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Michelle Fern Michelle Fern
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edge staff writer


Kitchen must-haves

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One thing I struggle with every day is the family asking 'What's for dinner?' I don't think I'm alone here; it seems to be a common dilemma among many people, especially those who are part of a two-income family.

I usually wait until 5 p.m. to think about what I'm going to make for that night's dinner. Even when I have something in mind, I usually don't have one or two of the ingredients. Lately, I've tried to keep certain staples in the house to ensure that I have the basics to make a simple dinner.

Here are some common staples to keep stocked in your home to make dinner preparation a breeze:

  • Canned beans - A great source of protein and fiber, canned beans are quick, easy, and inexpensive. Add them to soups, ethnic dishes or salads. Canned beans are full of sodium so rinse them well to reduce the sodium content.
  • Dried and canned fruit  Fresh fruit would be better, but in my house it often goes bad before we can use all of it. Canned and dried fruit are rich in nutrients, antioxidants and fiber. It's best to buy canned fruit without sugar or syrups. You can add dried fruits to salads or make your own trail mix by adding granola and nuts.
  • Oatmeal  If you have kids, quick-cooking oats are a must for any mom. You simply add fruits, honey and nuts to create a filling meal. And oatmeal is not just for breakfast; it also makes a great lunch or even dinner if your children aren't fond of liver and onions. Let's not forget it makes some pretty tasty cookies, too! 
  • Olive Oil - Extra virgin olive oil is on the healthier side of fats in that it is full of antioxidants and vitamin E. Use it to dress salads, put it on pasta or crusty bread for a great Italian flavor, and even to saut meat and vegetables.
  • Pasta  Pasta is one of the most versatile ingredients in any dish. It adds interest to all meats and vegetables with its various shapes, sizes, and colors. Go extra healthy and buy whole-grain pastas for maximum nutrition to add to soups, salads, or casseroles. My favorite is to top pasta with some tomato sauce and call it dinner.
  • Peanut Butter  As long as no one in your house has a nut allergy, peanut butter can become a pantry favorite. It sounds silly to say that peanut butter should be staple in the household, but it makes a great sandwich and can also be used on celery, apples, and bananas to provide a healthy protein. My favorite option: Add it to ice cream for a delicious dessert.
  • Potatoes  This starch is a basic staple for any household. Baked sweet potatoes are low in calories, high in fiber and vitamins, and delicious when sprinkled with cinnamon. Bake white or sweet potato fries for a dish that everyone will love and you can feel good about. Or top a baked potato with whatever you have on hand, including leftover chili, veggies, salsa or cheese. 
  • Whole Grains - Add bulk to your meal with whole grains like rice (brown or white) or couscous. These quick-cooking grains work well as a side dish with meat, chicken or fish. You can also add in some vegetables and nuts and let your grains steal the dinner show. They also make great additions to broth for a quick soup.
  • Soup and Stock - A can of soup can make a decent dinner in a pinch. Manufacturers also make soups in healthier prepackaged versions with dried vegetables and seasonings that allow you to just add meat and broth. Always keep chicken, beef, or vegetable stock/broth on hand to use as a base for a quick soup or sauce. You can even jazz up your rice or mashed potatoes with it.
  • Spices - Salt and pepper are the two kitchen stars, but keeping a range of dried spices such as basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cumin, chili powder and paprika will add a ton of flavor to your cooking. You should replace your dried herbs and spices after six months, so buy them in small quantities unless you know you'll use them often. I will confess that I do have some that are a few years old they don't go bad but simply do not keep their best flavor.
  • Tomato Sauce and Tomatoes  Tomato sauce can create an easily-prepared marinara sauce to transform vegetables, meats, and pasta. Use it on everything from pizzas to meatloaf, or just pour some over a plate of spaghetti. I love to use crushed tomatoes on pasta with some fresh parmesan.


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