Grocery shopping these days is a different experience than it normally is.
Between social distancing measures, outdoor lineups, and health officials urging Canadians to limit their shops to once a week, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us shop.
To make the most of your grocery trips, it’s a good idea to plan ahead, said Nicole Marchand, a registered dietitian and owner of Eat Well Halifax. Not only is a practical shopping list important, knowing how to use those items in recipes is key.
“It is definitely about planning and knowing what you’re going to do with the food so that you’re not just throwing food away or having it sit there,” Marchand said.
To make the most out of your next grocery trip — and limit the need to go back to the store — here are some items to add to your shopping cart.
Herbs, spices, garlic and basic pantry items
Before you can whip up a tasty meal, it’s important to have the basics on hand, said Marchand. If your pantry is looking empty, stock up.
“The main thing is that we’ve got that basic pantry; we’ve got our herbs and spices, oils, vinegars, garlic, of course, and onion,” Marchand said.
Shahzadi Devje, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, echoed Marchand’s stance, and said flavour is key to making delicious and nutritious recipes.
“Besides spices and herbs, my pantry is never empty of garlic, ginger and turmeric,” she said.
“Like other allium vegetables, you can store garlic in a cool, dark and dry place for a couple of months. On the other hand, ginger and turmeric need to be stored in the fridge where they can maintain their freshness for up to three weeks.”
Devje said there are numerous health benefits to turmeric, including being high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Cheese lasts awhile in the fridge, with some types, like parmesan, lasting over a month.
Marchand said she always gets at least one type of cheese when at the grocery store, since it can be used in dishes, like pasta, or eaten with crackers for a snack.
Nuts, seeds and nut butter
Whether you use it on sandwiches, crackers, or scoop it right out of the jar for eating, nut butters are filling and a good source of protein. Peanut or almond butter can also be used in many baking recipes, including cookies, brownies and squares.
Unopened nut butters can stay in the pantry for a year, and last about three months in the pantry after opening.
Marchand also recommends buying seeds, like chia, flax or hemp. Hemp seeds, for example, are high in omega-3 fatty acid and can easily be added to meals and recipes.
“If we’re baking at home a lot, we do need to think outside the box and start thinking, ‘Where can I add in those nutrients and those foods that are going to help me reach my nutrient needs for the day?'” Marchand said.
“Add hemp seeds to your muffins, bake brownies using black beans… and for banana bread, you can experiment with using cashews, walnuts or almonds, for example, and use nut butters in baking as well.”
Pasta and grains
Grains like farro, freekeh and rice last long in the pantry and can be used in different recipes, including salads, bowls, risottos and pilafs.
Devje said quinoa is a great item to have in the household as it contains essential amino acids and is a good source of fibre and iron. This makes it an ideal option for vegetarians and vegans, she added.
What’s more, quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes.
Pasta is another useful item to have on hand, Marchand said, as it is easy to whip up with vegetables.
“I regard oats to be a must-have in my pantry,” Devje said.
She said rolled oats, in particular, are quick and easy to cook, and can be eaten for breakfast or used for baking. If stored properly in a cool, dark and dry place, they can last for months.
“Besides staying power, oats are a nutritional powerhouse,” Devje said.
“They’re packed with fibre; specifically, Beta-glucan, that has shown to help lower cholesterol levels and prevent cardiovascular disease.”
Fresh and frozen vegetables
Marchand said she always buys some fresh greens when she goes to the store. Greens like spinach or kale are great for many recipes, including stir-frys, smoothies and salads.
Devje suggests buying some fresh asparagus as it makes a healthy side. “Grill with a dash of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle of salt and pepper and a couple of cloves of garlic to create an easy, tasty and quick side-dish,” she said.
Sweet potatoes are also good to have on hand, Devje said, as the root vegetable is a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Once the fresh veggies are done, it’s good to have some frozen ones to lean on. Devje says just like fresh kale, frozen kale is “a great source of vitamin K, vitamin C, antioxidants and fibre.”
“Add to smoothies, sauces, soups, and pies. Use your spaghetti squash to create this unique Chickpea Kale Curry Stuffed Spaghetti Squash recipe.”
Beans and lentils
Canned beans, like chickpeas, black beans and pinto beans, have a long shelf life and are a good source of protein. They are also incredibly versatile and can be used in chillis, soups, bowls and salads.
Chickpeas can also be used to make homemade hummus.
Lentils are rich in protein and fibre, and can be used in endless recipes including soups, baked goods, and bowls.
“One of our favourite family-friendly lentil recipes is this Lentil Indian Shepperd’s Pie,” Devje said.
“It’s loaded with flavour-packed green lentils, simmered in a tomato sauce infused with traditional South Asian spices and topped with velvety mashed potatoes.”