Healthy Dinners in a Pinch

We all know the feeling…it’s been a long day and you arrive home around dinnertime to a fridge full of nothing. The last thing you want to do is go to the grocery store but you don’t really went to order take-out or eat a bowl of cereal for dinner either. This is a common scenario in our house, especially if I have been too busy to plan meals. Luckily, I have learned a few tricks, including some pantry staples I always have on hand, to whip up a healthy meal in a pinch.

Stock Your Pantry. When my fridge is bare and we are starving I channel my inner iron chef because it can be fun to open your pantry and challenge yourself to make a meal out of nothing. A few things to always try to have on hand: a quick cooking grain like rice, millet or quinoa as well as pasta, beans and tomato sauce. With basic staples like these you can create a satisfying meal in less than 15 minutes. Simply cook your grains or pasta and toss them with the beans and tomato sauce. You score an extra few points if you have vegetables to add to the mix!

Befriend Your Freezer. Speaking of vegetables, I always have frozen vegetables on hand as they are really handy in moments like this. A bag of frozen spinach, kale or broccoli can transform your cooked grain or pasta. Frozen peppers are really handy as well. Brown rice, quinoa and beans are usually hanging out in my freezer as well. You can buy them frozen or cook a batch yourself, portion them out, and store them for later. For an in-a-pinch protein, stock your freezer with frozen shrimp. You can defrost them in tepid water in minutes and they cook up in about the same time. As you know, I am a huge fan of batch cooking so I will often have a few frozen meals stashed in my freezer as well. This is a great time to use them!

Embrace the Whole Egg. Eggs can literally save the day – or the dinner in this case. Whether you make an omelet, a scramble or a frittata, they are a satisfying protein that can be enjoyed at any meal. Combine them with stray veggies from the crisper or reach for your freezer stash. I love sautéing greens into an egg scramble and adding a touch of pesto to the mix. I keep pesto in my freezer for times like this! Not too sure how to make a frittata? Here’s a little help!

DIY Dinner Bowl. Combine your pantry staples with your freezer stash to make a beautiful and nourishing dinner bowl. First, choose your base – beans, grains or pasta. Then assess the proteins and vegetables your have on hand. A Mexican style rice or quinoa is fairly easy to whip up. Add some grains and beans to the bowl along with fresh or defrosted frozen vegetables like peppers, broccoli or greens. A sprinkle of cumin and some lime juice will add flavor. You could even top if off with some salsa, a fried egg, and a sprinkle of cheese. The possibilities are endless with DIY Dinner Bowls. Here’s a little guidance for building a delish and nourishing dinner bowl.

If all else fails, an apple or a banana make for a delicious meal when slathered with peanut butter. You can also joyfully eat that bowl of cereal with compassion for yourself because perfection doesn’t exists and there is always tomorrow.

By: Katie Cavuto, RD, Chef

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