SALT LAKE CITY — How many times have you said to yourself, "I should just meal plan for this week. I did it before, it helped," but then you don't?
This is a sentiment I hear all the time from my clients. In theory, meal planning is awesome. It takes the guesswork out of eating on a day-to-day basis, can save you time and money, and can make life so much easier. But it requires planning, and sometimes a lot of work ahead of time.
If you fit in this category, know you're not alone; and you should know it's OK to not always plan out your meals. That's why I'm a huge proponent of having a well-stocked pantry. A well-stocked pantry will save you trips to the store, save you money that you'd spend at a restaurant, and save you from relying solely on cold cereal and boring eggs on the days you don't have anything planned for dinner.
Pantry dinners allow you to eat deliciously without always having to plan your meals ahead of time. Sure, you do have to have a few basics in your kitchen, and a bit of creativity, but incorporating more pantry meals into your cooking will make your life easier.
Here's how you do it:
1. Start with this simple formula: Grain + protein + vegetable
Your pantry meals don't always have to have a grain, a protein and a vegetable. Maybe you don't have anything in one of those categories, or you're not really feeling that food group for dinner. That's fine. It's simply a formula to start with.
2. Shop in your kitchen
Choose one component of that formula that you need to use up — maybe it's leftovers, maybe it's a head of cauliflower that is about to go bad — or just choose one component if there's nothing that needs to be eaten ASAP. Once you've found that one component, find the other two that sound good with it. Say you have that cauliflower that needs to be eaten; grab some pasta and frozen chicken to cook with it.
3. Find a recipe to follow (or mostly follow)
Here's where the creativity comes into play. You may not have all the ingredients a recipe calls for, but that doesn't mean that you have to find another recipe. Google substitutions for X ingredient to see if there's something else you can use, or just substitute for ingredients you know will taste good. I Google substitutions all the time. It's a really helpful resource. You can do this and step two together, or however it makes the most sense to you.
Following a recipe will give you ideas on how to season and add flavor to your dinner. This is a step that will turn an OK or boring dinner into something you'll dream about and definitely want to make again. Don't skip it.
Here are a couple easy recipes using pantry basics, including my list of pantry dinners:
- Vegan Tortilla Soup via registered dietitian and gluten-free blogger EA Stewart of The Spicy RD
- Fast Food Power Bowl via Philadelphia-based sports dietitian Kelly Jones
- Chicken Quinoa Crockpot Recipe via registered dietitian Jodi Danen
- Easy Tuna Casserole via registered dietitian Jessica Penner
- Taco Pasta Skillet via registered dietitian Brittany Poulson
- Lentil Pasta Primavera via registered dietitian Lizzie Streit of It’s a Veg World After All
- 2-ingredient Salmon Burgers via registered dietitian nutritionist Emily Cooper of Sinful Nutrition
- Chickpea Coconut Curry via registered dietitian Julie Andrews
- Easy Baked Fish in Foil via registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward
- Easiest Broccoli Chicken Stir Fry via registered dietitian Colleen Christensen, owner of Colleen Christensen Nutrition
As you get more comfortable using ingredients in your pantry and kitchen, you'll get a good idea for the foods you want to keep on hand to make these easy dishes on days you didn't plan and shop ahead of time. It'll make your life easier and definitely more delicious.
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