Whether your pantry and freezer are big or small, there are certain items that kept on hand can produce packed lunches, snacks or even dinner at a moment’s notice.
Here are the top 10 items you will always see in my pantry:
1. Chicken broth. Use as a soup base or as a water replacement in rice or couscous or as a milk replacement in mashed potatoes.
2. Jarred pasta sauce. Use as a soup base for minestrone or a pasta dinner in a flash.
3. Dried pasta. Use for soups, salad or a main course. At my house, I use gluten-free brown rice, quinoa or corn pasta.
4. Rice. Use with above-mentioned broth for a flavorful side, add to soups or mix with beans for a complete protein for your veggie lovers.
5. Canned beans. Kidney, cannellini, pinto, black or refried can be added to soup, chili or Mexican dishes.
6. Peanut butter. Packed lunches, baking, sauces … who doesn’t love peanut butter?! (Allergic to peanuts? Try sunflower butter or almond butter.)
7. Tuna fish. A popular lunch or snack at our house. Purchase the pouches; they take up less space in your pantry and have a long shelf life.
8. Cereal/Oatmeal. The fastest meal around. My kids like to mix cereal in yogurt, too. I like to keep gluten-free Rice Krispies and Chex on hand for quick desserts and snack mixes. I keep both quick-cooking and old-fashioned oatmeal for both quick breakfasts and baking.
9. Dried fruit. Add to cereal/oatmeal, baked goods and make quick snack mixes as well.
10. Onions/Garlic. I use both in almost all my savory dishes; they just make things taste better! They keep well on a dark, cool shelf.
And it’s not just the pantry that matters.
Here is my top 10 freezer list of essentials:
1. Ground beef or turkey. One-pound packages are perfect for meatballs, chili, Sloppy Joes, etc.
2. Whole chicken or chicken breasts. Many a dinner can be devised when you combine chicken with the above-mentioned pantry items.
3. Vegetables. Great for adding to soups. The steam bags are also a quick side in a pinch.
4. Homemade chicken stock. It really does taste better, and it’s simple to make after roasting a whole chicken (we will talk chicken at a later date).
5. Flour. The gluten-free kinds go stale easily, as does whole wheat. Freezing them prolongs their shelf life and saves you money!
6. Yogurt tubes. My oldest isn’t a big yogurt fan, but she will eat it if it is in the frozen tubes. The tubes also help keep packed lunches cold.
7. Chocolate baking squares. Chocolate is important to me; life is better with brownies. Chocolate also keeps best in the freezer. Freezing prevents it from turning that light chalky color on the outside.
8. Bread. It’s nice to have a spare loaf to thaw when you are avoiding the grocery store. Gluten-free bread spoils really easily, so I always keep it in the freezer and bring it out a couple slices at a time.
9. Butter/margarine sticks. Stock up when it goes on sale (usually around the holidays). Frozen butter works best for pie crusts and many pastry items.
10. Coffee. This is something else that is very important to me. Aficionados will argue that it is best stored at room temperature in your pantry, but I really think it stays fresher in the freezer.
There they are. Just like the must-have pieces of clothing in your wardrobe, combine these lists and you should be able to come up with breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks without making a run to the store. Think of it as your culinary must-have list.
Need a dinner idea tonight? Try this soup, which uses most of my pantry items. And is yummy.
Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup
1 jar pasta sauce, 25 ½ oz. (I use tomato basil flavor, garden veggie or marinara also work well)
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (15-16 oz.)
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (15-16 oz.)
½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 carrots, sliced in ¼”pieces
1 bell pepper, chopped in 1/4” pieces
1 cup frozen green beans
1 small zucchini, diced*
1 small yellow squash, diced*
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups dried pasta (approximately 4 ½ oz.)
1 teaspoon sugar
*Zucchini and squash are optional, and it’s OK to use frozen. I sometimes omit the pepper and add the squash; if your slow-cooker is smaller (5-6 quart round), you may want to omit one can of beans if using the squash. This recipe will fill a 7 ½ quart slow cooker (oval).
Place first 12 ingredients in slow cooker. Fill empty pasta sauce jar with water and add to cooker; add enough water to fill cooker almost to the top, approximately 4 cups. Cook on low-setting for 6-8 hours. Turn slow cooker to high and add dried pasta and sugar. Cook for 15-30 minutes or until pasta is done. Scoop into bowls and serve with grated parmesan. Remove crock from slow cooker to prevent pasta from over-cooking in remaining soup. — Recipe adapted from the Betty Crocker Slow Cooker Cookbook
Mary Cornforth Cawood is a Fruita mom with two daughters. Read her Tuesdays on fruitamoms.com.