When Old Mother Hubbard discovered that her cupboard was bare, she didn’t have the option of ordering take-out. In a way she was lucky—she didn’t get caught in a cycle of pizza delivery and microwaved frozen dinners. Fortunately, if your kitchen shelves are well stocked, you can make a home-cooked meal in less time than it takes to call Pizza Hut.
“Stocking your pantry is the best way I know to eat healthier,” says Robin Robertson, author of ten cookbooks including Vegan Planet (Harvard Common Press, 2003). “When there’s nothing in the house, you’re more tempted to eat junk food. But, if you’ve planned and shopped ahead, you’re prepared for those times when you need to throw together a quick, wholesome meal.”
With the right ingredients in your pantry, fridge, and freezer, you’ll save money and time by making fewer trips to the supermarket or deli for pricey prepared foods. Robertson also maximizes her food preparation time. “I have a kitchen marathon—one day of the week when I make three or four things at once,” she says. “This way, instead of chopping onions every day for a different recipe, I get out the food processor and dice three or four onions for different recipes—a stew, a bean soup, or a homemade pot pie. Before I know it, I have a week’s worth of delicious homemade meals that I portion out and freeze for later.”
Most pantry ingredients can be combined in numerous recipes to create different foods in a flash. “Cooking with what you have on hand just takes a little creativity,” Robertson says. “When you don’t have an ingredient, think of a clever substitution, like making Mexican lasagna using tortillas if you don’t have regular lasagna noodles.”
(Check out our image gallery for more information about the best foods to stock up on for your pantry.)
5 impromptu meals from your pantry
Toss together these quick, tasty repasts from vegetarian chef Robin Robertson using what you find in the larder plus a few fresh ingredients.
Presto Mediterranean Pasta
In a sauté pan, mix together any combination of canned or frozen artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, black olives, capers, white beans. Sauté in olive oil and minced garlic until flavors are blended. Add fresh baby spinach, heat just until wilted, and serve over linguine or angel-hair pasta. This sauce also makes a satisfying topping for veggie cutlets or bruschetta.
Thai Peanut Noodles
Add soy sauce to creamy peanut butter and whisk until the mixture thins. Add chili flakes if desired. Toss with cooked spaghetti or udon noodles. Stir in whatever steamed veggies you have on hand: broccoli, celery, carrots. Cut a block of tofu into cubes and add to the mix.
Meatless Sloppy Joes
In a saucepan, heat some olive oil and diced onion (or dried onion flakes). Add a package of frozen veggie-burger crumbles and bottled barbecue sauce. Simmer ten minutes and serve on whole-wheat buns.
Easy Vegan Lasagna
Layer no-cook lasagna sheets, bottled spaghetti sauce, burger crumbles, and tofu sautéed with garlic, salt, and pepper, and frozen, chopped spinach. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with soy Parmesan. (Time-saving hint: Make two lasagnas and freeze one for next week.)
In a soup pot, add a package of veggie-burger crumbles, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of kidney or black beans, a jar of chunky salsa containing onions and bell pepper, a small package of frozen corn, chili powder, cumin, and salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer twenty minutes.