Supermarket shopping, take more or use less… We have a choice

With supermarket shelves still struggling to keep up with the Covid-19 pandemic demand, and the long term prospect of limited supplies a distinct possibility, we perhaps share a unique opportunity to learn a few new skills. In times of shortage the options before us are simple:

We can take more


We can use less

Using less is not a skill at which most of us are well-practised. Over the last few decades, learning how to create food from basic ingredients has fallen in and out of favour in our homes, in our shopping habits and on our National Curriculum. The recent rush to buy flour and pasta, and the realisation that we don’t need 60 different types of sausage might be an encouraging sign. Perhaps we do all know how to ‘manage’ after all.

In recent months my family have been experimenting at home with a more sustainable approach to eating. My husband kicked us off with his sourdough micro bakery and I have been trying to adjust my thinking. We have learned to ask a few key questions before making our cooking choices. Questions that could perhaps be very usefully applied to our current Covid-19 situation. Hopefully they might prove useful to you too.

Question 1: Can I use this for something?

Without realising it we all throw away a whole lot of useful foodstuffs each day but many of them can actually be really useful. By thinking about alternative uses, we can cut down on food waste, get the most out of every item we buy and experience some delicious experimental cooking. Here are my latest favourite examples:

  • Chopped up cauliflower leaves and stalks frozen for soup
  • Empty egg shells for compost or slug distraction (not so successful)
  • Chick pea brine (tinned or home cooked) to add to home made hummus
  • Chicken carcasses frozen to make into chicken stock later
  • Pickled gherkin liquid saved to make salad dressing
  • Olive brine saved to add to bread dough (Mr D.)
  • Celery leaves chopped to make soup or pesto
  • Beetroot leaves and stalks kept for stir fries

Question 2: Is there a substitute for this?

There are a few store cupboard ingredients that are tricky to replace but, when we can’t get hold of all our usual favourites, there is a lot of fun to be had thinking about substitutes. It’s all a case of being flexible, experimenting and learning from our mistakes. If your supermarket doesn’t have your usual products how about replacing:

  • Rice with couscous
  • Couscous with pearl barley
  • Pate with homemade pate (liver, onions and bread crumbs)
  • Pasta with gnocchi (potatoes and flour)
  • Tea bags with mint from the garden (just emerging now)
  • Peanut butter with mock dripping (mashed potato, butter and bovril)
  • Minced beef with lentils or beans (cannellini beans are a favourite)
  • Roast chicken with roast cauliflower (surprisingly delicious)

Question 3: Can I put this into a soup?

Soups have to be the most versatile of foods. From the basic ‘all-in’ home cooking to sophisticated restaurant dishes, soups warm and nourish us and can be made with almost anything. What a homemade soup probably won’t do is taste exactly the same as your favourite tinned Heinz one. It might however taste even better. Soups were originally created to fill us up with available ingredients. Here are a few of my favourite home made soup tips:

  • Make a tasty stock by boiling chicken bones, water, an onion and herbs
  • If you don’t have onions, use garlic, wild garlic or garlic powder
  • Chop all root vegetables to approximately the same size
  • Save vegetable greens (carrot tops etc) to add vitamins and flavour
  • Add lentils for additional protein (dried red lentils don’t need soaking)
  • Include pearl barley (or even oats) for a luxurious gloopy texture
  • Build up a collection of spices for experimental soup-making
  • Add coconut, peanut butter and lime for a more oriental flavour
  • Add salt at the end of cooking not the beginning

Hopefully by now your mouth is watering and your mind is racing with ideas. Changing the way we think about cooking isn’t necessarily easy but it can be great fun and, as many of us are now working from home, this could be a perfect time to try it. If you want a bit more inspiration you might be interested in these wartime recipes.


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