When Farm to Table is off the table, create healthy pantry options...
Do you have ingredients on hand that will make 2-3 delicious AND nutritious dinners? If you do, I offer you a round of applause. If you don’t, or if you’re bored with your pantry-to-table dinner options, this blog is for you.
In my practice, I ask clients to have at least 3 meals I call “DNQs” (Delicious, Nutritious and Quick) in stock at all times. That usually means pulling ingredients from your freezer and/or pantry to make the magic happen. When the evening calls for DNQs, it’s because things have been hectic at work, you and/or everyone is running late, perhaps someone has a cold looming (because this is the 4th late night in a row!) and opting for take-out or pizza delivery 4 nights straight is NOT an option. Something fast, yummy and loaded with good nutrition is sorely needed. Further, when things are stressful, there’s the additional craving for a meal that’s comforting. When I’m building out my own pantry-to-table portfolio, I head back to old-school comfort foods, then add a few new twists to create great DNQ meals.
Here are 4 simple steps to follow to create a great pantry meal:
1) Start with your fresh ingredients. What’s in your frig (veggies, protein) or pantry (potato, onion, garlic) that is a whole, fresh food? That’s your muse, use that to set the mood of your meal, it can inform whether your meal will be Asian, Italian, Latin, classic American, Fusion, etc. in flavor.
2) Find your protein. Do you have tuna, eggs, some fish, meat or chicken left over? Do you have canned beans or frozen beans, tofu or tempeh? Any shrimp or fish in the freezer (fish and seafood options thaw and cook quickly)?
3) Fill in the blanks. Do you have quinoa, pasta, brown rice, couscous, buckwheat (aka soba)? Better still, do you have any of these already cooked and sitting in your frig? For me, I almost always have some cooked brown rice in the frig and I used it in this recipe.
4) Pump up the nutritional volume. When you’re putting a pantry dish like this together; look for added flavor and nutrition in the form of spices, herbs, nuts, seeds and condiments. Grab some nuts or seeds. Nutritional yeast makes a great flavor booster to Mediterranean and Italian dishes (think Parmesan zing). It also has amazing vitamin B properties and amino acids. Do you have any lemon or lime for extra flavor + vitamin C and anti-oxidants? Is there a can of sliced mushrooms (cancer fighters) in your pantry or diced tomato (lycopene + vitamin C), tamari, sesame oil or sesame seeds? Try to add spices like tumeric, ginger and oregano for added health benefits.
To create the meal for this post, I had some left over steamed asparagus, garlic and onion on hand (step 1). From there, I needed to find a protein. For me, beans make an easy and delicious addition but I didn’t have any beans cooked, so I used frozen lima beans (always in my freezer along with peas). Lima beans help lower cholesterol, control blood sugar (a great choice for anyone with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia), they have a buttery flavor, are almost fat free and when combined with a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa, form a complete protein. To fill out the meal, add more nutrition, fiber and flavor, I grabbed a cup of cooked brown rice I had in the frig (step 3). I could have made this meal with quinoa which cooks faster or even whole wheat or gluten free pasta or soba noodles and it would have been delicious. Finally, I looked for some nutritious all stars (step 4). I grabbed nutritional yeast to give this dish some zing and fill in the nutritional gaps of a vegan dish. One serving (16 g) of nutritional yeast contains over 3X the RDA of 6 of the B vitamins. I added raw cashews for texture, an extra protein punch and omega 3s (brain health) and amino acids.
Not your Abuela’s Rice and Beans (a loose recipe)
- 1 tbl olive oil
- ½ thinly sliced onion – mine was red, you can use any type (fresh)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (fresh)
- Pinch Aleppo pepper (pantry)
- Pinch black pepper (pantry)
- Pinch sea salt (pantry)
- 2 TBL raw cashews (pantry)
- 1 TBL nutritional yeast (pantry)
- 1 cup cooked brown rice (had in frig)
- 1 cup cooked lima beans (frozen, cooked the beans while prepping onion and garlic)
- 4 steamed asparagus spears in 1” pieces (from frig) – you could also wilt spinach, kale in this dish, add steamed string beans, broccoli florets or zucchini, anything you have on hand that’s green.
Follow cooking instructions on the lima bean package. Sautee onions and garlic in a sauté pan till onions were browned (over medium high heat), add rice and asparagus with a little water (TBL or so) to warm them up and keep the rice from sticking, add spices, drain lima beans, add beans to the sautee pan and turn off heat. Stir in the nutritional yeast and cashews. (This recipe serves 2. You can freeze the second portion, have for lunch over greens with lemon or double the recipe to feed a family of 4.)
With 2 or 3 pantry dishes up your sleeve, when those late nights, busy nights, cold and flu moments strike, you can easily feed yourself and your family something quick and delicious and still make excellent decisions to support your best health. Just pull it from your DNQ file.