This sort of article has been published many times by different dietitians, but I always frown at the amount of processed and canned foods on their lists. Sure, canned chickpeas are great, but what about those other kitchen staples that people may not think about or consider? Here are some things that I always have in my kitchen. They allow me to whip up any meal quickly and easily, even when I’ve been working all day and my kids are starving. They have multiple uses, and are my essential building blocks for many different food ideas.
A few people still look at me like I’m nuts when I suggest they have breakfast for dinner, but eggs are nature’s perfect food. Packed with protein, satisfying, and super quick and easy to make, a couple of eggs with some toast and greens is the perfect meal, whatever time of day it is.
Eggs can also be used as a excellent source of protein in salads, or as portable snacks when they’re hard-boiled. Huge bonus: eggs have been vindicated of their cholesterol-raising reputation. Most people can safely eat 1-2 eggs a day with no side effects, so stop throwing the yolks out!
All Purpose Whole Wheat Flour
This sounds like a weird one, but I use my whole wheat, all-purpose flour so often for widely different things. I season it to dredge meat, tofu, and fish before panfrying them. I pull it out when my kids want to bake cookies at 7pm on a weekday evening, and yes I am that kind of mom. I use it in my roux when making macaroni and cheese, or to thicken sauces. It’s one of those things I’m always happy to have in my pantry, and it always gets used. I buy the all-purpose type so I can cook and bake with it.
Leafy greens are the basis for a salad, which is a quick, easy, and delicious meal idea. Greens are a simple way to get your 5-7 servings of vegetables a day, since a serving of salad is 1 cup. You can easily knock 3-4 servings off with one meal. I usually keep arugula and romaine in the house. Spinach is another staple. It can be eaten raw, or sautéed and thrown into pasta, eggs, or used as a side dish sautéed in garlic and olive oil with pine nuts and currants. If my fridge doesn’t have greens, it feels empty.
Anyone who knows me knows that I would never bring white Styrofoam, otherwise known as white tuna in water, into my house. It tastes like crap and it’s also super-high in mercury. A tastier, lower-mercury choice is Italian-style tuna, which is canned in olive oil. Make sure it’s skipjack, which is a light variety that’s low in mercury compared to yellowfin or albacore. Italian tuna needs little to no mayonnaise (unlike Styrofoam, which needs about a gallon to make it palatable), and it’s a lot more than just sandwich filling. It can be added to pasta, salads, or macaroni and cheese. I make tuna patties with it, which take 2 seconds (okay maybe 15 minutes) and are a great meal served with a salad. My kids eat it straight out of a bowl, and it’s awesome on pizza. I also use it for my ultimate comfort food, which is a hot baked potato topped with avocado, sour cream, and a can of tuna. My husband thinks that’s gross, but it’s SO good.
When I’m pressed for time and out of my usual lunch go-tos (okay, salad), I grab a container of Greek yogurt, some fruit, muesli and granola before I head out the door.
Filling and delicious, Greek yogurt will satisfy you with its high protein content, and its thick texture. Get the 2% kind so you get a bit of fat with your yogurt. Greek yogurt can also be added to smoothies, or to hot oatmeal for a protein boost. You can bake with it, make dips and marinades with it, and eat it on baked potatoes instead of sour cream. Entire Greek yogurt cookbooks have been written so I’m sure you will find a way to use it that you love.
If you don’t batch cook, you really should start. It’s the only way to ensure that you’ve got prepared, home-cooked food in your kitchen for during the week. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself scrambling after working all day, or while you’re trying to pack your lunch. A tray of chicken breasts, a pork loin, a batch of marinated tofu, some chipotle black beans with maple syrup. If you cook off two of these, you’ll eat happy for at least 3-4 days, without the stress or resorting to processed or restaurant food.
When it’s January in Toronto, you know those fresh peaches have travelled 5000 miles to get to your supermarket. Frozen fruit, however, can be picked locally and frozen, and retains its nutrients because it’s not sitting on a truck all the way up from Florida or Mexico. It’s frozen at the peak of ripeness, right where it’s picked. It doesn’t go bad quickly, and it’s perfect for adding to yogurt, smoothies, oatmeal, baking, and even a sauce for chicken (get the recipe here). I adore it heated up, and topped with cold Greek yogurt and granola. Breakfast!
Oh yeah baby, coconut rocks. Coconut milk is a staple in our pantry, and I use it along with lime to marinate fish, in oatmeal to add flavor, and in baking. You can add it to smoothies, curries, and as a non-dairy milk alternative in recipes. I prefer the solid-type in the can, because I find that the more liquid versions taste tinny.
Mini Chocolate Chips
Yes, I’m a dietitian, but I still do like chocolate. I love semi-sweet mini chocolate chips because just a few add big flavor to pancakes, trail mix, and cookies. A tablespoonful of them when you’re craving something sweet does the trick. I even melt them sometimes over low heat to make fondue for dessert – the kids love that one, and just a little goes a long way. They dip all sorts of fruit into it, and they think it’s super special when all it is is a really easy snack. And there’s fruit!
Onions and Garlic
Do you really have to ask?