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Organize Your Life: 12 Pantry Staples to Make Family Mealtime a Breeze

Mar 29 2013 - 9:22am

Whether you have a full-time job or are a stay-at-home mama, one dilemma faces you every single day: what's for dinner? Make the answer easy by stocking your pantry [1] with 12 staples, all sure to make mealtime a breeze. From fruits that stay fresh all year round to filling items like beans and pasta, these items are a must have for any time-strapped mom.

Canned Beans

A great source of protein and fiber, canned beans are are quick, easy, and inexpensive. Add them to soups, Mexican dishes, or salads, but be sure to rinse thoroughly first. A good rinse can cut beans' sodium content drastically!

Dried and Canned Fruit

Yes, it would be nice to have fresh fruit always stocked in the fridge, but when it's out of season or you've just run out, canned and dried fruit are a must have, still rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Pick up canned fruit without sugar or syrups (unlike the pears shown left), and it will be just as nutritious as its frozen or fresh cousins and will make a great snack or dessert. Add dried fruits to salads or make your own trail mix by adding granola and nuts.


Quick-cooking oats are a must for any mom with lil ones. Pick up baby-friendly versions to please developing palates, and for older kids, jazz up oatmeal with fruits, honey, and nuts for a filling meal. Of course, it makes up the base of some pretty good cookies, too!

Olive Oil

A staple of cooking, extra virgin olive oil is a healthy fat full of antioxidants and vitamin E. Use it to dress salads, on pasta or crusty bread for Italian flavor, and to sauté meat and vegetables.


An incredibly versatile ingredient, pasta adds interest to all meats and vegetables with its various shapes, sizes, and colors. Choose whole-grain pastas for maximum nutrition and add to soups, salads, or casseroles. Or just top your pasta with tomato sauce and call it dinner!

Peanut Butter

No nut allergies [2] in your house? Then peanut butter can become your pantry superstar. Yes, it makes a great sandwich, but also use it on celery, apples, and bananas to give your kids a does of protein and healthy fats. Or, my favorite option: add it to a fruit smoothie for a delicious breakfast or dessert.


The humble potato is a must for any pantry. 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 kids 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 brown rice, couscous, bulgur, and quinoa. These quick-cooking grains work as a side dish with meat, chicken, or fish, or add in some vegetables and nuts and let your grains steal the dinner show.

Soup and Stock

A can of Campbell's soup can make a decent dinner in a pinch, but you'll find tons of organic, low-sodium, and richly flavored options out there, too. Also keep chicken, beef, or vegetable stock on hand to use as a base for a quick soup or sauce.


Salt and pepper are the two kitchen stars, but keeping a range of dried spices — some favorites include basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cumin, chili powder, and paprika — will add a ton of flavor to your cooking. Dried herbs and spices should be replaced after six months, so buy them in small quantities unless you know you'll use them often.

Tomato Sauce

Prepared marinara sauce is a speedy way to transform vegetables, meats, and pasta. Use it on everything from pizzas to meatloaf, or just pour some over a plate of spaghetti. Add flavor and nutrition to jarred sauces with herbs and veggies.

Vinegar and Sauces

Liquid condiments like balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, Worcestershire, soy sauce, and hot sauce add tons of flavor to salad dressings, soups, rice and bean dishes, and more.

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