Ian Haste is on a mission to simplify our lives by simplifying our shopping habits. His first cookbook, The 7-Day Basket, includes plans for 10 weeks of shopping, each with seven healthy meals.
The idea is that you go shopping once, buy everything on Haste’s list, and you’ll have the ingredients for a meal for two every night of the week. And also leftovers for lunch and the freezer.
I am very picky about where I shop and hate to plan in advance. What if you’ve bought the ingredients for a fish pie and come home dreaming of pasta?
I’ve always liked to decide what I’m going to cook on the day, and pick up the ingredients on my way home from work.
A new approach to healthy meals
At least, I did enjoy this creative and spontaneous approach to cooking. Then I moved away from a high street, and now have to drive to the shops. Plus I work from home so I don’t pass the supermarket on my non-existent commute. Shopping has become a chore. If Haste can help with this, I’m all ears.
The recipes in his 10 “baskets” are themed. There’s Warming, Round the World, Relaxed, Veggie, Comforting etc. I choose Summer, optimistically, which includes a pea, feta and mint frittata and a salad niçoise with fresh tuna.
Everything looks healthy, and there are no puddings, but there is a prawn curry, a chicken shashlik naan, and a Sunday roast of peach and sage stuffed pork fillet with garlic roasties.
Getting out of a cooking rut
Haste, 43, began studying people’s supermarket habits when he was in between homes and living with his in-laws some years ago. “I’d started doing the food shop at a Tesco Metro, which was next door to UEA (the University of East Anglia, in Norwich), and I’d see the same people buying the same thing every few days.
“As a chef, if I see five or six ingredients, I see five or six meals. But it became obvious that people were just buying stuff to fill up their basket, then didn’t know how to use it the next day.”
He thought he could help them to do better, and encourage them to cook healthy meals. “I kept in the classics,” he points out. “They’re jazzed up somewhat, but people tell us they don’t want to have seven random meals. There are twists on healthy takeaways towards the end of the week. And every week ends with a roast.”
How to shop better
Ian Haste, 43, began studying people’s supermarket habits when he was in between homes and living with his in-laws some years ago
I decide I’m going to try and do a Haste-style shop and maintain my focus throughout. There’s no point committing to his carefully thought-out shopping list, written in the order you should find the ingredients in the aisles, if I’m distracted by the sight of reduced-price bananas. That will make planning how much cake and ice cream I could make with them and I’ll end up in the baking section searching for dark brown sugar.
My first sticking point is that I can’t buy everything from one shop. I can cut some corners, but not all of them, because I’m not a student. I work out I can buy everything apart from the tuna, pork fillet and seasonal produce at Sainsbury’s. I manage to be in and out of there in 40 minutes, a record.
I didn’t buy the pork because I felt it would be past its best by the end of the week. Haste agrees but points out that you can freeze anything that might go off. He has also written the recipes to use up the perishables first: it’s salad and veg at the beginning of the week, chorizo, mushrooms and potatoes towards the end.
Simple recipes for healthy meals
I haven’t been a fan of buying fresh tuna for years because it’s such an ethically complex purchase – and expensive. Avoiding it seemed the easy approach. Sainsbury’s has two types of fresh tuna, one at £25/kg and one at £27.08/kg. I find some for £20/kg at the fishmonger and it’s delicious and worth every penny. Any recipe-phobe could have rubbed it in oil and salt and slapped it on the grill for a few minutes.
I also baulk at paying more than £8 for two chicken breasts when I could get a good quality whole chicken for a few pounds more. But those breasts end up as a huge pile of meatballs, feeding two of us a generous portion with the same amount in the freezer.
All of the recipes are very simple. Haste wants them to be accessible to anyone, even if you’re scared of cooking. Some of them take a bit of time, though. The Maldivian chicken curry, one of his favourites, asks for a bit of time preparing the spices then around an hour on the hob.
Reducing the plastic waste
I fret about the amount of plastic in my shopping basket, even though I bought the seasonal produce at a farm shop. There are chillies, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, sugar snap peas and green beans that I can’t buy in other packaging. Instead of “200g of mango pieces” on the list, I buy a whole mango. We all know that the inaction of supermarkets is keeping us from pushing ahead in the fight against single-use plastic.
Haste admits this isn’t something he was able to tackle in the book. Instead, his soapbox is food waste. The idea of the weekly baskets is to show us how to cook a variety of healthy meals without anything ending up in the bin. “I’m a big believer in batch cooking,” he says. “I hate sandwiches. Why not eat something you made the night before, which is a lot better for you?”
I’m not convinced that we need to return to the dogma of a weekly shop. Our eating habits have changed: we want to make last-minute decisions and choose fresh produce. However the part of the experiment I enjoy most is the bit I was dreading: being told what to make each evening instead of having free reign.
Forget wanting to shop in five different stores, having a meal-plan I stick to instead of chasing dinner dreams on Instagram is undoubtedly where I save the most time.
‘The 7-Day Basket’ by Ian Haste is published by Headline, £25
Feta and Chicken meatballs in lemon spaghetti
2 chicken breasts, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
15g basil leaves, finely chopped
1/2 slice of wholemeal bread
4tsp olive oil, plus a splash for the spaghetti
Juice of 3/4 lemon
30g Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 lemon, cut into wedges
Salt and pepper
Add the chicken breasts, half the garlic, three-quarters of the basil, salt and pepper, chives, feta and bread to a blender and mix into a rough mince (don’t overmix, and add a dash of oil if sticking).
Roll mixture into small balls around the size of a table tennis ball. Add the oil and meatballs to a heated frying pan and cook for about 10 minutes, turning regularly to get an even colour and cook all the way through. Remove and keep warm.
Meanwhile, add the spaghetti to a pot of boiling salted water and cook until al dente. Drain (reserving a little cooking water) and add to the frying pan over a high heat with a splash of oil and the lemon juice, the rest of the garlic and chopped basil. Add a splash of the pasta water, then add half the Parmesan.
Serve with lemon wedges and the remaining grated Parmesan.
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Gallery: 50+ Healthy Dinners, All Under 500 Calories (POPSUGAR)