Avoid Desperation With ‘Perfect Pantry’

— Written By Christine Smith and last updated by Diane Lynch

It’s 5:30 p.m. and you just turned into the driveway. Your daughter’s basketball practice is at 6:30, the Fund Raising Committee for PTA meets at your house at 7:00 and your spouse called and won’t get home until 6:00. Last night you had pizza delivered, the night before you picked up fried chicken on the way home. You don’t even have time to get carry-out. Can anybody relate to this? Sound vaguely familiar?

How do you feel about preparing dinner for yourself and family after a long day at work? If you are like most working mom’s contemplation of making dinner is overwhelming. The Perfect Pantry To The Rescue! The goal of the perfect pantry is to give you easy doable tips to help you organize, plan and prepare healthy, tasty meals. You don’t have to be a gourmet cook (or even a cook at all) to be able to kick the meal planner blues.

A well stocked pantry is the key to quick after-work meals. It can make the difference in a quick home cooked meal and a desperation call to the pizza delivery guy. Today we are going to show you how a little prior planning and having a few key ingredients in your freezer, refrigerator and your cabinets can change your dinner plans from take out to eat in. And help you to do it with a smile.

Let’s break this down to 3 easy steps to successful meals. Planning, shopping, and meal preparation.

The best way to begin the meal planning process is to make a list of the things you already make and your family likes. Make the list as complete as possible. Put down everything, no matter how simple it would be, like soup and sandwich. Once you have this list, post it inside one of your kitchen cabinets as a quick reminder of the variety of meals you might prepare. Change and add to the list often. We tend to get into patterns of making the same foods and simply forget some of the meals that we enjoy.

The plan starts with a skeleton meal pattern. Plan 5 entrees, then plan 5 grains, 5 fruits and 5 vegetables (do this twice for vegetables for a total of 10). Then mix and match for a weekly plan. You can do this on paper to get started then you may be able to do this in your head. It may sound complicated at first but the payoff is well worth it.

Dinners don’t always have to be by the book. Think outside the box…or should we say think outside the plate? Who says breakfast is the first meal of the day. Why not start a breakfast at night tradition:  breakfast at 6:00 or even a sandwich night. Most breakfast foods are quick to prepare, nutritious and well-liked. You can make it real simple with ham, eggs, toast and applesauce in about 15 minutes.

Shopping – Stocking the perfect pantry. A well-stocked pantry is like money in the bank: The best way to ensure you have everything you need to prepare delicious meals is to keep a well-stocked pantry. With the right long-lasting staples, you can take advantage of fresh, seasonal foods and impulse purchases or try a new recipe without having to scout out every last ingredient. Include salad in a bag, fresh fruits and vegetables, 100% juice, lite and reduced dairy products, ready to cook chicken, pasta, rice, spaghetti sauce, canned fruit, and vegetables.

Meal Preparation. This is your opportunity to dust off some of the time saver cooking equipment you have to make meals in minutes fit for a king. Utilize the microwave, crockpot, counter-top grill, wok, and slow cooker more often. You can also use prepared, partially prepared, or even fully prepared foods which are good time savers. Try roasted chicken from the grocery plus a salad and whole grain bread to make a great meal. What about frozen vegetables and chicken strips to make a quick stir fry for a quick and easy meal. It may cost more to buy “convenience” foods but it costs less than fast-food takeout.

When you cook at home you can prepare healthy, nourishing meals using quality, fresh ingredients—much better than prepared food that is often loaded with calories, fats, sodium and added sweeteners. Start now stocking your pantry with healthy options so that you can prepare meals that are healthy, and taste good, and can be prepared in just a few minutes!

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Christine W. Smith
Extension Agent
Family and Consumer Sciences
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC  27533
E-Mail: Christine_Smith@ncsu.edu
Phone: 919-731-1525
Fax: 919-731-1511