It's 5:30 p.m. You're stuck in traffic. And—once again—you have no idea what to feed your family for dinner.
A well-stocked kitchen can help relieve that last-minute stress. A stash of nutritious staples in your pantry and freezer, filled in with fresh items from the fridge, is a safety net that helps you pull together a healthy meal in minutes.
Coming right up are tips for stocking your kitchen plus a handful of fast and easy dinner ideas.
Map a Plan
First, inventory your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what's on hand and what you need. Make a shopping list of needed items plus other ingredients for your family's favorite quick recipes. Between shopping trips, keep a running list of things you run out of, so you remember to pick them up next time.
Below are some convenient staples to have on hand—add your own "usuals" to the list.
Non-perishables for the Pantry...
Cereals—whole-grain and high-fiber
Pasta—a variety of shapes, whole-wheat or high-protein varieties
Rice—quick-cooking or microwaveable brown, white, basmati or pilaf mix
Couscous—whole-wheat or flavored
Canned soups, broth, beans, vegetables and tomatoes (check for reduced sodium)
Dried lentils and split peas (they cook fast)
Peanut butter, almond butter or your favorite nut butter
Canned, jarred or dried fruit
Salad dressing and condiments such as mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and salsa (refrigerate after opening)
Vinegars—flavored, red wine, white wine, balsamic or cider
Vegetable oils such as olive, canola, peanut, soybean or corn
Flour—whole-wheat and white
For the Fridge...
Pre-cooked chicken strips
Pre-washed bags of spinach and lettuce
Precut fruits and vegetables (or wash, cut and store your own to use later)
Fat-free or low-fat milk and yogurt
Reduced-fat cheese—shreds, slices, sticks and chunks
For the Freezer...
Packages of pre-cut and trimmed lean beef, pork, chicken and fish
Whole-grain breads, bagels, pita, tortillas and muffins
A variety of fruits and vegetables
Extra batches of soups, chili and stews you prepared for another meal
Five Fast Dinner Ideas...
Very Quick Veggie Pasta: Cook whole-wheat pasta and toss with a mix of sautéed veggies such as baby spinach, shredded carrots, broccoli florets and sundried tomatoes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve with green salad.
Shortcut Confetti Omelet: Fold in reduced-fat shredded cheese plus leftover broccoli, red peppers, spinach, diced potatoes or other colorful vegetables. Serve with whole-wheat toast.
The Orient Express: Stir fry pre-cooked chicken strips, fresh or frozen Asian vegetable mix and minced ginger and garlic in peanut oil. Serve over quick-cooking brown rice with canned Mandarin oranges for dessert.
Speedy Spaghetti and Meatballs: Simmer frozen turkey meatballs and a pinch of dried basil and oregano in jarred tomato sauce. Toss with whole-wheat spaghetti and serve with spinach salad.
Super-Quick Quesadillas: Stuff canned black beans, canned chopped Mexican-style tomatoes, shredded Mexican cheese blend, and a sprinkling of cumin into whole-wheat tortillas and broil until lightly browned and cheese is melted. Serve a side of frozen or canned corn spiced up with a dash of chili powder.