November 21, 2013 by Caroline Mincks
Anyone with responsibilities that go beyond “wake up” can tell you that it’s not easy to consistently serve tasty, filling meals with at least some nutritional value that take little skill or time to make. It took me a while to figure out a semi-decent system, but there are a few things I try to always have in the kitchen to make life a little easier!
Bless the banana. A yummy, easy-to-peel fruit with a ton of potassium that keeps you full for ages. Running low on time? Smear peanut butter on a banana for breakfast. Want something akin to ice cream that won’t fill you with regret? Mix frozen bananas and peanut butter in a blender and pretend really, really hard. Cookies for you? Mash up some bananas and quick oats, add some flair like chocolate chips, coconut, peanut butter, etc. and bake for 15 minutes at 350. Cookies for your picky kid? See here. Bananas make great stand-ins for missing ingredients while baking, too. And the best part? They’re cheap. Organic produce can sometimes be pretty expensive, but I bought about $4 worth of organic bananas the other day and had more than enough to get us through a week of breakfasts plus make a loaf of banana bread.
2. Frozen vegetables
Fresh is your friend, but frozen is a good buddy too. If you have the time and desire, you can easily freeze your own vegetables by blanching them first. It’s a great way to ensure nothing goes to waste, and it makes cooking a lot easier. Throw a bunch of veggies into a skillet, add some protein and spices, and you’re good to go. I sometimes take advantage of sales and buy a whole bunch of vegetables, then freeze them in blends I can use for soup, stew, stir-fry, etc. so that all I have to do is grab a bag and toss it in the crock pot. They’re also nice to have around for a quick side dish without the fuss.
3. Crescent rolls
I know, I know. They’re terrible for you. But it’s hard to deny how convenient they are, so when I’m in a pinch or on my own, they make a nice go-to. I’ll whip up some kind of filling (cream cheese, shredded chicken, pineapple, and jalapenos is a favorite, though you can also use jelly or even chocolate for a yummy breakfast treat), stuff them, bake, and enjoy. The Immaculate Baking Company makes some that I feel better about eating and sharing, but they’re a good deal more expensive. I haven’t yet attempted to make crescent rolls from scratch, but I may try in the future to see if it’s worth a little extra work.
4. Seasoning and sauce mixes
A little packet of curry sauce powder (I usually get Colman’s) can be a lifesaver for an otherwise bland meal or an otherwise uninspired house spouse. I can’t tell you how often I find myself just sort of vaguely wandering around my kitchen, trying to figure out how to make an interesting dinner, but having no ideas until I see taco seasoning or something. I don’t always have store-bought packets on hand – sometimes I’ll figure out the blend and balance I like and make some of my own – but whatever form they come in, they make life so much easier.
5. Sweet potatoes
We all know about the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes, so I like to make sure I have some in the house for a healthier meal! I make baked fries, mash them, bake and stuff them, add them to my peanut butter chili, the list goes on. Of course, they can also be turned into several different kinds of dessert, which is always a plus, and by pureeing the everloving out of a sweet potato, it becomes easy to sneak into a picky toddler’s food. I even mixed some pureed sweet potato into Ethan’s spaghetti sauce one night and he gobbled it up without a fuss! When I’m in a pinch, I love to just toss a sweet potato into the oven, grab a few toppings (black beans and a little sour cream play against the sweetness really well), and enjoy. The pretty orange color also looks lively on a plate, so even a fairly boring meal at least looks a little more interesting when you use sweet potatoes instead of white.
What do you keep on hand in your kitchen?