With all the frantic energy of the holidays, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of getting take-out more often than not. During the winter, my husband and I both pick up extra hours at work and often find ourselves coming home later than usual, tired, and not wanting to spend a lot of time preparing dinner. To help combat the temptation to order a pizza, we make sure to keep our pantry stocked with a few basics so that we can make a quick dinner on the fly that’s easy and healthy.
Canned beans – I always have at least one can of pinto beans, black beans, or garbanzo beans on hand. Beans are great for adding protein and fiber to a meal. The cheapest and healthiest bean option is to buy them dry and cook them down yourself.
Canned tomatoes – Diced, crushed, and whole tomatoes in their juices can be used in a variety of dishes to make sauces, soups, and stews. They are also full of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene. Be sure to purchase the reduced-sodium varieties.
Fresh garlic – Garlic is a real powerhouse of an herb and can be used in everything from traditional Italian pasta sauces to Thai and Indian dishes. It also helps prevent heart disease, lowers your cholesterol and destroys free radicals in your body.
Onions – Onions add a tremendous amount of flavor to cooking and are the base for many dishes. Storing onions in a plastic grocery bag can lead to mold and sprouting, so be sure to place them in a sturdy paper bag to give them a dry, breathable environment. You can also store potatoes using this same method.
Potatoes – I always have a few sweet potatoes, as well as a handful of small red or fingerling potatoes on hand. Fingerling potatoes roasted in olive oil and herbs (I especially love cumin and cayenne) make a delicious side dish and you can fill a sweet potato with just about anything. My last-minute go-to meal is a steamed sweet potato filled with black beans, frozen corn, salsa, and shredded cheese. Easy, filling, and healthy!
Rice – My favorite rice is brown basmati. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, so I like to make a big batch and freeze it in one-cup bags that I can grab quickly out of the freezer. Other grains and legumes I like to have on hand include whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat couscous, barley, lentils, wheat berries, and farro. Look for these in the bulk section of your grocery store to get the best deal.
Reduced-Sodium Stock – I use vegetable stock primarily, but chicken or beef stock also make wonderful additions to your pantry. You can use broths in place of water to add some zip to your dishes, or cook your rice in it for a nice flavor boost.
Canned tuna – Tuna is a great money-saving item to have on hand since it can sit on your pantry shelf and requires no refrigeration. Tuna can help add healthy omega-3 fats and protein to a variety of dishes, including salads, casseroles, omelets, enchiladas, or vegetable dips.
Frozen vegetables – Frozen vegetables are usually packaged at their peak ripeness, a time when they are the most nutrient-packed. They are also available when their fresh counterpart is out of season and have a very long shelf life when kept in the freezer. I like to keep corn, peas, and a bell pepper and onion mix in my freezer at all times.
Olive Oil – You need some kind of fat to cook with and olive oil is full of antioxidants that can help lower cholesterol and ward off heart disease and cancer. In addition to plain extra virgin olive oil, I like to keep a few flavored olive oils on hand for garnish and dressings. My favorites are rosemary olive oil, garlic olive oil, and Meyer lemon olive oil.
Vinegar – I keep balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar on hand. Everything tastes better with a dash of acidic flavor and vinegar can be used for a variety of things, including a substitute for salt and a quick marinade. You can also use vinegar to make buttermilk – if you have a recipe that calls for just ½ cup of buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar with low-fat milk as a substitute.
All-natural peanut butter – Yes, it’s great on sandwiches, but peanut butter is a great source of filling proteins and healthy fats. Peanut butter can be added to smoothies, used in dips, or mixed with hot water and soy sauce for a flavorful salad dressing or stir-fry sauce. If you have never made your own peanut butter, it’s definitely worth trying, and will only take up about 8 minutes of your day.
Need a few recipe ideas? Here are a few dishes that you can create using some of the ingredients above:
About Guest Blogger Megan Ellis:
Megan Ellis a 27-year-old English teacher trying to balance living a healthy and happy life. She lives in the Bay Area, California with her husband, Brian. Megan blogs at Running Foodie, which is about our attempts to live a healthier, more balanced life. Her blog features a lot of quick, easy, healthy recipes and kitchen tips for people on the go. When Megan is not blogging or teaching, she enjoys running, reading and cooking.