A Dietitian’s Shopping List: Vegetarian Staples Every Busy Person Should Have in Their Kitchen

Dietitian's shopping list - the best foods to keep in your kitchen

The ideal work-life balance often eludes many of us. So, eating well can sometimes be difficult to achieve. However, keeping healthy staple foods in your fridge and pantry will likely make your already busy lives a little less stressful. Here are my top go-to foods that are always in my kitchen and that you should keep on hand too. Because there’s nothing like getting your hands on a dietitian’s shopping list, right?

Blueberries

Blueberries are nutritional powerhouses. They are rich in antioxidants, low in sugar and also contain a decent hit of fibre. There is some evidence to show that including blueberries as part of a healthy diet can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood pressure.

I include a handful of the frozen variety on my brekkie cereal/porridge. But you can add them (fresh or frozen) to yoghurt, custard, ice cream, smoothies, salads and sweets too. Or just munch on them directly from the punnet. Not only are they versatile, they’re also berry delicious!

Dietitian's shopping list: Blueberries in a little basket

Peanut butter

However you like it, whether it’s smooth, crunchy or super crunchy, peanut butter is a winner. I love the stuff! It’s incredibly versatile too. I personally like the super crunchy variety on grainy toast, but it works well with banana, on pancakes, in a stir-fry or eaten cheekily straight from the jar.

Peanut butter is a rich source of monounsaturated fats – the healthy ones that help to reduce cholesterol. It’s also a good source of fibre, folate, protein, vitamin E and potassium. Better yet, there is evidence to show that people who regularly eat nuts have a reduced incidence of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those who don’t.

I choose the reduced-sodium option to cut back on my overall salt intake and I use it sparingly, as it is energy-dense. Remember that too much of a good thing isn’t good either, especially if you’re trying to keep your weight in check. So rather than going nuts on the nutty stuff, exercise your portion control and stick (pun intended) to about a tablespoon at a time.

Dietitian's shopping list: Peanut butter

Extra virgin olive oil

You’ll always find a bottle of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in my cupboard. This golden oil is extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of different ways. In fact, the Romans used to bathe in it! I prefer the full-bodied flavoursome type, to eat that is, not to bathe in. But you can opt for lighter flavoured varieties if you like; note that the term ‘light’ in this instance refers to taste and not kilojoules.

Apart from tasting great, EVOO is also good for you. Numerous studies have shown extra virgin olive oil’s ability to cut heart disease by reducing triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (the nasty type) while boosting HDL cholesterol (the good type). It is also jam-packed full of antioxidants. These compounds, specific to EVOO, appear to have free-radical scavenging properties. This means that EVOO may also have a cancer-lowering effect due to its ability to reduce oxidative damage. It may also be protective against specific types of cancer such as breast and colon cancer; even more good reasons why it is a staple in Mediterranean cooking.

I like to add EVOO to my roast veggies, salads, risottos and pasta. And I’ll occasionally team it up with some balsamic vinegar for a delicious condiment to serve with crunchy grainy bread. You can have it any which way. You could even do as the Romans once did and add a spoonful to your next bath… when in Rome, I suppose.

Dietitian's shopping list: Extra virgin olive oil

Soy foods

Soybeans are members of the legume family – their cousins include lentils, peas and peanuts. Soybeans are high in hormone-like substances called phytoestrogens, which mimic the action of oestrogen. There is evidence to show that post-menopausal women who consume soy products have reduced incidences of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis as well as hot flushes. One large study found that a diet high in soy-based protein reduced total cholesterol as well as triglycerides; this finding was not found to be gender-specific.

Soybeans are high in protein and fibre, low in total and saturated fat and are cholesterol and lactose free. You can increase your intake of soy products by regularly including soy milk, tofu, tempeh and soy yoghurt as part of your regular diet. Just check the ingredients list to ensure that the products are made with whole soybeans rather than with soy isolates. It’s clear that soybeans are soy good for you.

Soy foods

Eggs

Eggs are nutritional powerhouses packed with heaps of good stuff like protein, vitamin B12, monounsaturated fat, phosphorous, selenium, iodine, folate and vitamin A. All up, there are 11 different vitamins and minerals naturally found in eggs. They’re also naturally low in salt and sugar. And, because they are high in protein, they help to keep us fuller for longer, so they’re a great option for those looking to shed some weight.

Eggs are a staple in households across the world, and they certainly get this dietitian’s nod of approval. They’re so versatile, and you can have them at any time of the day. They can be boiled, scrambled, fried, poached, served on toast, in salads and sandwiches or in stir-fries, and they’re are a vital ingredient in baking. My personal favourite egg dish is shakshuka – check out my take on it.

As for their moderate cholesterol content, the National Heart Foundation recommends that everyone, who follows a healthy balanced diet low in saturated fat (the nasty stuff that affects blood cholesterol levels), can eat eggs freely without increasing their risk of heart disease. That is reason enough to get egg-static. Nevertheless, if you’re still concerned about your cholesterol levels, just team up your next serve of eggs with some heart-healthy avocado and smoked salmon.

Lastly, when it comes to the age-old debate concerning where to store your eggs – pantry or fridge, either option is acceptable. It’s really a matter of personal choice. Debate settled. And, despite any recent controversy, please buy free-range eggs. The hens will thank you.

Eggs deserve their place in kitchens across the country. They’re a rich source of nutrition, and they taste great too. However you like them be sure to include them in your diet. They are pretty unbeatable.

Dietitian's shopping list: Eggs

Baked beans

Baked beans are jam-packed full of nutrients such as vitamins B1 and B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, potassium, zinc and selenium. Plus they are low in fat, high in low GI carbs and fibre, contain a decent whack of protein and little sugar. Studies show that eating baked beans can help to reduce cholesterol levels, due to their soluble fibre content. Baked beans are a winner from every angle.

Baked beans can be enjoyed hot, cold, straight from the tin, on grainy toast or with eggs. You can add them to your brekkie to beef up the protein content and provide lasting energy to power you through the morning. You can even have them as a snack to curb mid-afternoon hunger pangs. They’re so incredibly versatile. I always keep a tin handy in my pantry (like most Aussies) as well as in my workbag.

Dietitian's shopping list: Baked beans

Peaches

For those of you not old enough to remember, there was once a quirky band in the mid-1990s called The Presidents of the USA who sang, “If I had my little way, I’d eat peaches every day”. Those wacky lads were certainly on to something. I, too, have a great love for peaches. And if I had my little way, I’d eat peaches every day too.

Peaches are one of my pantry staples because not only are they delectable, they’re also extremely nutritious. Peaches mostly contain water, but also contain a moderate amount of low GI carbs and fibre, plus a decent whack of vitamins A and C, potassium and small amounts of vitamins E, K, B3, B5 and folate.

Peaches make the perfect mid-afternoon snack and they are the perfect accompaniment to yoghurt or custard. Given their high water and fibre content they are a great filler. You certainly won’t get fat if you choose to snack on a juicy peach between meals.

And if you choose to go for the tinned option, pick one in natural juice rather than in syrup.

This summer be sure to include peaches as part of your diet. The Presidents of the USA also said, “Millions of peaches, peaches for me”. Perhaps a million peaches is a bit of a stretch, but certainly, one a day gets my nod of approval.

Dietitian's shopping list: Peaches

Bread

I regularly get asked whether bread is a nutritional villain. If only I had a dollar for every time that happened!

Bread has been around for centuries. In fact, it dates back to biblical times. So I’m a little puzzled why people seem to be so confused about whether or not to eat it. I, for one, love bread and am a fervent believer that it can form part of a healthy diet. And that’s why it’s one of my pantry staples.

Bread is jam-packed full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, complex carbohydrates and fibre. Two slices of grainy bread (the pick of the bunch) provide about 30g of long sustaining carbohydrates, 4g of fibre and a good whack of vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, riboflavin, folate, iodine, vitamin E and potassium. And you get all that for about 600Kj, depending on the size of the slices.

It can be said that eating top-quality grains can be compared to putting premium fuel into a high-performance sports car. The evidence shows that eating high-quality carbohydrate grains, like those found in bread will help to optimise your physical and mental performance. That’s reason enough for me.

I am a big fan of the humble sandwich – the old Aussie lunchtime staple. I load it up with lean meats, fish, cheese and plenty of salad veggies. I also love a slice or two of crunchy grainy toast with my eggs and avocado on a Sunday morning. And nothing beats baked beans on toast for a quick and easy meal.

So, should you include bread in your diet too? The evidence says absolutely. Just dough it.

Loaves of bread

Hummus

I often liken myself to the character in the Adam Sandler movie, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, who eats everything with a hearty dollop of hummus. On a trip to Israel, I couldn’t get enough of it! Israelis tend to eat it as a meal rather than as a side dish. Suffice to say that I was in culinary heaven.

Hummus is always on hand at my place. I use it as a spread on my sandwiches, in salad dressings, on grainy toast, with eggs and sides, and sometimes I just eat it straight from the tub. It’s also great with mushrooms, other veggies, and in a pita with salad (with or without falafel).

Chickpeas are the key ingredient in hummus. They certainly pack a nutritional punch. Chickpeas are a good source of protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, manganese and magnesium. They are also naturally low in fat, sugar and salt. Studies show that those who eat legumes regularly, such as chickpeas, are better able to manage their weight, and have less incidence of heart disease.

Try making your own hummus by blending together tinned chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and a pinch of salt. You can use it as a condiment, dip, salad dressing or just eat it as is.

As a side note, the conflict between Israel and her neighbours over territorial rights is well known. However, what is not so well publicized is the food war between Lebanon and Israel: the battle over which country makes the best (and biggest) hummus. Known as the Hummus War, it has been waging since 2006 when a team of Israeli chefs created a Guinness World Record amount of hummus. Since then, the feat has inspired chefs from both countries to go one better. As it stands, Lebanon currently holds the title for the largest batch of hummus ever created. Unfortunately due to current regional tensions, the Guinness World Record judges are steering clear of the Middle East, so the battle has reached a stalemate.

There’s no doubt that hummus is worth including in your diet. Some would even say that it’s worth waging war over it.

Bowl of hummus

Lentils

While some self-styled ‘nutrition gurus’ say that we should shun the humble lentil, I, on the other hand, laud their versatility and nutritional qualities. Lentils are a rich source of protein, low GI carbs, fibre, iron, folate, magnesium and potassium. What’s not to like? They’re an economical source of protein too, costing about $1.00 per 400g can (equating to $2.50 per kg). Compare this to red meat, which can cost upwards of $20 per kg.

I love lentils and I always keep a spare jar in my pantry. They’re a perfect addition to hearty soups, stews and salads. They can even be combined with minced meat to make a sauce for bolognese or lasagne. Lentils are a staple in African and Asian cultures as well as in Mediterranean countries. There is little wonder that the Mediterranean diet is so often acclaimed as the healthiest diet in the world. It is no doubt due in part to the regular inclusion of the undervalued lentil.

Lentils

Cheese, Milk + Yoghurt

Not only are dairy foods downright delicious, but they are also extremely healthy – the evidence doesn’t lie.

Dairy foods provide a nutritional punch! They contain over 10 nutrients important for our general health, nervous system and muscle function, energy levels and, of course, bone health. More specifically, dairy foods are a rich source of vitamins A, B1, B12, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous as well as protein and low GI carbohydrates.

Embrace dairy foods as part of your diet and be sure to keep staples like cheese, milk and yoghurt on hand.

Add milk to your cereal or porridge and perhaps include a dollop of yoghurt on top too; snack on yoghurt, custard, cheese and biscuits at mid-meal times; add ricotta or feta cheese to salads and pasta dishes, and down a glass of milk after the gym or before bedtime. The opportunities to include dairy foods are endless!

Go and get yourself a milk moustache and wear it proudly. I certainly do.

Child with milk moustache

By making more healthy foods accessible we are likely to include more of those wholesome foods in our diet – a novel concept known as ‘crowding’. So stock your pantries with nutritious and wholesome foods.

Notable omissions include tinned tuna, pasta, brown rice, dried herbs, chia seeds, spelt flour, passata, coffee and breakfast cereal.

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