below in our cupboards:
Tinned kidney beans
Tinned butter beans
Tinned black beans
Tinned cannellini beans
Tinned borlotti beans
I often get asked if tinned beans are as healthy as cooking your own dried beans? While cooking your own dried beans is marginally healthier, for many, including ourselves most of the time it’s not practical.
I often use dried lentils, as they are so tasty in curries, dahls, soups and stews. Split red lentils are one of our favourites and they are well-worth having in your cupboard.
Grains & pastas
Wholegrains (brown) are much healthier than the white variety, as they are higher in fibre and nutrition. They usually take a few minutes longer to cook but are really worth it.
Here are some of our favourite grains:
Short grain brown rice
Brown basmati rice
Just like all grains, the wholegrain version of pasta will have more fibre and more nutrition, its as simple as picking up the brown spaghetti instead of the white one at the supermarket!
Look out for wholegrain varieties such as:
Brown rice (gluten-free)
There is an enormous range of non-dairy milk alternatives available on the market these days and they taste just as good, if not better, than their dairy equivalents if you want to become a plant based fairy.
With so much choice available it can be difficult to know which milk works best for what, here is what I find works best for what.
Oat milk – I generally use – I think it has the most neutral taste and it is meant to be one of the healthiest, as it is highest in bioflavonoids. It also froths well if you like to drink a latte or a flat white coffee.
Rice milk – naturally very sweet, we used to drink this as our preference but over time found it too sweet and possibly not the best over time on our teeth.
Soy milk – quite a distinct taste. It goes reasonably well in coffee. Not for everyone, due to its distinct taste, and can sometimes curdle when added cold to hot drinks.
Coconut milk – not to be mistaken with tinned coconut milk that you use in curries etc. This generally comes in a 1 litre carton and is used in the same instances as the above milks. It is a little thicker and creamier in body than rice milk with a very subtle undertone.
Almond milk – this usually comes sweetened and unsweetened. Taste and see which you prefer, my preference is the unsweetened one. My advice is taste a few of them, if you can, so you can see what tastes best to you. For coffee drinkers, there is a range of milks such as oat and soya that have been specifically designed to be used in hot drinks to stop curdling.
Nuts, seeds and dried fruit
Nuts and seeds are really great to have in your store cupboard.
Here are the main nuts we usually have in my cupboards:
Dried fruit gets a bad wrap, as it is high in fructose but it is also very high in fibre, which slows down the release of these sugars. It also contains lots of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. When dried fruit is mentioned, many people think of picking the raisins out of their cereal but dried fruit is vast and super-varied, from dried mango, dried goji berries, and prunes, to medjool dates and dried apricots. When buying dried apricots, try to buy the brown ones, as they are not dried with sulphur, and taste juicier and softer.
Here are some of the spices that i like to have at hand:
Curry powder (medium)
Ground black pepper
Chilli powder (medium)
Here are a few core condiments that we really recommend having in:
Apple cider vinegar
Nut butters (almond is our favourite)
These fridge bits are great to have on hand:
Sauerkraut & kimchi (both are long-lasting)
Hummus & pesto
Maple syrup (once opened, keep it in the fridge, as it tends to ferment at room temperature)
Below is the equipment that i use regularly in the kitchen and which will help you.
Non-stick pans & pots
It’s important when cooking oil-free, to have a wide-bottomed non-stick pan. The wider the pan, the more surface area to cook on and to brown your veg and to encourage flavour development. The narrower and taller your pan the less surface area to brown and cook your veg.
I also have a couple of smaller saucepans to heat things up in. A wok is handy for stir fries, as is a large family-sized saucepan that you can cook enough soup for plenty of people. I generally use a brand called ‘Circulon’ but there are so many brands on the market, so pick and choose what suits you and your price point best.
One of the challenges of cooking internationally is the different means of measuring weights. Most countries around the world use the metric system but in North America and some other parts of the world, the imperial system is used to measure weights and distances.
Dry weighted goods: milligrams, grams, kilograms and tonnes
Liquids: millilitres, litres and tonnes
Dry weighted goods: ounces and pounds
Liquids: fluid ounces, cups, pints, quarts, and gallons
Grams and mls for liquids
Grams and mls are interchangeable for water, so for example,
100ml of water = 100g of water
With other not 100% water-based fluids there is a slight variation but as a rough rule of thumb, this roughly stands up.
The only time when things can get a little complicated is with fats, such as coconut oil or vegan butters, where 100g of solid coconut oil or vegan butter doesn’t quite equal 100 ml of melted coconut oil, due to slight evaporation.
Here is handy table to help with conversion if needed: https://mainfacts.com/convert-grams-to-ml
Oz to g:
An ounce = 1/16 of a pound and a pound = 2.2kg
Or more specifically:
1 oz = 28.34952g
5 oz = 141.75
10 oz = 283.5
50 oz = 1417.48
1000 oz = 28349.52
Dry measurement conversions
1 cup = 8 ounces =½ pound = 16tbsp = 225g
4 cups/ 1 quart = 32 ounces = 2 pounds = 64 tbsp = 907g
Liquid or volume measurements:
1 cups = 8 fluid ounces = ½ pint /16 tbsp = 237ml
4 cups = 32 fluid ounces = 2 pints/ 1 quart = 946 ml
16 cups = 128 fluid ounces = 8 pints / 4 quarts = 3.785L
Conversions for some of ingredients commonly used in baking:
1 cup of flour = 5 ounces = 142 g
1 cup of white/ brown sugar = 7 ounces = 198g
1 cup of cacao powder = 3 ounces = 85g
The Metric system works off celsius versus the imperial system works of fahrenheit
Fahrenheit degrees Celsius Gas Mark Description:
F C Gas mark
225 105 ⅓ very cool temp
250 120 ½
275 130 1 cool
300 150 2
325 165 3 very moderate
350 180 4 moderate
375 190 5
400 200 6 moderately hot
425 220 7 hot
450 230 8
475 245 9 very hot
Organic vs non-organic?
When it comes to buying fruit and veg i often get asked should it be organic and local and is the fruit and is the veg we buy in a supermarket the same quality as what you can get in a local grocers? In an ideal world, we would all be eating local, organic produce but as this is not reality for most people – i feel it is more important to eat your fruit and vegetables than it is to worry about them being organic or not. The bigger issue is more about making sure you are getting wholefoods in your diet.
Studies have shown that even the most sprayed fruit, such as grapes, the benefits of eating the fruit outweigh the negatives of the chemical sprays. It is not about aiming for perfection, buy organic and local if and when you can, and just do your best!
Food labels can be confusing and statements such as ‘low fat’ and ‘no sugar’ can often be misleading and lead us to believe that a product can be healthier than it actually is.
The best foods you can buy are the ones with no labels such as fruit and veg and fresh produce! However, if you are buying packaged foods, be sure to take a look at the labels.
Here are some of my top tips for reading labels and being a savvy shopper:
First and foremost – try to eat foods that do not have labels. Following a wholefood plant-based diet means eating mainly unrefined and unprocessed foods that do not need a label. There are some mildly refined products that make eating this way easier- such as tinned beans and pulses, tomato paste, whole-grain wraps, and frozen fruit and veg.
Do not trust the claims that are made on the front of any pack, they are there to catch your attention and to sell the product! The good thing is, the ingredients can never lie!
Read the ingredient list on the back and aim for foods that have a very short list of ingredients that are recognisable. Pay attention to ingredients that end in ‘ose’- as this usually means that they contain sugar. Ingredients are listed in order of descending volume (although sometimes different forms of sugar can be used to avoid listing sugar as the main ingredient).
When it comes to buying wholegrain products, look for items that are described as 100% wholegrain or 100% spelt, for example.
Check the nutritional information panel on the back of the product and the traffic light or % daily amount panel on the front for the following:
Fat: over 17.5g fat per 100g is considered high in fat for packaged foods, and will be marked that way with a red traffic light on the front of packaging. It can be presumed that this is refined fat, such as oil. Try to aim for foods that have the green traffic light on them. This does not apply to wholefood sources of healthy essential fatty acids, such as avocados, nuts and seeds.
Sugar: whole plant-based foods may contain some sugar, referred to as intrinsic sugar. It is built in to the structure of the food, so your little pot of fruit salad might look high in sugar on the label, but this is not added sugar. Added sugar, as it appears on the ingredients list, must be minimised wherever possible; even natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup, be mindful of them, and aim for less than 5g per 100g.
Salt: try to pick foods that have little to no added salt. 6g per day is the upper limit. A slice of bread can have 1g of salt, so just a few slices of bread cold have you halfway to maxing out your salt intake for the day! Aim for less than 0.3g salt per 100g.
In the EU, salt is used in labelling, but other countries use sodium. If you use sodium, 2400mg per day is the upper limit, so make sure that the milligrams of sodium do not exceed the calories per serving on packaged foods.
Cholesterol and Trans Fat: In the EU, cholesterol and trans fat do not appear on the label. I recommend that any packaged foods you buy that are labelled with cholesterol or trans fat above 0 should be avoided.
Eating on the Go
The key to eating on the go is to have snacks on hand, as often the food that is most easily available is processed and not very healthy. I always make sure to have food on hand when we know we will be out and about. Handy on the go snacks that travel well and are easy to eat are:
Bananas or any fresh fruit
Oat cakes or rice cakes
Eating out is part of life, so don’t panic! You can eat and wholefood, plant-based diet and not go hungry! It’s all about being prepared.
Here are some top tips for eating out while on a wholefood, plant-based diet.
Eating in a restaurant
Call ahead to wherever you are going and explain to them that you are on not just a diet but a wholefood or plant-based diet. Chefs like to be challenged and there is great interest these days surrounding this way of eating, with more options on offer than ever before! Keep in mind that you are always aiming for food as close to it’s wholefood source as possible and not the processed kind, so a vegan hot dog doesn’t count!
Eat a meal before you go so that you don’t arrive too hungry. This means that you can nibble on a few side dishes and not worry about feeling starving. Just be sure to ask for them not to be cooked in butter if your vegan, as some more traditional restaurants will often use butter to cook their veggie sides.
Go to ethnic restaurants if you can, as they will have the best selection of wholefood plant-based choices. Indian restaurants will always have a dhal (just be sure to check that it does not contain ghee – a clarified butter often used in Indian dishes). Mexican restaurants will always have brown rice, beans and guacamole. A tasty stir fry will always be available in a Chinese restaurant and Japanese restaurant will always have miso soup or sushi made with avocado.
Eating at a friend’s
Tell your friend that your doctor has you on a diet. Once people think it is a medical choice they are more likely to be understanding and supportive.
Don’t go hungry. Just like eating at a restaurant, eating a light meal before you go to friend’s will help you to feel full if there is not much on offer.
Bring a dish! Use your vegan cooking skills to make a tasty dish and bring it with you. We bet that your friends will want to have a taste!
These days, there are more plant-based options than ever before and eating a plant-based diet abroad is not a difficult as you think; its amazing what lovely restaurants you can come across once you start looking for them!
I am well-used to plant-based eating on the go when travelling Here are our top tips for eating when travelling abroad:
The Happy Cow is an online directory of vegetarian and vegan restaurants all around the world. Star restaurants that you like the sound of in Google maps on your phone, so when you are abroad and get hungry, you will know what is nearby.
Instagram is also another great place to find plant-based restaurants, you can use the hashtags to search for vegan restaurants wherever you are.
Bring a food bag! We always bring a food bag with us when travelling, it’s just as important to us as our laptop and clothes! Bring plenty of snacks with you so that you are never stuck. I like to bring fruit, hummus, avocados, nuts and rice cakes.
Be prepared and make sure you always have food on hand whatever the situation. That way, you not only survive but thrive, no matter where you are!