Food & Fitness

The Living Healthy in the Real World Guide to Grocery Shopping, Part Two: Building the Basics

Welcome back to our first mini-series here at Living Healthy in the Real World, the Guide to Grocery Shopping! Before you read Part Two: Building the Basics, be sure to check out Part One: Preparation for Grocery Shopping.

You’ve cleared out your cupboards. You’ve got your lists handy. You’ve chosen some recipes. Now what?

Now, it’s time to build those basics.

1) The Equipment. To recap from and expand upon what we discussed in Part One, some of the essentials* you will need (or at least will make your life easier if you have them) are:

– Cookbooks: If you don’t own any, explore the Internet or check some books out of the library. My favourites include Better Homes & Gardens 14th edition (all of the basics), Veganomicon (vegan cooking), and Straight A’s College Cookbook: Quick Cooking for 1 or 2 (simple, fast, and easy recipes for beginners). You can check out a longer list of my go-to cookbooks on my Healthy Recommendations page.

– George Foreman Grill: I really don’t use any other piece of equipment when I’m cooking meat. It’s rare that I ever do cook meat these days, but George is great for grilling burgers (hello locally-raised grass-fed bison burgers!), fish, chicken, any kind of vegetables or fruit, and oh my goodness once you’ve had a veggie and hummus grilled sandwich on our boy George, you’ll never go back. He’s the ultimate for fast and healthy cooking.

– Blender: I use this primarily for smoothies/shakes, especially my morning green breakfast shakes (the blender gets used at least on a daily basis at my place between my roommate and I, if not several times a day), but it’s also useful for blending salad dressings or soup, or for making vegetable purees.

Toaster Oven: My toaster is hidden in storage and what I’ve got on the counter instead is a toaster oven (it’s my sister’s toaster oven- once I’m living by myself in my new condo, she’ll be taking that toaster oven and I’ll be digging out my own toaster). Another piece of equipment that is used multiple times a day in my apartment, toaster ovens are perfect for when you’re making things for just one or two people. I most often simply use it for toasting bread, but it’s also great for making sweet potato fries or grilled corn on the cob.

– Pots and pans: Essential for soups, stir fries, scrambles, pilafs, the works! You need these. I especially like a non-stick pan; you don’t need any oil at all (or just a spritz of oil from a Misto). Woks can come in handy but they aren’t necessary if you’ve got a wide, deep pan instead. Make sure that you have lids for all of these; you can save on time and energy when you’ve got lids to trap the heat. A few different sizes of pots and pans are also a great idea: I use smaller saucepans for making sauces and eggs, and larger pots and pans for making big batches of soup or one-dish meals.

– Steamer: Definitely invest in this. I use it all the time, mostly to steam frozen vegetables which I then add to just about any dish. Mine is a very simple steamer that you just put directly into a pot (read: inexpensive!), but you can buy fancier rice steamers if you feel so inclined.

– Measuring cups and spoons: You can’t cook/bake without them! Well, you can, but the balance of flavours might be all off, and you won’t be able to control the health aspect of your cooking if you don’t use proper measuring utensils.

– Slotted spoon, ladle, and sharp knife: I didn’t realize the value of a sharp knife until I used one after my knife had been dull for months (and now I keep accidentally cutting my fingers because I forget that the blade is actually sharp. Ouch). I find my slotted spoon is essential for poaching eggs, although I have made poached eggs and used a ladle to scoop it out instead- but that’s not nearly as tidy as using a handy slotted spoon.

– Cutting board: Make that boards, plural. I own four and sometimes even that doesn’t seem like enough.

– Crockpot: It isn’t necessary, but it’s handy to have, especially if you’re short on time or don’t like slaving over a hot stove. I like piling in steel cut oats on Sunday evening; by Monday morning, I have a week’s worth of oats already cooked. I keep the cooked oats in the fridge and each morning I can mix in some banana, cinnamon, and nut butter, and I’m all set. Crockpots are also great for making stew, soup, and chili.

2) The Food. Dried and canned goods are fantastic because they will keep forever in your kitchen. These are what I always have on hand:

– Flour: Whole wheat, all-purpose white, whole wheat pastry, buckwheat, spelt. I also own chickpea flour, green pea flour, and soya flour, but I use these much less frequently than the rest. The white flour is used very sparingly (but it’s useful for thickening sauces and for sprinkling on the cutting board to prevent dough from sticking; whole wheat flour doesn’t work quite as well for that).

– Herbs/Spices: Black pepper, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, crushed red pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram, and bay leaves are what I use the most interchangeably. It’s also nice to have nutmeg, ginger, garlic powder, turmeric, rosemary, and cayenne pepper on hand. Always keep whole garlic bulbs in the pantry, as well as onions; those are two items that really add a great kick to any dish (maybe not a dessert. You know what I mean).

– Canned/bottled goods: Tomato paste, diced tomatoes, chickpeas, mixed beans, honey, agave nectar, red kidney beans, olive oil (both in a bottle and in a Misto spray canister), balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, white vinegar, grapeseed oil

– Dried and packaged goods: Wholegrain rice, wild rice, quinoa, brown basmati rice, whole wheat spaghetti, buckwheat soba noodles, brown rice pasta shells, vegetable fettuccine, dried chickpeas, dried Great Northern beans, dried 15-bean medley, green split peas, nutritional yeast flakes, whole buckwheat, steel-cut oats, rye flakes, spelt flakes, barley flakes, wheat flakes, rolled oats

– Condiments and refrigerated goods: Bragg’s soy sauce, wheat germ, ground flax seed, whole grain mustard, nut butters, applesauce, instant yeast, maple syrup, Earth Balance

Let’s hit the road! Armed with your list and all of your cooking equipment, we’re ready to go to the store and start shoppin’.

Don’t miss Part Three of our Grocery Shopping Mini-Series: Grocery Shopping for the Time-Restricted (plus tips to prevent impulse buys), coming up next!

*These lists are by no means exhaustive, but they are some of the things that I have found to be particularly valuable- my kitchen is always stocked full to the brim! These things are not all necessary to have, but I have found them to be very useful for the kind of cooking that I like to do.


  1. sagansdad

    You can often find really cheap, unusual and useful kitchen utensils by avoiding the usual kitchen specialty stores and checking out the local ‘ethnic stores’ in town. In Winnipeg, the Asian / Chinese / Indian foodstores often have cheap utensils and also very reasonably priced vegetables – much cheaper than the supermarkets.

  2. Pingback: Nonstick Cookware Sets Tips on How to Protect Them From Being Damaged | NonStick Pan

  3. Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman

    This is a great list. You can get cheaper appliances and containers at a restaurant supply store, too. I have many that you listed, but I think the most underrated is a toaster oven. I never used one growing up but now that I got one for my wedding I realize how convenient it is. I also love the Foreman for meats (esp. since I don’t have a backyard and therefore can’t have a grill) but it’s such a pain to store (it’s big!) and clean.

  4. Cammy@TippyToeDiet

    Wait! Don’t leave without me! I’ve got to get a second mortgage on my house! 🙂

    My George Forman grill and my crockpot are my go-to appliances. (When I get my Vitamix, I’m sure it will head to the top of the list.) I would like to add a stand mixer to the stash, but first I need to get a decent set of knives. And a misto (I’m using the napkin-dabbing method now, which is messy and inefficient.) The upcoming wedding season should offer some good sales on equipment. I hope. 🙂

  5. Sagan Morrow

    Father dear- And I am going to have SO much fun exploring all those little stores once I’m living a little closer to them in a couple months 😀

    Tracey- Mine must be a small Georgie, because I just tuck him under the kitchen sink when I don’t need him. Part of the reason why I don’t cook meat is the clean-up (tehehe); when you’re grilling a sandwich on dear George, there’s no mess at all!

    Diane- I have a lot of problems in the kitchen, but for some reason I’ve never found rice to be that tough. I know that most people get frustrated with it, but I haven’t had any problems with cooking it. For which I am eternally grateful 🙂 I think that being able to cook rice fairly well is a good accomplishment and one to keep for the books.

    Andrea- I’ve never used a stand mixer. It sounds like it would be tons of fun though!

    Westwood- It’s really nice when appliances can be used for multiple purposes like that.

    Cammy- I’m with you on the Vitamix! Mistos are pretty cheap, if I recall, and TOTALLY worth it. I use mine for everything. Next to Mr. Foreman, it might just be one of my favourites.

  6. Sam

    I have been trying to find PB2 and it seems like you can only order it from the united states (crazy shipping fees of course). I was looking through the uniter, saw your column, and realized you were the perfect person to ask. Are there any other brands of powdered peanutbutter that are more easily accessible or a place I can order it from within Canada?

  7. FatFighterTV

    I use my slow cooker at least once a week, especially in the winter – lots of healthy soups! And I love, love, love my toaster oven. It is so versatile! But I am definitely in need of some sharp knives, or I need to learn how to sharpen the ones I have…

  8. Sagan Morrow

    Sophia- Spatulas are excellent! I tend to use regular spoons though for scraping and actually rarely use my spatula, so that’s why I didn’t include it. I think that’s laziness on my part that I don’t want to dirty yet another dish.

    Sam- Yep, you can only get it through the States, as far as I can tell. It’s saddening. FitNutz is a really good powdered peanut butter too, but again, it only comes from the States. And I prefer PB2, myself. I get packs of 12 at a time, and then I (try and generally fail, heh) to ration it. Although I THINK that they MAY sell PB2 in Ontario (though I don’t think they ship it from Ontario), so if you happen to be in Ontario at one of those suppliers, you could pick it up then? Unfortunately powdered nut butter is just going to be insanely expensive all around.

    FatFighterTV- I had no idea how DULL my knife was until the roommate bought some new sharp ones. Now I cut myself by accident all the time because I don’t expect it to be so darn sharp! Not that I’m complaining or anything 😀

  9. Tommie Ahlbrecht

    You recognize, I need to inform you, I really enjoy this site and also the insight from all people who participates. I think it is to be stimulating and pretty educational. I wish there have been much more sites like it. Anyhow, I felt it was about time I posted

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