Whether we are in a COVID-quarantine situation, or we are just plain too busy/tired/stressed/lazy, we all know the feeling of not wanting to go to the store or spend much time preparing a labor-intensive meal. This is why having a handful of certain versatile ingredients in stock at all times is key to still being able to get healthy, delicious meals and snacks on the table without needing to consult your foodie Pinterest board. Some of the meal ideas we have compiled for you are less than 10 minutes prep time and barely require more than a bowl and spoon! So grab that grocery list and jot these down, because our top 10 kitchen essentials will have your back any day of the week! (and we bet one might surprise you!)
- Canned Beans/Lentils
Why? Hellooooo perfect food! Beans and lentils have protein, fibrous carbs AND phytonutrients all wrapped up in their cute and tiny little bean pouches. You can buy them dry (which is way more affordable), but let’s be real that most of us are getting the quick and easy canned variety. As long as the ingredients just say BEANS (or lentils) and nothing else added, canned is just as good. What we love about beans and lentils is they are kind of a cheater for this list because there are SO many kinds! Black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, green lentils, black eyed peas…we could go on! With just 1 of each in your pantry, you could be set for 1-2 weeks worth of eating!
What to do with them:
- Stir fries: Add them to a little oil in a pan to crisp them up, then add whatever veggies and sauce you have on hand. Adzuki beans with bok choy, teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds is our personal fave, but you could even get a little fancier with this roasted carrot option.
- Fajitas: Basically a stir fry with a Latin flair. Sauté bell peppers and black beans with cumin and salsa and serve on quinoa, rice or tortillas for an easy taco bowl night!
- Crunchy Beans: Toss beans with oil and sea salt, then roast at 350 for 45 minutes for a delightful snack or salad topping! Our fave bean for this is chickpeas.
- Hummus: Puree beans with lemon juice, olive oil, seasoning and (ideally, but not mandatory) tahini and you’ve got yourself a dip for snacking or an easy spread to amp up your baked chicken or fish!
- Frozen Cauliflower Rice
Why? This veggie alternative to rice is a low-carb foodie’s staple food. High in fiber and polyphenols like indole-3-carbinol that help boost immunity, when it’s stocked in your freezer you have a versatile vegetable at the ready!
What to do with them: Swap it in for rice in any recipe, but we highly recommend a little doctoring up by adding cilantro and lime juice or soy sauce and sea salt to boost the flavor a bit. Delish as the base to those black bean fajitas we mentioned earlier! You can also add a little milk and olive oil to create “mashed potatoes” or even make yourself a warm breakfast “cereal” bowl!
- Canned Tomatoes
Why? Tomatoes are high in lycopene, a phytonutrient known to combat certain cancers and eye disorders, but the lycopene is only released when the tomato is heated, such as in the canning process!
What to do with them: Stir into that cauliflower rice in your freezer and add some ground turkey for a quick Italian dish, or puree them with a little olive oil and tomato paste for a cheater tomato sauce on protein pasta or a pizza crust. Even better, add some pesto to that puree for a mouth-watering sauce to drizzle onto chicken or mix into lentils!
- Jar of Pesto
Why? Pesto basically makes everything taste better! Nutritionally, it is a healthy fat to help with satiety and is full of phytonutrients from the basil leaves.
What to do with it: stir it into quinoa or cauliflower rice, spread it onto your baked protein or top a pizza with a drizzle for an amped up meal. Another of our secret favorite pesto uses? Stir it into Greek yogurt for a high protein, SUPER delish veggie dip!
- Jarred Roasted Bell Peppers
Why? Did you know bell peppers have more vitamin C than oranges? Let’s gear up that immune system!
What to do with them: Use these as the veggie at your meal when you’re in a pinch and out of fresh stuff. Slice them up and add to that cauliflower rice and black bean fajita bowl with a dollop of guac or dice them on top of a baked potato with some plain Greek yogurt! Creamy red pepper soup anyone? Or how about an oh-so-tasty snack by layering hummus or cream cheese on top of whole grain crackers and top it with the roasted bell pepper for some snack time heaven!
Why? Walnuts are the highest source of omega-3s in the nut family, which is great for your brain and your heart. Plus the protein and fiber makes for a delightfully nutritious bite!
What to do with them: Chop them up for topping oatmeal, chia pudding or even a salad or veggie bowl. Roast them with cinnamon for a sweet snack or with Italian herbs and sea salt for a bit more of a savory snack or crouton. You can even make a bean-free hummus, puree them into smoothies or simply snack on them with some dried apricots or blueberries!
- Frozen Blueberries
Why? Crazy high in polyphenols and a low glycemic index makes this brain-healthy fruit a sweet treat you can eat all the time!
What to do with them: Blend into smoothies or pour that smoothie into a popsicle mold. Pour some Greek yogurt over the top and re-freeze for yummy frozen bites! Or a personal favorite of ours is to defrost them into more of a syrup to mix into chia pudding, oatmeal, yogurt or drizzle onto pancakes!
Why? The high fiber and protein content makes quinoa a nutritious alternative to plain rice. Plus it’s much more versatile for making all kinds of other recipes!
What to do with it: Swap it instead of rice, use it as a stabilizer in meatballs or burgers or even make a breakfast cereal out of it! Pulverized quinoa makes a flour that you can use for baked goods as well!
- Canned Salmon or Tuna
Why? Both are other good sources of omega-3 and protein that can stay on your shelf for months or even get packed into your camping bag!
What to do with them: Besides the obvious sandwich (which we swap avocado or hummus instead of mayo for creaminess), there are lots of other ways to use these canned fish varieties. Try patties, like these salmon burgers or add some to the top of a cracker for a satiating snack!
- Balsamic Vinegar
Why? Did we surprise you with this one!? Not exactly a macronutrient food, but a necessary pantry staple for making sure any dull meals get instant flavor!
What to do with it: Of course you can make a Dressing , but think outside the box on how else to use this amazingly flavorful condiment, like mixing into quinoa, drizzling onto fish, stirring into chickpeas or making full meals like one-pan chicken and veggies!
We’ve even listed some bonus runner-ups to have on hand!
- Pepitas (aka: pumpkin seeds)
- Frozen spinach
- Canned tomatoes