Eating healthily can seem even more challenging than usual right now. Due to the Coronavirus lockdown, it may be harder than ever to source the ingredients you’re used to cooking with, or to keep fresh fruit and veg to hand.

Experts are encouraging us all to implement a healthy diet to support our immune system to help fight against the virus, as well as reminding us to maintain any individual requirements we may have to support underlying health conditions such as diabetes. However, we are equally being asked to avoid popping out for just one or two items - it may be time to get a little inventive!


Store Cupboard Staples

Keeping a store cupboard well stocked doesn’t just pep up bland recipes with a pop of flavour, it can help you to create entire meals!

A good store cupboard includes vinegars, mustards, dried and tinned goods, dried herbs and spices, pulses and even sauce sachets. Add to this some carbs - potatoes, pasta, couscous, rice, noodle nest and some quinoa too - and it is easy to see how whole meals can be created.

If the cupboards are currently looking a little bare, please don’t feel overwhelmed. Stocking up doesn’t have to be done all at once, and certainly doesn’t need to be expensive!


Dried bulk rice


Some top tips:

  • A bag of dried pulses or lentils often only costs a little more than a tin, but will go so much further.
  • Buy items that can be used in many ways. For example, a sachet of flavoured couscous can be used in a salad to increase its bulk, as the main carbs in a meal or to coat salmon before baking (yes, really!). Equally, a jar of pesto can be simply mixed into pasta, spread thinly on toast with some ham and cheese to make a yummy toastie, stirred through mashed potatoes or swirled through a soup made of whatever veg you have to hand!
  • Lots of great store cupboard staples are cheaper in bulk or in multipacks. Whilst it may not be possible to shell out for lots of big items at once, trying to pick up just one or two at each shop means that you’ll soon have quite a selection available in the kitchen. Look out for rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, tuna and baked beans in larger quantities, especially if they’re supermarket own brands or within the international aisles.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the smaller items! Salt and pepper pep almost everything up when added a little at time throughout the cooking process. Lemon juice is available in a bottle and, added at the end of cooking a bolognese, cuts through the richness (it’s not just for pancake day!). Stock cubes give depth of flavour whilst mustard adds a tangy richness to lots of dishes such as chicken pie filling or beef stroganoff. If you can, getting hold of some dried herbs and spices such as smoky paprika, chinese 5 spice or even a jar of mixed herbs will allow you to play with flavours to suit your taste buds.
  • The freezer should just be seen as a very cold extension to the store cupboard! Frozen veg is often much cheaper than fresh, yet retains even more nutrients to keep you healthy, whilst frozen fruit is perfect for adding to yogurt, making a crumble or whizzing into a smoothie. Meat and meat substitutes are perfect to buy frozen - they stay good for longer and are perfect for adding in to curries, stir fries and casseroles.


Ingredient swaps

With less trips to the shops and some items harder to get your hands on, you may not be able to pick up everything on your list. Don’t panic - most recipes work just as well with a few exchanges!


Meat

You can swap out most meats for another option - pork is a great replacement for chicken, whilst lamb mince can easily take the place of beef. Equally, lots of fish are interchangeable, for example basa works well in place of cod fillets and has the bonus of being a cheaper option too!

Don’t be afraid to also try some meat free alternatives, such as quorn or tofu. You can also use meatier vegetables too, especially in curries and rice based dishes such as paella or jambalaya. Try cauliflower, aubergine, mushrooms or pulses such as chickpeas.


Butchers with a selection of meat


Carbs

We all have our habits, from using the same shape of pasta to always serving a curry with rice. However, now is the time to experiment a little - curry is amazing with some diced potatoes fried off in a little spice, while casseroles over rice is surprisingly comforting!

Whilst some options seem pretty hard to come by - we’re looking at you, rice and pasta! - others are still plentiful. If you haven’t already, try cooking with quinoa or bulgur wheat. Simply bring to the boil in enough water to cover the grains by a centimeter, along with a stock cube for extra flavour if you wish, then simmer until cooked!


A mix of vegetables


Veg

Most of the time, anything goes when it comes to veg!

Shredded cabbage stirred through rice with some crushed garlic towards the end of cooking, until it wilts a little, goes perfectly with chinese food, english classics and even indian dishes, whilst bulking your meal out for almost no more calories (yet, extra nutrients!). Anything you have lying around in the fridge will be perfect in a stir fry (even cucumber!) and any half peppers, quarter onions or slightly sorry for themselves mushrooms can be chucked together into a tomatoey pasta bake.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. In fact, you may find some new favourites by having a little play!


Planning Ahead

It can feel easier to rely on ready meals during this time, than to cook from scratch. But making your own meals will not only keep you healthy, it is often much cheaper.

Planning meals in advance helps you to aim for the all important 5-a-day1, which has a host of benefits - from increased fibre levels that reduces the risk of bowel cancer, to helping to ward off heart disease. It also means there is likely to be very little waste. This is especially true if you plan thoroughly for the first 4 or 5 days of the week, then simply make sure you have the main proteins you need for the last few days. This method will allow you to use up any leftover veg you have to hand and pick from your store cupboard staples to finish the dish off!

It also helps to reduce cravings, as you know just what delight you’ll be having next. That being said, planning could (and should) include deciding on a few tasty extras, such as a small chocolate bar, an afternoon biscuit, or a glass of wine with dinner. In these stressful times, moderation is key and a few treats can be the little self indulgence we need right now.

If you’re able to, plan some batch cooking into your week. It may be expensive to cook large quantities often but, just like buying bulk packs for your store cupboard, occasional batch cooking will soon build up quite a freezer stock for you to pick from. This will reduce your food bills in future weeks, means you won’t have to cook every night and makes healthy eating a breeze!. Some family favourites include a bolognese base, soups, a sausage hotpot or curries, but even flapjacks freeze well!


Our top recipes


Mexican Soup

Originally inspired by the brilliant Chelsea's Messy Apron, this soup is spicy, filling and so easy to make. With only one ingredient needing to be chopped, and the option to make a vegetarian or meaty version, it’s a great base to make your own.


Mexican Soup in a bowl


Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup of dried quinoa
  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic (either 2 cloves, or a big squeeze of tubed garlic puree)
  • 1 packet of mexican season mix (fajita, taco or chilli con carne)
  • 2 veg / chicken stock cubes
  • Salt and pepper

Optional

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Fresh parsley, to serve
  • Greek yogurt or fromage frais, to serve

Method:

  1. Chop the sweet potato into large cubes - leave the skin on if you don’t mind the texture, for added fibre. Drain and rinse the black beans.
  2. Add all the ingredients into a large saucepan, along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper and a litre of water. Add the chicken breasts whole, if using.
  3. Bring to the boil, then simmer on low for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. If the soup is looking a little thin, simply crush some of the sweet potato to thicken the soup.
  5. Remove the chicken breasts, shred with 2 forks and stir through the soup.
  6. Serve with a swirl of yogurt or fromage frais, and some fresh parsley

Tip: If you already have a slow cooker, follow the above method and cook on high for 3-5 hours - the soup will be even richer!


Chicken & Bacon Pie Filling

The pie has a bad reputation as being very calorific. This version of the filling is light yet savoury, so it’s as satisfying as the original pub classic. Making just the filling and serving with mashed potatoes and veg keeps the fat levels down without compromising on taste.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts, diced or thinly sliced
  • 4 rashers of smoked back bacon, fat removed and chopped
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely sliced then washed
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 250ml chicken stock (1 stock cube + 250ml water)
  • 2 tbsp fat free fromage frais (greek yogurt will taste lovely too, but may split slightly)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil, such as rapeseed oil

Method:

  1. In a large frying pan, heat a tsp of oil on medium heat then add the onion, bacon and leek with a pinch of salt and pepper. Fry until the vegetables are soft and bacon has started to brown.
  2. Add the chicken to the pan, frying until cooked through and gaining colour on the outside.
  3. Stir the tbsp of flour through the pan for 30 seconds, coating all ingredients evenly.
  4. Add the wholegrain mustard and 150ml of the chicken stock. Turn the heat to low, then stir for 3-4 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken up.
  5. Add the remaining chicken stock and stir again, until the sauce is at your desired consistency.
  6. Stir in the fromage frais and serve!


Bolognese Base

This base is packed full of hidden veg (inspired by a very fussy child!) and is perfect for spaghetti bolognese, lasagna, chilli con carne, pasta bakes and more. It makes loads, so portion it out and freeze some for future meals.


Bolognee base with spaghetti


Ingredients:

  • 1kg lean beef mince
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic (either 2 cloves, or a big squeeze of tubed garlic puree)
  • 5 mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 courgettes, grated
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 2 beef oxo cubes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Mixed herbs

Optional:

  • Smoked paprika, chilli flakes, or other dried herbs or spices to taste
  • Lemon juice

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan, fry off the onion and mushrooms with a pinch of salt, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and stir quickly, before adding the tomato puree and stirring again.
  2. Add the mince to the pan and start to break it up. Keep stirring and breaking up any chunks until the beef is all browned. Add in the oxo cubes and stir until evenly distributed through the meat.
  3. Add the grated carrots and courgettes - don’t worry, as this cooks the veg will break down and almost disappear into the sauce! Stir through the meat evenly then leave to simmer for 10 minutes until the veg has reduced by half.
  4. Tip in the chopped tomatoes, a pinch of salt and pepper and a good shake of mixed herbs. At this point, add in other dried herbs and spices such as smoked paprika to taste, then stir. The bolognese may look quite watery right now due to all the veg, but it will thicken up!
  5. Turn the heat to low and put a lid on the saucepan. Leave to simmer for as long as possible now, at least half an hour, stirring every 10 minutes to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom. If it gets very dry, add a small dash of water.
  6. Once the bolognese base has deepened in colour and thickened to your desired consistency, add a splash of lemon juice and stir through before portioning up or serving.


Nigerian Chicken & Peanut Casserole

The term ‘casserole’ is seen as a predominantly winter dish in the UK, however this recipe changes that! Comforting yet light, spiced yet not spicy, this recipe is one you’ll make again and again. The chicken legs are much cheaper than breast meat, whilst the bones are responsible for adding so much flavour to the dish!

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken legs (1 - 1.5kg of bone-in thighs and drumsticks work just as well!)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 300ml chicken stock (1 stock cube + 300ml water)
  • 100g crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil, such as rapeseed oil

Optional

  • Fresh parsley, to serve
  • Chilli powder, to serve

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180℃.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat a tsp of oil on medium heat then add the onion with a pinch of salt and fry until soft. Add the chilli and cumin to the pan and stir for a minute.
  3. Add the stock, peanut butter and a pinch of pepper, then bring to the boil, stirring well. Add the tomatoes and stir through before removing from the heat.
  4. Skin the chicken if the pieces have skin on, then add to the saucepan. Make sure to cover the chicken with the sauce.
  5. Cover the saucepan and put into the oven for 1 -1¼ hours, turning the chicken occasionally.
  6. Serve with parsley and a sprinkling of chilli powder, if desired, with rice or potatoes and any veg you have available!

Tip: Choose a saucepan or casserole dish that can go straight from the hob into the oven. If you don’t have one that works for both heat sources, don’t worry - you’ll just have to change the dish at step 5!


Nigerian Chicken & Peanut Stew in a blue serving dish with lime quarters


Supporting your diet

Whilst eating well during the Coronavirus lockdown can boost your immune system, it's important to consider the changes this time is having on our bodies and make ammendments accordingly.

The NHS is currently advising all UK citizens to consider taking Vitamin D supplements2, as we are likely to be spending much more time indoors away from the sun than usual. Alternatively, you can up your intake of oily fish, such as mackeral, sardines or herring. If you live with a condition where managing your diet is particularly important, ensure you keep a stock of the ingredients you need available and try not to run out if possible. For example, if you live with diabetes, you may want to keep some fruit juice in the house to help during any sugar lows. 

As we're all currently moving less, you may assume you need less fluids or simply be out of the habit of getting up regularly to fetch a glass of water. Don't underestimate how much a glass of H20 can support your bodily functions, so keep aiming for 1.5 litres a day3!

Lastly, if you can, try to exercise daily. If possible, head outdoors for your daily allowance - a walk, jog or cycle will help to keep your heart healthy and is great for your mental health. If you're self-isolating and being advised not to leave the house during this period, open the windows and do a home workout!

Whatever you decide to do, keep your MedicAlert bracelet or necklace on at all times. For the equivalent of just 9p per day, you'll know that we're with you at every step, keeping you safe, just in case. 



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References to other websites herein are done so with sincerity and an open appreciation for their content.

References:

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/why-5-a-day/
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/
  3. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/eating-well-during-coronavirus-covid-19.html

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