The Secret to Quick Healthy Family Meals

The best meals are home-cooked and enjoyed by the whole family. And when you are pressed for time but want to cook a healthy, delicious meal, a stock of nonperishable — and a few refrigerated and frozen — items can save the day (or at least, dinner). You’ll be able to whip up a family meal in a snap.

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Think of a stocked pantry as a larder — a supply — of staples that will provide convenience and protection against unexpected events. Here are the most helpful to keep on hand, and a few suggestions about easy ways to employ them:


This low-cost protein-rich food can’t be beat not only for breakfast, but salads (slip a sunny-side egg over each salad serving to make it a main dish), plus quick dinner omelets and frittatas.

Frozen vegetables and fruits

Keep your freezer stocked with peas, beans, corn, berries and peaches.  Fresh foods are picked at their peak and flash-frozen right away, so there is no lack of nutrition with these items and they will store longer than fresh. You can have have steamed vegetables at the ready to mix with pasta or serve on their own, and there will be fruit for breakfasts and impromptu desserts.

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Keep a few on your counter to add to oatmeal or cold cereal, for snacks, and for smoothies.

Plain yogurt

Use in mixing pancake batters, topping cereal and chili, soups. Great for snacks, mixed with thawed frozen fruit and honey.

Low-sugar whole-grain cereals

Great for breakfast, snacks, even lunch and dinner in a pinch! Plus, they make crunchy toppings for baked apples or thawed frozen fruits for dessert.

Dried or canned beans

A low-cost vegetarian protein source; stock black, garbanzo, red kidney, and navy. Cans are fine, but remember that dry lentils don’t need presoaking, so they’re quick even dried. Having beans and lentils on hand makes it easy to cook up quick burritos, chili, soups, bean/rice/veggie bowls, and, with some tahini, homemade hummus (try it and you won’t go back).

Broth and Stocks

You’ll come to rely on cans or boxes of vegetable, chicken, and beef broth/stock, or broth cubes for quick soups and stews, deglazing pan-cooked chicken, and adding nutrition and flavor to rice and other grains.

Brown rice and quinoa

Both are good sources of protein. A bowl of brown rice with almond milk, raisins, and nuts makes a delicious nutritious breakfast. Mix in veggies to a bowl of rice for lunch, a stir-fry for dinner.


Great to have on hand for breakfast, cookies and cobblers.


Have the basics on hand for adding layers of flavor: chili powder, curry powder, cumin, dried thyme and oregano, cinnamon, sea salt, peppercorns.

Canned diced tomatoes

Make quick pasta sauces and soups, or add sautéed vegetables and serve over leftover meats.


Mix garlic, lemon, crushed red pepper with cooked spaghetti and tuna; mix with parsley, celery, olive oil, and lemon and top baguette toasts or crackers, mix with garbanzo beans and crisp vegetables for salad.


Mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, honey, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce.


Extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil for sautéing foods.

Nuts and seeds 

Almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds for snacking and sprinkling on cereal, vegetables, salads, and more.


These little containers of artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, olives, and capers are wonders in dressing up simple foods.

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Food writer Debby Maugans, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, is the author of Small Batch Baking and Small Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers, and is writing a new book, Farmer and Chef Asheville.