Cooking at home is a great way to take control of what goes into your body, manage weight and diet-related health issues, and savor the satisfaction of creating tasty meals. But we know not everyone is comfortable in the kitchen. Maybe you're intimidated by cooking: You think it's time-consuming or complicated, or you simply don't enjoy it.
The secret to easier home cooking: Keep a well-stocked pantry.
With a few standard items in the cabinet or fridge, you can whip up a delicious meal—quickly, with no fuss and no fancy recipe—by adding whatever fresh ingredients you bring home from the store or farmers' market. Even better, you can throw together a quick dinner just with what you have on hand.
Here's a list of staple items to have on hand, along with ideas on how to use them:
In the Pantry
- Canned (no salt added) whole tomatoes: If you have nothing else in the house but canned tomatoes, a box of pasta and some olive oil, you've got dinner. Simply warm olive oil in a pan, add tomatoes and crush them with a spoon, throw in a clove of minced garlic if you have it; simmer, then toss with hot cooked pasta. Add canned tomatoes to chili or make a quick homemade tomato soup.
- Pasta: Pasta makes a great foundation for fresh veggies; keep a long shaped (spaghetti, linguine) and a short shaped (penne or fusilli). For a "desperation dinner," toss hot cooked spaghetti with a bit of butter, a handful of Parmesan cheese and lots of cracked pepper.
- Olive oil: Great for sautéing chicken breasts, roasting vegetables and other basic cooking. Choose a mid-priced extra virgin olive oil for everyday use.
- Brown rice, wild rice blend, quinoa: Combine cooked whole grains with roasted vegetables for a light main dish or hearty side for roasted chicken or grilled fish.
- Canned (no salt added) beans: White beans, black beans and chickpeas add fiber and protein to soup, chili or roasted vegetables.
- Herbs and spices: Dried Italian herb blend, salt-free seasoning and red pepper flakes are must-haves. Ground cumin is very versatile; smoked paprika adds a smoky, deep flavor. Use kosher salt for cooking and keep a pepper mill for fresh-ground pepper.
- Canned or boxed stock: Choose lower-sodium chicken and vegetable stocks; use for cooking rice and making soup.
- Roasted, unsalted whole nuts: Walnuts, almonds and pecans are healthy snacks (in 1-ounce portions); they're also great additions to pasta dishes and salads.
In the Refrigerator
In a lidded jar, shake together 1/3 cup wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
and 1 tablespoon honey. Add 1/2 cup olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper; shake again.
Keeps for 2–3 weeks in the refrigerator.