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Dinners Made Easy! 10 Pantry Staples and 5 Simple Recipes

Photo by Jill Chen / Stocksy United / 487830
Photo by Jill Chen / Stocksy United

Picture this all-too-familiar scenario: It’s 7:00 at night, and you and the kids have just gotten home 45 minutes later than usual. Behind schedule, you race to the fridge and cupboards to get dinner started asap, only to find…pretty much nothing. Looks like it’s another order-out night.

Sometimes life happens. But if you’re noticing that this is starting to become a routine (and your bank account is feeling it), maybe it’s time to look at your pantry stocks more critically. Having the right ingredients available can make all the difference in getting a healthy, fast meal on the table. Take a look at our list of staple items to have at the ready in your pantry, along with five kid-friendly recipes utilizing those items:

Top 10 Pantry Items 

  1. Rice – This pantry helper can turn a package of pork or a handful of veggies into a hearty meal! Our go-to is brown rice, as it’s a good source of fiber.
  2. Pasta – As long as you’ve got some tomatoes or sauce (be it marinara or pesto), pasta will save you from spending cash on a pizza when you just can’t get to the store on time. Whole-grain options are the healthiest bet, and kids will love that there are so many fun shapes to choose from.
  3. Cream-based soups – These humble team players have the power to add some awesome flavor to whatever you cook. Low-sodium versions are best, and try experimenting with a variety of flavors!
  4. Canned tomatoes – Spaghetti, salads, Spanish rice—canned tomatoes have so potential! As always, low sodium is best, and check out cans that come pre-spiced to save time on dinner prep.
  5. Flour tortillas – Tortillas tend to last a while as long as they're sealed, making them a better choice than bread to keep on hand. Go for whole-grain versions to add some extra protein to your meal.
  6. Canned chicken or tuna packed in water – These little pantry dwellers are excellent protein sources and your best bet when you literally only have five minutes to whip something up. What’s not to love about that?
  7. Dried fruit – Perfect because they won’t expire within a few days, dried fruits make an excellent pantry addition. The kids can munch on ‘em as a snack, you can toss ‘em into a salad, or find other creative ways to add them to your dinner menu.
  8. Canned beans – Beans are the king of meal add-ons, so you can never go wrong having extra on hand. Whether pinto, navy, or black, beans are full of protein, low in fat, and give every meal a boost.
  9. Olive oil – You never really know when you’ll need oil in the kitchen, so it’s always a good idea to have some to spare. This heart-healthy oil is great to sauté vegetables in, dip bread in, use as a salad dressing, and more.
  10. Canned veggies – It’s true, fresh veggies are usually preferred over canned, but having some of these pantry stockers will come in handy when you forget to stock up on your produce. Plus, using canned veggies for cooking can save you a lot of prep time! We usually go for canned corn, salsa, green beans, peas, and more.

Photo by Lauri Patterson / iStock
Photo by Lauri Patterson / iStock

1. Chicken & Rice Casserole

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 can low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup brown rice
  • 2 pounds raw chicken breast
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: Vegetables, diced (red bell peppers, zucchini, etc.)

Directions

  1. In a shallow baking dish, mix together soup, water, rice, paprika and garlic powder.
  2. Place chicken and veggies on top of rice mixture.
  3. Cover and bake at 375˚ for 45 minutes or until chicken is done and rice is tender.

Photo by bhofack2 / iStock
Photo by bhofack2 / iStock

2. Bean & Cheese Quesadilla

Serves: 1 

Ingredients

  • 2 whole-grain flour tortillas (8-10 inches)
  • ¼ cup beans
  • ¼ cup Monterey Jack cheese
  • ¼  cup salsa
  • ¼ cup corn

Directions

  1. Warm 1 tortilla on medium heat. Spread beans evenly on heated tortilla and then evenly spread cheese over the beans. Cover with second tortilla.
  2. Cook tortilla 2-3 minutes per side until cheese is melted. Cut into wedges and serve with sautéed vegetables and salsa. 

Photo by Fudio / iStock
Photo by Fudio / iStock

3. Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces dry spaghetti, uncooked
  • 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1  (23 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce

Directions

  1. Boil a large pot of water. Cook pasta until tender. Drain.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add chopped onions and cook until they begin to brown.
  3. Stir in garlic and Italian seasoning.  Then add beef or other meat choice and cook until no longer pink. Stir in spaghetti sauce. Serve sauce over pasta.

Photo by Stockphoto24 / iStock
Photo by Stockphoto24 / iStock

4. Tuna Wrap 

Makes 4 wraps.

Ingredients

  • 2–6 ounce cans white tuna, drained and flaked
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 head Butter Leaf lettuce
  • ½ cup hummus
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4–8 inch whole-grain flour tortillas

Directions

  1. Drain tuna of moisture. In a medium bowl, mix tuna, celery, onion, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Spread a layer of hummus onto a whole grain flour tortilla. Spread tuna mixture on top of hummus. Add a lettuce leaf layer. Fold in sides of tortilla and roll up.
  3. Serve with a small salad topped with dried fruit and cheese (we love cranberries and feta cheese!). Enjoy!

Photo by bhofack2 / iStock
Photo by bhofack2 / iStock

5. Slow-Cooker Chicken

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 2–15 ounce can black beans
  • 1–14.5 ounce can chicken broth
  • 1–14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes with mild green chilis, undrained
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
  • ½ cup chunky salsa
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Directions

  1. Mix beans, broth, tomatoes, chicken, salsa, corn and seasonings in a slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  3. Serve over rice.

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