The Groceries You Need for Quick and Easy Meals
Nicole McLaughlin, aka NicoleMcmom, shows you what to keep in your pantry so you can cut down on the time you spend grocery shopping and still create satisfying meals that are easy to make and easy on your budget. Check out her must-have list of pantry staples, then stick around and she'll demonstrate how to use them to make a couple of her favorite budget-friendly pantry meals.
Bonus: Learn how to use Ingredient Search on Allrecipes to find out what you can make with ingredients you already have.
6 Essential Pantry Staples
1. Starches and Grains
Think rice, dried pasta and beans, breads, crackers, and potatoes. These essentials tend to be neutral in flavor, allowing you to take them in all different directions depending on what you add to the recipe or how you serve them. Nicole likes to stock three different kinds of rice and dried pastas — they're shelf-stable for long-term storage. Breads can be stored in the freezer for up to three months, so be sure to mark the date on the package. Store potatoes for up to two months in a cool, dark, dry spot with good air circulation.
Keep your eye on sales, specials, and coupons to get the best deals on fresh meats (beef, chicken, pork, etc.) to stash in the freezer. Bacon falls into the buy-and-freeze category, too. But don't stop there: Stock up on canned protein like tuna and beans for quick, budget-friendly meals.
3. Fruits & Vegetables
Fresh is fabulous but canned and frozen are your long-term friends. Canned squash and canned pumpkin add flavor and nutrition to soups, stews, and chilis. Canned tomatoes — whole, diced, puréed, or paste — are infinitely useful. Frozen vegetables can turn into side dishes and casserole-builders. Frozen fruits are ready any time for all kinds of baked goods and desserts. Don't forget dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes) and dried mushrooms.
4. Flavorful Additions
These are the extras that add flavor and richness to recipes. Stock up on canned milk (such as coconut milk and evaporated milk), condensed soups and chicken or vegetable broth; condiments such as prepared salsa, barbeque sauce, salad dressings, and hot sauce; taste bud ticklers like capers and pickles; and even jars of jams, jellies, and peanut butter.
To add freshness to any pantry meal, you can brighten the flavor with freshly grated lemon zest or a squeeze of lemon juice, and minced fresh parsley. Both of these ingredients are inexpensive and easy to keep in the fridge. See how to store parsley so it stays fresh longer.
Related: 7 Spices for Perking Up Pantry Meals
5. Convenience Foods
Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break and use time-saving pantry ingredients like prepared pasta sauce, simmer sauces, boxed mac & cheese, and packets of dried spices and mixes.
Onions and garlic can last a long time in your pantry, and are used in so many different recipes that you'll want to keep them on hand at all times.
2 Favorite Pantry Recipes to Try
As promised, Nicole demonstrates how to use pantry ingredients to whip up two quick and satisfying meals.
1. Black Bean Burgers
These cheap and easy Homemade Black Bean Veggie Burgers are made with canned black beans, onion, garlic, red peppers, and spices. (Nicole used roasted red peppers from a jar instead of fresh red peppers.) You can serve these hearty patties on buns or on top of rice or a salad.
2. Easy Chicken, Artichoke, Mushroom Risotto
Watch the video up top to see how Nicole uses the Ingredient Search function on Allrecipes to find out what she can make with frozen chicken, artichoke hearts, and dried mushrooms from her pantry. Using this recipe for Chicken with Artichokes and Mushrooms as her starting point, she decided to add the flavorful sauté to a basic risotto to come up with a satisfying, low-cost family dinner.
Note: Nicole doesn't use the more expensive Arborio rice you'd normally use in risotto. Instead, she uses an inexpensive everyday rice, adds it to sautéed onion, plumps it up a bit at a time by stirring in chicken stock, and finally stirs in the chicken mixture.
How to Use Ingredient Search
Search for recipes that contain the ingredients in your pantry! Choose Explore at the top of any page on Allrecipes, then select Search by Ingredient. You can enter up to four ingredients that you would like to include and up to four ingredients you would like to exclude. Be sure to click the plus or minus icon after typing each ingredient, then hit Search.
More tips and tricks from Nicole: