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The Ultimate Dinner Pantry

Stock your kitchen with these dinner staples and be ready to make quick, nutritious meals even if you’re short on time and ingredients.

| November / December 2017

  • Some of the most satisfying dinners are made from a little pantry hodgepodge.
    Photo by iStock/Marco_Piunti
  • Lentil soup requires little more than a bag of lentils, a few long-lasting winter vegetable and seasoning.
    Photo by iStock/LauriPatterson
  • Ground turmeric stays good for months and adds flavor and health to any dinner dish it tops.
    Photo by iStock/lathuric
  • When it comes to sauce, toppings and delicious additions, pasta dishes are renowned for their ease and versatility.
    Photo by iStock/jclegg
  • Rice is inexpensive, easily storable, filling and goes with just about anything.
    Photo by iStock/MSPhotographic
  • Running low on fresh produce? Bags of organic frozen veggies make it easy to add extra nutrition to any meal.
    Photo by iStock/AlasdairJames

With Shorter days, limited fresh produce and unexpected weather, some chilly nights are met with the challenge of two realities: the nagging grumble of hungry stomachs and the current sum of your kitchen cupboard. Of course, this doesn’t have to mean a season of PB&J sandwiches. In fact, some of the most satisfying dinners are the result of a little creative hodgepodge, proving once again that nourishing meals don’t need to be complicated to be delicious.

Good cooks know the secret to preparing healthy meals on the fly is not an overly stocked pantry, but a smartly stocked one. Some food items are simply more useful than others (no truffle salt or crystallized ginger here), giving us the most bang for our buck in terms of providing nutrition, flavor and a tremendous amount of versatility in everyday cooking. So, as winter gets into full swing, try stocking your pantry with these long-lasting staples and be prepared to whip up simple, nutritious dishes at a moment’s notice.

Canned Beans

As long as you have canned beans on hand, you always have an instant, heart-healthy protein source at the ready. Particularly versatile varieties include red kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans and navy beans — all of which can be added to soups, salads or any kind of dish that could stand to be made heartier. Combine a can of beans, briefly sautéed with any veggies you have on hand, over a bowl of rice and you’ve got a quick, satisfying and nutritious meal. Top it with hot sauce for a little extra flavor and an endorphin boost.

Canned Fish

Cans of responsibly caught small fish such as anchovies and sardines are a sustainable choice, as they’re low on the ocean’s food chain and don’t build up toxic mercury. Try canned sardines or anchovies in fried rice or pasta sauces to add protein and briny flavor; eat them on toast or with crackers and mustard; or cook them with eggs to make a fisherman’s breakfast.

Canned Tomatoes

Although you can’t make a meal out of canned tomatoes, canned tomatoes can make the meal. Ever-ready to accompany pasta, stews and baked dishes, canned tomatoes bring a little summer flavor into dishes, even when the fridge is almost barren. For a quick spaghetti, create a simple pasta sauce just by sautéing canned tomatoes in olive oil or unsalted butter, garlic and salt. Add a pinch of chili flakes or a splash of red wine if you’re feeling fancy.


Super quick to make (30 minutes or less) and chock-full of protein and fiber, lentils need little to make them feel like a meal. You can make a satisfying lentil stew with onions, celery and potatoes, along with a sprinkle of dried thyme if you have it. Or mash cooked lentils with sautéed onion, rolled oats (for adhesion), and your favorite seasoning blend to make protein patties you can grill on the stove like burgers.

12/7/2019 1:49:38 PM

Love this article. Stocking up for winter has been a must in my family for generations

10/29/2017 11:00:10 PM

Thank you for the split pea ideas! I inally have something to try with them!

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