While research from the Food Marketing Institute suggests that there has been an uptick in home cooking during the last year, it took a pandemic to motivate most of us to dust off our pots and pans and peek inside our cupboards for ingredients to whip together for dinner. Personally, I view this temporary situation as, when life gives you lemons, you make lemon zest.
Research is continually supporting the health and mental benefits of breaking bread with others. Homemade dinners tend to contain more heart-healthy fruits and veggies and bonding with others when dining can provide rich emotional support.
To help you during this temporary new norm, I reached out to my dietitian pals to come up with 12 healthy, easy meals using many items that you may already have or can easily get.
Personally, my favorite quick dinner pick is well, breakfast. In my house, a bowl of cereal, topped with protein-rich nuts, doused with skim milk and topped with sweet chopped dates or raisins — all of which are likely in your kitchen — provides a healthy meal with a variety of the food groups. It’s a plant-forward, heart-healthy meal with zippo cleanup.
[See: 10 Cheap Plant-Based Meals.]
Here are 12 other meal ideas using basic pantry staples:
1. Crockpot ham combo.
2. DIY family taco night.
3. Pasta with chicken and veggies.
4. Burrito bowl with shrimp.
5. California tuna avocado burgers.
6. Salmon cakes with yogurt herb dressing.
7. Pesto pasta salad.
8. Deli meat sushi.
9. One-pot lentils.
10. Pizza night.
11. Dinner in a bowl.
12. Stir fry on the fly.
Crockpot Ham Combo
In a crockpot, combine pre-cooked, cubed ham (you can get this from the deli or the prepackaged, cold cuts section of your supermarket), drained canned red beans, canned tomatoes with chilies, a bag of frozen, prechopped onion and bell pepper combination, and some uncooked rice. Simmer on low for about 6 hours. This inexpensive, high-fiber meal will feed an army.
–From Angela Lemond, an Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics media spokesperson and owner of Lemon Nutrition.
DYI Family Taco Night
Set up your kitchen like a restaurant taco buffet table for an interactive family meal. Add a can of drained black beans and a jar of your favorite salsa to a saucepan of cooked lean ground beef, ground turkey breast and/or soy crumbles. Set up separate dishes of corn taco shells, whole grain burrito wraps, diced lettuce, chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), a diced avocado, chopped onions, pickled jalapenos, plain yogurt, grated cheddar cheese and salsa. It’s a fun way to engage the entire family.
–From Christine Rosenbloom, RND and author of “Food & Fitness After 50.”
Pasta with Chicken and Veggies
Toss cooked pasta with cooked frozen mixed vegetables, and a drained can of chicken chunks. Add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese over each serving. This healthy meal is so satisfying that you won’t need to munch in between.
–From Toby Amidor, an award-winning nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal bestselling cookbook author of “The Create-Your-Plate Diabetes Cookbook.”
Burrito Bowl with Shrimp
Create a protein-packed burrito bowl with layers of cooked brown rice, a can each of drained red kidney beans and corn, jarred salsa, shredded cheese, Greek yogurt and cooked frozen shrimp (thawed). Eating two fish meals a week is good for your heart.
–From Jill Weisenberger, RDN and author of “Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.”
California Tuna Avocado Burgers
Drain a couple of cans of tuna and combine them with breadcrumbs, eggs, a sprinkling of dried onion and dill seasonings. Mold the mixture into patties. Saute each burger in a fry pan with a tad of oil for about 4 minutes on each side. Serve on a sandwich bun topped with avocado and tomatoes slices for a satisfying dinner.
–From Elizabeth Ward, RDN and author of Betteristhenewperfect.com.
Salmon Cakes with Yogurt Herb Dressing
In a bowl, combine a large can of salmon with an egg or mayonnaise and breadcrumbs. Form about five patties with the mixture and refrigerate these cakes for 30 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, dried dill seasoning, salt and pepper. Refrigerate this topping to marinate flavors.
In a skillet, brown the cakes for about 4 minutes on one side until crispy, then gently flip the burger and cook the second side until crispy. Top each omega-3-rich patty with the herb dressing. Add a side salad for a vegetable boost.
–From Kathleen M. Zelman, nutrition communications consultant and Founder of No Nonsense Nutrition LLC.
Pesto Pasta Salad
For an easy dish with no food waste, blend cottage cheese with a few spoons of a jarred pesto sauce, frozen cooked peas, a can each of drained tuna and cannellini beans and cooked pasta in a large bowl. Any leftovers from this colorful, balanced meal is ideal for a cold dish the next day.
–From Leslie Bonci, owner of Active Eating Advice by Leslie.
Deli Meat “Sushi”
Prepared deli meats can be transformed into beefshi — a new twist on sushi — for a meal idea the family will finding entertaining. Place slices of your favorite prepared deli meats such as roast beef on a plate. Spread a very thin layer of either softened cream cheese or plain Greek yogurt across the meat slices and top with cooked rice, quinoa or any grain you have in your kitchen.
Top with a sprinkle of diced red and green peppers or rinsed, canned vegetables such as corn or peas. Roll up the meat slices, allowing the cream cheese or yogurt to help hold the rolls together. Then slice the rolls into pinwheels. The kids will love this.
–From Nancy Tringali Piho, dietitian at Good Food Nutrition Group in Washington, DC.
This meal can’t get any easier to pull together. In one pot, combine a can of lentil soup along with an additional can each of drained lentils and artichokes, as well as a bag of cooked frozen peas. Heat thoroughly and toss in some cooked pasta. Ladle it in a bowl and top with grated cheese. The ingredients in this pasta dish provide protein, fiber and plenty of as vitamin C, folate and potassium, all helping your body to function at its best.
-From Keri Gans, nutritionist and author of “The Small Change Diet.”
This veggie tortilla pizza is a healthy alternative to takeout. Lightly toast a high-fiber flatbread or large tortilla, and top it with marinara sauce, drained canned mushrooms, roasted red peppers from a jar and part-skim mozzarella cheese. Season with oregano, red pepper flakes and garlic powder for a spicy kick. Bake or toast the pizza until the cheese is melted and the edges are crispy. This is comfort food for kids of all ages.
–From Lauren Harris-Pincus, founder of NutritionStarringYOU and author of “The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.”
Dinner in a Bowl
Clean out your pantry and freezer by layering together a vegetarian grain bowl using whatever grains, couscous, rice or barley you have on hand, along with cooked frozen veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower, and a can each of rinsed chickpeas and drained olives. The olives will add healthy fat and flavor to this high-fiber meal.
–From Amy Gorin, a plant-forward registered dietitian nutritionist in the New York City area.
Stir Fry on the Fly
This prep-free meal will change how you stir fry forever. Stir fry together drained, canned pineapple chunks, thawed frozen shelled edamame and a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables, along with a sauce made from lower-sodium soy sauce, vegetable oil, ginger and garlic powder. Spoon the stir fry on a plate of cooked lentil pasta (or any grain, for that matter) and top it off with chopped nuts (such as almonds, peanuts or cashews). Everything in this meal is from shelf-stable foods.
–From Samantha Cassetty, a nutrition and wellness expert based in New York City.