Food Tips

Pantry staples for busy families

Pantry staples for busy families

Author: Canadian Living

Food Tips

Pantry staples for busy families

Whether you’re going to school, working full time or parenting young children (or any combination of these three), there are bound to be weeknights when you have a small window of time to prepare a nutritious and tasty meal.

Though fast and convenient, frequently ordering take-out food - often high in salt and saturated fat - can get expensive. You’ll save calories and cash by making meals at home. The secret is simply learning a few tricks to shave time off your dinner prep. The first step? Stock your pantry with the eight staples listed below, which we call The 3 Pillars and The 5 Fillers.

These must-have ingredients are quick and easy to use, versatile and healthy. Following the eight staples, we’ve listed some Flavour Savers, which can add layers of taste and texture to your meals without eating up hours of your time.

The 3 Pillars

1. Canned tuna
Besides being the star in comfort-food favourites — tuna melts and tuna casseroles — canned tuna can shine in all kinds of dishes. Tuna packed in water is the best choice for health-conscious eaters — high in protein, low in fat —though there are also some excellent brands packed in good quality olive oil (often Italian). These are perfect if you’re planning to use the tuna in a dish like a Niçoise or white bean salad or on mixed greens; just cut back on the amount of oil called for in the salad dressing accordingly. Try these tuna favourites tonight!
Baguette tuna melts
Salad Niçoise
Mixed greens with tuna and pumpkin seeds
Tuna white bean and pasta salad with basil

2. Dried pasta
Typically taking mere seven to 12 minutes to cook in boiling water, pasta comes in so many forms you could enjoy a different shape and size every night of the week. Keep a broad selection on hand:
• Long noodles like linguine are great for cream- or olive-oil-based sauces;
• Broad shapes like farfalle are excellent carriers for chunky sauces full of veggies, sausage and ground meats; and
• Tiny pastas like ancini di pepe and orzo are perfect in soups and for pasta salads, like this Feta and Green Pea Orzo.

3. Canned tomatoes
Whether crushed, strained, whole, stewed, diced or in paste form, canned tomatoes are your starting point for countless hearty soups, stews, casseroles, gratins, or pasta sauces. For the ultimate quick comfort food on a chilly fall night, try our recipe for Sloppy joes.

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The 5 Fillers

1. Canned legumes
In their dried form, legumes usually require an overnight soak and an hour-plus for cooking, so having a variety of canned legumes in your cupboard is a huge time saver. Look for brands that are low in sodium, since they’re all high in fibre, low in fat and versatile — try tossing chickpeas and black beans together in this refreshing Chickpea and black bean salad, use pinto or kidney beans in chili or as a burrito filling, whip up this delicious recipe for Herbed White Bean Spread, or add your favourite legume to soups, stews and pastas.

2. Quick-cooking grains
Stock up on alternative grains such as barely and quinoa or couscous, which are cooked similarly to pasta, although the latter can also be cooked by pouring a boiling liquid (usually water or stock) overtop, letting the couscous absorb the liquid for five minutes in  a tightly covered container and then fluffing with a fork to serve. Nutritious and nutty-tasting, these grains can be mixed up with veggies and proteins to make stand-alone meals such as a rustic Grilled Chicken and Barley Salad, or they can be subtly flavoured to be used as easy, killer sides like fragrant Herbed Pearl Couscous.

3. Raw nuts and seeds
Hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds…the list goes on. And even though they have a reputation for being high in saturated fat, they’re also full of good fats and Vitamin E. (you don’t need additional oil to toast nuts, just a 350ºF oven, a baking sheet and a keen sense of smell). Coarsely grind up hazelnuts to coat pork tenderloin, crust tuna with sesame seeds, or roll chèvre discs in pumpkin seeds.

For depth of flavour, earthy notes and an unbeatable crunch, toss nuts and seeds, raw or toasted, into salads, veggie sides and pastas. Here are a few recipes to get you started:
Maple glazed squash and beans with walnuts
Linguine with walnuts, parsley and garlic oil sauce
Red cabbage slaw with blue cheese and walnuts
Green beans with lemon and hazelnuts

4. Du Puy lentils
Sometimes called just French lentils, these tiny, elegant legumes are brown and turquoise in colour. They don’t require a pre-soak and take less than 30 minutes to cook. Make a delicious fall salad with basic white-wine vinaigrette, toasted almonds and crumbled aged cheddar, or for a heavier winter meal, braise them with sausages.

To give Du Puy lentils a flavour boost during the cooking process, add a few big hunks of onion, carrot, and celery (they’re easier to pick out of the cooked lentils if left in large pieces), plus a garlic clove, bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme and even a splash of wine to the cooking water — or simmer them in a low-sodium vegetable or meat broth. Season the lentils with salt in the last few minutes of cooking. Try our recipe for Braised Lentils with Sausages.

Page 2 of 35. Tortilla wraps
There may not be any better staple for making a light, healthy, quick and cheap meal than tortillas. Roll a California-style wrap with fresh veggies and grilled chicken strips or peanut butter and jam pinwheels for the kids, pop a pulled-pork burrito into the oven to crisp up the shell, or pan-fry a Black Bean Quesadilla and serve it with guacamole and salsa.

Flavour Savers
Keep these essentials stocked in your kitchen pantry, for instant and inexpensive flavour.

  • Dijon mustard
  • A selection of good quality vinegars such as red and white wine, champagne, balsamic or cider
  • Instant low-sodium vegetable, chicken and beef broths (in bouillon cubes, powder or concentrate)
  • Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Dried porcini mushrooms
  • Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • Chili sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Honey
  • Kosher salt
  • Canned coconut milk
  • Capers

A good selection of dried herbs and spices such as smoked paprika, thyme, oregano, coriander, cumin, chili powder, curry powder, cinnamon, saffron etc. Store them in airtight containers away from direct light and moisture.

Additional recipe links for some of the flavour savers if need be….

Dijon mustard
Rainbow Trout with Dijon Mayonnaise
Grilled Dijon Herb Pork Chops

White and red wine vinegars
Grilled Portobellos on Bean Salad

Good quality chicken or beef broth
Sweet and Sour Pineapple Chicken
Pork Tenderloin with Sage and Mushrooms

Chipotle in adobo sauce
Chipotle Pork Burritos

Dried mushrooms, like porcinis or shiitakes
Porcini-dusted Beef Tenderloin with Onion Jus

Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Sauce

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Read more:
Christmas on a budget
6 budget grocery shopping tips
Money in your pocket


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Food Tips

Pantry staples for busy families