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9 Pantry Staples to Jumpstart Fast, Healthy Meals

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Updated on Jul 18, 2011

Coming up with quick and easy meals for your family isn't rocket science. By stocking up on versatile, long-lasting staples, you can take the stress out of dinner while getting food on the table fast. From colorful pasta dishes to hearty soups, you'll be surprised at how many tasty combinations you can come up with using these simple ingredients!

  1. Frozen vegetables. Unlike canned vegetables, frozen vegetables retain more vitamins, can be used a little at a time, and taste almost as good as fresh. Keep a variety on hand to add fiber, nutrition, and taste to a meal whenever your crisper drawer is empty. Frozen corn, carrots, chopped spinach, broccoli, green beans, peas, and edamame are good choices.
  2. Whole wheat pasta. Is there anything that pasta doesn't go with? Toss it with a simple tomato sauce and sauteed mushrooms, pair it with cheese and vegetables, or mix it into a casserole and pop it in the oven. Done!
  3. Canned beans. Although dried beans are less expensive, there's something to be said for the last-minute convenience of canned beans. Use them in deliciously hearty soups, chilis, burritos, pasta, and salads.
  4. Eggs. Breakfast-for-dinner is always popular with the kids, but it's easy to overlook the fact that eggs are delicious, nutrition-packed powerhouses any time of the day. Try using them in vegetable frittatas, crepes, fried rice, matzo balls, egg salad sandwiches, egg drop soups, and almost any meal that needs a little extra protein.
  5. Grated cheese. Have you ever gotten home to start dinner, only to find that the cheese you planned to use went moldy in the fridge? Bags of pre-shredded cheese can be stored in the freezer, where they stay good for a long time. Mozzarella, swiss, cheddar, and Parmesan are kid-friendly, versatile options that pack a lot of flavor in everything from casseroles to soups, salads, and sandwiches.
  6. Frozen or quick-cook brown rice. Regular brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook, which puts it out of the picture when you need a meal, fast. Try frozen or quick-cook brown rice for a faster but equally nutritious alternative. Rice is a perfect accompaniment to an Asian style stir-fry, but can be used in lots of things: burritos, casseroles, pilafs, sushi, and under just about any sauce.
  7. Vegetable and chicken stock. Good stock can mean the difference between a bland meal and a delicious one. Use stock as a base for quick soups that taste great without a lot of simmering time, or try cooking rice and other grains in stock instead of water to give them more flavor.
  8. Canned tomatoes. Diced tomatoes and tomato sauce are staples in so many recipes that your cupboard should always have a few cans of each. What can you make besides tomato sauce? Canned tomatoes are terrific in chili, all sorts of soups, Mexican dishes, pizzas, and more.
  9. Condiments. Whatever your family likes -- whether it's mustard or miso -- be sure you have plenty of it on hand. Condiments like olive oil, herbs, vinegar, minced garlic, pickles, and soy sauce can jazz up an otherwise boring dish and work magic on basic ingredients.

With these staples on hand, you can say goodbye to last-minute trips to the grocery store and heavily processed convenience foods. As you gain more experience cooking from your pantry, you can build on this list to include more of your family's preferences and come up with your own collection of tried-and-true time saving recipes.

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