5 pantry staples and what to do with them

Nutrition surely looks a lot different these days as we navigate this new landscape of food delivery or less frequent trips to the grocery store. I know, for one, we’ve had to be a bit more creative in the kitchen. Where we’d normally run out quickly if we were missing an ingredient or two, we now look more closely in our pantry, freezer, and cabinets to see what else we could sub in.

I have to be honest--it’s opened up our eyes to different combinations of flavors and, surprisingly, allowed us to enjoy some foods we normally wouldn’t have tried. That said, let’s look at five pantry staples and how to make “unboring” meals with said ingredients.

 

1. Beans.  These have become a serious staple in our diet, for the better.  They’re an incredible source of nutrition – from protein to fiber, magnesium and iron, among others – and dollar for dollar, are one of the most inexpensive quality sources of nutrition you can buy.  If you choose dried beans, you get even more bang for your buck, but that also takes a little more planning so I’ll assume we’re working with canned beans here with the recipe provided (but if dried, simply follow the directions on the bag first, then proceed). 

Here are a couple of easy ways to enjoy beans:

Beans + cooked rice + salsa (add 1 cup cooked rice to 1 can black or kidney beans).  Top with salsa. Bonus if you have ground cumin, you can add about 1-2 tsp of this to the bowl, mix it up and enjoy.

 

2. Pasta.  Often a staple in most homes, pasta is shelf stable and can complement so many other foods it is no wonder it’s the cornerstone of the esteemed Mediterranean Diet and enjoyed by Italians and others throughout the world. While pasta gets a bad wrap from many diets and low carb eating plans, consider what it shares its plate with and not demonize the specific food itself. Fettucini alfredo with bacon is a far cry from a handful sized portion with mixed veggies, fish, olive oil and garlic.  Now, you might not have all those ingredients right now, but we’ll explore some simple options that work. 

Also, did you know when looking at population data across the world, those who follow the Mediterranean Diet have lower rates of disease and generally longer life spans. Pasta isn’t the only part of this eating plan, but it sure is a regular part of that plate.


Here is an easy way to enjoy pasta (that’s not red sauce, though that’s fine too).


Pasta + #1 + rosemary + garlic + chicken broth.  For this, combine whatever type of pasta you happen to have, open and drain a can of cannellini beans and add to sautéed garlic & olive oil with fresh (or dried rosemary).  Add about 1 can of chicken broth and add any fresh or frozen veggie, sauté them until just tender.. When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and add it to the pan with the other ingredients.  Drizzle with more olive oil if needed

3. Canned Fish. Thirty years ago when I first started working out, Muscle and Fitness was my go to resource for all things training and nutrition.  At 12 years old I understood then that protein was important and I quickly learned tuna was an inexpensive, quality source of said nutrient.  As any, ahem, 12 year old that really thinks things through, I felt then if some was good, more was better. And my brother – and workout partner – and I, would open up cans and enjoy one each day.  It did in fact give us some protein, along with omega 3 fats (which wasn’t quite even discussed then). Now I know there’s more to canned fish than just tuna and regularly enjoy canned salmon, sardines and, yes, even anchovies.  While I’m not above eating the tuna, salmon or sardines (I won’t do this with anchovies) out of the can like I used to, try this for a different way to enjoy it.

1 canned tuna + ½ can of #1 (drained and rinsed) + 1 TBS balsamic vinaigrette we are partial to (http://www.IWantMohrPlease.com) but you can also just drizzle with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and add a sprinkle of dried oregano and dried basil.

 

4. Protein Powder.  Hey, nothing unique here but particularly important in a pinch.  The favorite in the Mohr house is NOW Grass Fed Whey protein (my one daughter and I are chocolate fans, while my wife and our older daughter are 100% vanilla).  Regardless, it gives a solid dose of high quality protein and then can be mixed and matched with so much other goodness, it’s a great go to when fresh food isn’t quite as abundant as normal.  

1 scoop protein powder + ½-1 cup milk (or water) + 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit + 1 large handful spinach, if you have it.  Blend together and enjoy.   

5. Rolled Oats 

Another high quality, inexpensive source of nutrition, rolled oats are not only uber shelf stable, but can work anytime you’re in a pinch…and even if you run out of your favorite milk product.  Yes, you can make it with water. While that may sound like doom and gloom and you now have to turn to rationing out porridge (or oats), hold up. In and of itself oats are loaded with a unique type of satiating fiber, offers some protein and is very inexpensive.  By itself you may think it’s boring, but if you have some milk, try this recipe for something a bit more exciting (and if you don’t have milk, you can do the same with yogurt).

½ cup rolled oats + 1 cup milk + ¼ cup raisins.  Mix together the evening before you want to enjoy it, then have it the next morning – no cooking needed.  Bonus if you have hemp, chia or flax seeds, fresh or frozen fruit to mix in as well. And if you want added protein, mix in a scoop of #4.

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