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30-Minute Dinner Solutions: The Ingredient Staples You Should Always Have on Hand

These 5-pantry essentials are key to making fast, easy and healthy dinners at home.


It’s no surprise that making a healthy dinner is a whole lot easier when you have a plan in place. Taking the time over the weekend to take inventory of what you already have on hand, write out a menu and grocery shop can make dinnertime much easier. But the reality is, things don’t always go as planned and some nights you’re left standing in your kitchen at 5 o’clock scratching your head trying to figure out what to make. It’s nights like these when you can rely on pantry staples to make healthy, affordable and fast dinners at home.

These 5 pantry essentials are key to making fast, easy and healthy dinners at home. Check your kitchen for these items, add them to your grocery list, keep them stocked and try the simple dinner ideas that use them.

1. Canned Beans

A healthy, high-fiber protein source that’s super-affordable and versatile, beans are a great base for veggie burgers, soups and stews, and make a simple salad topper. Choose no-salt-added or low-sodium options, or rinse the beans before using to get rid of excess salt. Quick-cooking lentils, like French lentils or split lentils, are also easy alternatives to stash in your pantry.

2. Canned Tomatoes

The perfect base for a fast one-pot dinner, pasta sauce or flavorful soup, canned tomatoes are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and the antioxidants lycopene and lutein, which have been shown to keep your heart and eyes healthier. When tomatoes are cooked (like in canned tomatoes), lycopene is made even more available and the antioxidant activity is higher—win! Whole tomatoes tend to have more flavor than diced or crushed tomatoes, but using the latter is a great way to save on prep time. Look for tomatoes that don’t have added sugar or salt.

3. Whole Grains

Versatile and fast-cooking whole grains, like quinoa, whole-wheat couscous and whole-wheat pasta, are full of fiber, antioxidants and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients. Whole grains are a healthier option than their refined counterparts (think white pasta and white rice) and can help keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer. When making grains with a longer cook time (like brown rice) plan to make extra and freeze what you don’t use. Pulling those precooked grains from the freezer is an even faster dinner shortcut. Want to mix things up? Try buckwheat soba noodles or black rice for a change.

4. Onions, Garlic & Shallots

These flavorful veggies can be tossed in a basket at the bottom of your pantry and last for weeks (same goes with hearty potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash). Throw them in a stir-fry, or mince and add to a dressing or marinade. Not only do they add tons of flavor, but also as members of the Allium family, which includes onions, garlic, shallots, leeks and chives, these veggies have protective compounds that may help ward off cancer and feed healthy gut bacteria.

5. Lemons & Limes

Citrus can add next level flavor to any marinade or salad dressing (or cocktail!), so having a few lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruits on hand is key. You can keep lemons and limes out at room temperature for about a week, or store them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer and they’ll last for a good few weeks. Packed with vitamin C and other antioxidants, citrus fruit can boost your immune system and increase “good” HDL cholesterol, while lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.