The cold and dark months of winter may take a toll on your motivation in the kitchen. Whether it’s boredom with cooking indoors or a lack of motivation with meal prep, cooking and winter ingredients, we’ve all been there. While your great grandmother’s homemade soup recipe may be what you want, you don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen making it. So, what do you do?
Having a reliable, well-stocked pantry can help in situations where you’re feeling uninspired for dinner and haven’t made it to the grocery store. Many of these pantry staples work together to put a healthy, easy meal on the table in under 20 minutes, or they can be dressed up for some sophisticated meals if you so choose.
Make sure to stock your pantry with these essentials.
Your Pantry & Freezer Must-Haves
Lentils & Canned Beans
Lentils, beans and members of the pulse family are easy ways to add protein and fiber to a dish. Beans and lentils are great add-ins for soups and quesadillas or can be added to or combined with scrambled eggs or easy casseroles.
Consider these easy meal ideas: Mix your choice of grain and vegetables with beans, and top with cheese and avocado for an easy meal in a bowl. Or add shrimp, sour cream, cheese and black beans to a tortilla wrap for a quick, nutritious dinner. Since canned beans cook quickly, they are optimal choices for meals in minutes.
For a quick lentil recipe, combine cooked lentils with spices, vegetables and breadcrumbs for lentil meatballs, and pair with pasta for a plant-based version of weeknight pasta.
For the breakfast-for-dinner crowd, you always have the option of a tortilla wrap packed with eggs, veggies and cheese. Tortillas also make a great platter for pizza and can be topped with tomato sauce along with your favorite toppings. Or cut them up and put them in the oven for homemade tortilla chips to complement your salad greens.
Grains are a low-cost, yet nutrient-dense ingredient to always keep on hand. Quinoa and cous cous cook in under 10 minutes, and you can find quick cooking versions of rice, barley and farro as well. Cook grains in bulk at the beginning of the week and use them for easy mix-and-match pairing with protein sources and vegetables for a complete meal. For example, add your lentil meatballs to a fluffy bowl of farro, and top with any vegetables you have on hand, or add quinoa to a salad bowl with raisins, vegetables and beans.
Chicken Broth or Stock
Keeping a few boxes of chicken broth on hand can save you in the most desperate of times, as so many easy recipes start with a broth base. For starters, you can make a simple tortilla soup with chips, dressed up with spices and herbs, chicken and topped with cheese. Or, on the coldest of nights, make your own simple noodle soup recipe with any pasta noodles on hand and your choice of herbs and vegetables. Vital note: Vital Proteins Chicken Bone Broth Collagen is always great to have on hand! Check out the above Creamy Pasta recipe for inspiration.
Like broth, canned tomatoes can add flavor to any dish, from soup to pasta to sandwiches. Not only do canned tomatoes have a long shelf life, but they help save significant time in the kitchen. Opt for low sodium versions to reduce your sodium intake.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are far from a boring pantry staple and can be used for several easy and convenient meals! Stuff them with beans, cheese, chives and sour cream for a vegetarian entrée, combine them with ground turkey for sweet potato turkey burgers, or make a quick potato salad. To cook potatoes faster, opt for the microwave over the oven. You may sacrifice some of the crispy edges, but you can still flavor them as you like.
Frozen vegetables are the most versatile produce options. Since they are flash-frozen at the time of picking, they are often more nutritious than some fresh options, depending on how long those fresh options have been sitting on the shelves. Plus, frozen vegetables can last months and can be ready in minutes.
Frozen broccoli and peppers can be added to stir-fries, pasta dishes and casseroles, or offer a convenient option to throw in any grain bowls. Frozen peas also offer another plant-based option for boosting protein intake, as a ¾ C provides 6g of protein, 6g of fiber, and several micronutrients. Utilize frozen vegetables to add color and nutrients to your meals.
Keep your pantry stocked with practical ingredients to help get you through busy times or nights of little motivation. Even just mentally planning mix-and-match meals can go a long way.