Make the most of your pantry
Allison Day, RHN
These tips will help you stock your cupboard shelves so you'll always be ready to prepare a quick, nutritious, budget-friendly dinner.
Eating healthy during the week doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. For quick, wholesome weeknight dinners, look no further than your kitchen pantry. By stocking up on a variety of everyday superfoods and pairing them with a handful of fresh ingredients, budget-friendly dinners to feed the family (or yourself) can be made in less time than waiting for delivery. Purchasing in bulk, eating seasonally, and using more economical sources of vegetarian and meat proteins will help you create a range of unique dinners that can be switched up with the seasons or your mood. Employing a different grain, bean, or spice will transform any one of the following recipes into something completely new, so you skip any dietary boredom. If budget friendly typically means monotonous leftovers, make your pantry work for you this week. Surprise your taste buds with a range of fresh flavours that you’ll look forward to repeating the following day. Use what you have, what’s fresh, and what you’re craving—pantry meals are all about playing with your food.
Beans and other legumes: Dried lentils cook up in less than 30 minutes and provide a great base for stews, soups, salads, and curries. Canned beans are a quick protein to add to pastas and grains, as well as to blend into dips. Or, cook a large batch of dried beans and store in 2 cup (500 mL) portions in the freezer for up to two months.
Whole grains: Made into a main course (risotto) or a quick side (brown rice pilaf), you can’t beat the variety and nutrition of whole grains. Quick-cooking varieties include oats, quinoa, millet, and amaranth. Longer-cooking grains such as brown rice can be cooked and frozen for up to two months—just defrost and add to your recipe for a quick weeknight meal.
Dried spices and herbs: Nothing boosts the flavour or health benefits of a meal faster than the addition of dried spices and herbs. Buying in bulk means you can sample a range of tastes for a lower price tag. Store bulk spices in labelled glass jars in the pantry.
Canned tomatoes: Blend into soups, stir into stews, create a gourmet pasta sauce, or whip up a homemade BBQ sauce—canned tomatoes are a kitchen chameleon. Because lycopene content increases when tomatoes are cooked, this is a healthy year-round option. Look for BPA-free cans with no salt or sugar added.
Sustainable canned fish: Canned sardines and wild-caught salmon are a source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamin D. Jazz them up by adding to soups, salads, and wraps.
Whole grain or gluten-free pasta: The original 30-minute meal, pasta can be reimagined for every day of the year. Using seasonal produce in your recipe will keep the nutrition high and the cost low. Stock up on a variety of shapes for whenever a pasta craving strikes.
Dried fruit: Raisins, prunes, figs, Medjool dates, and more—dried fruit is cheap to buy in bulk and adds sweetness to oatmeal, savoury grain dishes, pastas, curries, condiments, and cookies. Look for dried fruit without added sugar, oil, sulphites, or cornstarch coating.
Onions: A bag of onions will keep at room temperature (out of direct sunlight) for one to two months. Onions not only add zest to recipes, but also deliver potassium, vitamin C, and fibre.
Nondairy milks: Shelf-stable cartons of nondairy milks can be kept in the pantry for months. Use to make oatmeal, smoothies, baked goods, and homemade lattes. Canned coconut milk adds dairy-free richness to soups and curries, or it can be whipped into a fluffy dessert topping.
Nuts and seeds: Buy raw nuts and seeds in bulk for use in granola, baked goods, and salads or to whir into homemade nut butter. Nuts and seeds contain monounsaturated fats, fibre, protein, and minerals. Because they’re nutrient dense, a little goes a long way in a recipe, making them an economical option for the healthy home cook.