Heather Gottfried keeps a well-stocked pantry, as well as some quick cooking essentials, such as chicken breasts, shrimp, veggies and fruit, in the freezer.
"Aside from the stocked freezer, we always have whole wheat pastas, minute brown rice, canned beans, tuna in water, low sodium chicken stock and canned fruit in water on hand," she says.
Other shelf stable items to consider are tomatoes (whole, diced, crushed, sauce, paste), quinoa, bulgur, couscous, extra virgin olive oil, canned salmon, olives and Arborio rice. One fridge "must" is a hard cheese, such as Romano, for grating.
Make food do double duty
Rethink what's left of those roasted vegetables from one night, tossing them with spaghetti and cooked crumbled sausage the next. This is not leftovers. It's a whole new supper.
"When cooking, especially on the weekends, I try to make things that will stretch to another couple of meals," says Gottfried, a busy working mother of a second-grade girl. "A roasted chicken one night can turn into chicken fajitas another night and reappear again as chicken noodle soup later in the week."
Other ideas might include:
Microwave a baked potato and top it with canned (vegetarian) chili and grated cheese. Or top it with cottage cheese.
Tuna noodle casserole can be made in minutes with whole grain noodles, frozen peas and canned tuna. Or make tuna melts with reduced-fat cheese on whole wheat bread.
Once in a while, breakfast for dinner is a hit with the kids. "Eggs can be made into a quick omelet or frittata with veggies or even just scrambled," suggests Gottfried. Include fruit and/or vegetables and milk.
Make a fast stir fry. Combine frozen Asian vegetable stir-fry mix, leftover chicken and serve over quick-cooking brown rice.
Have a "clean out the refrigerator" night. Take out the leftover dribs and drabs, spread out on the kitchen counter and call it your buffet.
When you're prepared with versatile ingredients in your pantry, the daily stress of deciding what to eat at the last minute will be replaced by the peace of mind of having nourishing meal fixings at the ready.
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.