The Dinner Table: Supportive Pantry & Easy Meals

What’s in Your Pantry?

If it is 5:45pm and I just got home from work and we have no plan for dinner, what I have on hand will make or break my evening plans… Having a pantry full of staples to help make a simple and healthy meal at home at any moment is crucial. Here is my go-to list for a supportive pantry and a handful of meal ideas too…[/caption]

Creating a healthy home is often about a series of small choices we make every day. In the moment when our kids ask for snack food before dinner, do we say yes or no?  In the moment when deciding what to make for dinner, do we run out and grab some burgers or stay home and cook?  Small decisions made under pressure occur countless times a day.

The question, then, is how do we set ourselves up for making more healthy choices and fewer unhealthy ones in those moments?

Healthy decisions are either supported or thwarted by some pattern in our lives. Whether I decide to have family dinner or not is often dependent on how much mail I have piled on my kitchen table, or if I have any clean dishes, or very often on whether I have anything in my pantry to make a quick and healthy meal…

If it is 5:45pm and I just got home from work and we have no plan for dinner, what I have on hand will make or break my evening plans. Will I go out and spend too much money eating unhealthy food and get home too late for a reasonable bedtime, or can I pull together something from what is on hand that nourishes my family, keeps us engaged with each other and saves some money? Can I set myself up for more healthy decisions and more family dinners  by keeping enough food on hand to make a meal at home at any moment?

So here is my go-to list for a supportive pantry:

  • Garbonzo beans
  • Black beans
  • Quinoa
  • Brown & White Rice – (Brown when I have a little more time. White when I have no time at all.)
  • Tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • Can or box of tomato soup or any other kinds of soup
  • Pasta
  • Tuna fish
  • Olives
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Apples
  • Almonds
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Eggs
  • Frozen peas
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Brewers yeast (This is my soup starter.)

And here is my handful of meals that I go to from what is in my pantry. I can make anything on this list in 20-25 minutes and tide the kids over while they are waiting with some frozen peas, frozen blueberries, slices of cheese or almonds and apples:

  • Tuna melts
  • Black beans and rice
  • Quinoa and peas
  • Pasta with sauce
  • Mac and cheese and peas and tuna
  • Grilled cheese with pickles and olives and tomato soup
  • Hummus and carrots
  • Fried rice
  • Omelets with whatever is around
  • Smoothies

Making family dinner a reliable, sustainable and not-so-stressed part of my life is about a few well-placed structures.  It is the little shifts we make as parents that help us make healthy decisions and fewer of the not-so-healthy ones.  Stock up, keep a list of your go-to recipes, and tide them over with something healthy while you cook.


John SarroufJohn Sarrouf

John is a father of two – Elijah (8) & Esme (5) – and the director of The Family Dinner Project, a grassroots movement of food, fun and conversation about things that matter based in Watertown, MA.  John is a professional mediator and dialogue facilitator who spends much of his time leading conversations with parents and families about the opportunities and challenges of family dinners.

[Photo provided courtesy of]

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