15 Pantry Staples for 15-minute Dinners

I have a treat for you guys today – extremely easy throw together meal ideas using pantry (and freezer) staples that you can always keep on hand! As you all know, I am a huge fan of healthy dinners that can be on the table in 15 minutes. The less time spent hovering over the stove at the end of the day, the better! I hear all the time from AnneTheRD nutrition clients that they don’t have time to cook a healthy dinner every night or that they don’t buy fresh veggies because they’ll go bad before they figure out how to cook them.

Well, my friends, I have a solution! Keep these 15 staples on hand all the time to make 15 minute dinners any night of the week. While they’re not all technically “pantry” staples, nothing in this list will go bad before you get the chance to cook it, so you don’t have to worry about planning way ahead for dinner. I’ll include some of my favorite recipes that use these ingredients as part of the round up, or scroll down to the very end of the post to see meal ideas that can be made using entirely pantry staples. Enjoy!

1. Instant Brown Rice

90-second microwaveable pouches of brown rice are probably my favorite healthy-in-a-hurry meal hack. They’re the easiest way to add whole grains to your meal in no time at all! I keep a few pouches on hand at all times to use as a side dish for some of my favorite entrees like my Salmon with Lemon Mustard Dill Sauce.

2. Spices

Spices add tons of flavor to a dish instantly – without packing on salt, sugar, etc. Keeping your spice cabinet stocked means you’ll have flavorful meals at your fingertips every night. Here are my favorite versatile spices for quick dinners:

3. Canned Beans

Beans are packed with protein and fiber, making them great additions for balanced vegetarian meals. I keep chickpeas, black beans, white beans, and kidney beans on hand to mix and match for versatile meals! Kidney beans and black beans make my Butternut Squash and Turkey Chili super quick, filling, and delicious!

4. Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables have all the same health benefits as fresh vegetables (as long as you buy plain frozen veggies without salt and sauces added) – but they’re often cheaper, already chopped up, and they certainly last a lot longer before going bad. That makes them perfect for veggie-packed meals without a ton of effort!

5. Canned Seafood

You probably know by now that I am a huge fan of canned seafood. It’s chock full of protein, vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats, but is already prepared and ready to go! I love making my Healthy Tuna Salad to top a green salad for instant protein. My Salmon and Brown Rice Cakes with Fresh Salsa use both canned salmon and instant brown rice for a super quick dinner, and I promise you’ll be a canned sardine convert once you try my Scandinavian Sardine Sandwiches!

6. Eggs

Even though eggs don’t sit on your pantry shelf, they have a long shelf life and are a high-quality protein source that can be prepared in many ways! Their versatility (and deliciousness) make them perfect for on-the-spot dinners. My Scrambled Egg Muffins work just as well for an easy dinner as they do for a make-ahead breakfast!

7. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple in any kitchen – it’s great for sauteing, roasting, or making salad dressings, and it’s full of healthy unsaturated fats. I like to keep a basic lighter-colored olive oil around for cooking, and one bolder one on hand to add lots of flavor to salads and simple pasta dishes.

8. Canned Tomatoes

I use canned tomatoes all the time to add body to some of my favorite stews and chilis. I used canned tomato sauce in my Veggie-tastic Minestrone Soup, and diced tomatoes in pretty much every chili I make, including my Turkey, Veggie, and Barley Chili – so satisfying!

9. Whole Wheat (or Alternative Grain) Pasta

Pasta is a classic quick-cooking go-to dinner. But using whole wheat or alternative grain (like brown rice or quinoa) pasta over the regular stuff means you’re getting in more fiber and nutrients, too. I love whole wheat rigatoni in my Healthy Tuna Noodle Casserole and Rigatoni with Slow Cooker Stewed Lamb and Veggies.

10. Jarred Salsa

I love using jarred salsa to add a spicy Mexican twist to meals without having to buy all the flavorful ingredients separately. I use salsa in meals like my Mexican Lasagna and Quinoa Taco Salad for an awesome flavor shortcut!

11. Low Sodium Soy Sauce

Rather than just sprinkling regular salt, I like to use soy sauce because it adds lots of flavor at the same time. It adds a savory Asian flair to dishes like my Sheet Pan Asian Salmon with Veggies and Peanut Noodles with Tilapia.

12. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making them a great base for meals. Even though they can take a while to cook in the oven, you can use a fork to poke a few holes in the skin and make microwave “baked” sweet potatoes in just 5 or 6 minutes! They’re key to my Sweet Potato and Lentil Chili (I love this recipe because it makes a ton – and the leftovers are so good!) and super-easy Spiced Mashed Sweet Potatoes (you could totally use the microwave trick to speed this one up even more).

13. Coconut Milk

Coconut milk adds richness and creaminess to dishes while keeping them dairy free (and keeping you from ending up with spoiled dairy). It works great in dishes with an Asian flair, like my fast Thai Coconut Chicken Soup, or as a vegan cream alternative in my Creamy Garlic and Herb Pasta (which also uses frozen peas for a veggie boost!).

14. Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar adds great tangy flavor to dishes. I love making a simple vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard, and balsamic vinegar, or adding it to tomato sauces for extra richness.

15. Low Sodium Chicken or Veggie Broth

Adding broth to soups and stews instead of water adds a ton of flavor without taking any more time. Look for low sodium broths to keep the salt level in check, and keep a few containers on hand!

Now, what meals can you make using mostly these staples/that don’t require lots of extras? Here are some of my favorites!

  • Black Bean Chili: Heat drained black beans, canned diced tomatoes, salsa, frozen corn, chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika in a pot and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve over instant brown rice.
  • Quick Fried Rice: Saute frozen shelled edamame, brown rice, and mixed veggies in olive oil with a splash of soy sauce. Stir in beaten eggs; cook until the egg is scrambled and cooked through.
  • Curried Chickpeas and Spinach: Heat drained chickpeas, coconut milk, diced tomatoes, frozen chopped spinach, curry powder, and garlic powder in a pot and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Serve over instant brown rice.
  • Mediterranean Tuna, White Bean and Spinach Pasta: Cook pasta according to package. Drain, then add the pasta back into the hot pan with frozen chopped spinach, drained white beans, canned tuna, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
  • Loaded “Baked” Sweet Potatoes: Poke holes in whole sweet potatoes with a fork, then microwave for 6 minutes or so, until tender. Split them open and fill with drained black beans, salsa, and thawed frozen veggies.
  • Quick Minestrone Soup: Cook pasta in a large pot of chicken or veggie stock. When there’s just a few minutes left in the cook time, add in kidney beans, frozen mixed veggies, garlic powder, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Keep cooking until the pasta is done and everything is heated through.
  • Curried Sweet Potato Soup: Poke holes in whole sweet potatoes with a fork, then microwave for 6 minutes or so, until tender. Scoop out the flesh and add it to a blender with coconut milk, chicken or veggie broth, curry powder, garlic powder, cumin, and a splash of soy sauce. Blend until smooth, then heat in a pan until heated through.
  • Mexican Baked Eggs: Stir together drained black beans, salsa, and frozen mixed veggies in a baking dish. Make wells in the mixture and crack eggs into the wells. Bake at 375 until everything is heated and the egg whites are cooked through (I like this with a runny yolk, but you can totally bake it until the egg yolks are cooked through, too!)

What ingredients do you always have in your pantry?

Any other pantry staple throw together favorite meal ideas to share?


  1. 1

    This is great!

    (I’d also love to see a “behind the scenes” for this post (or the one about the Avocado toast!) your pictures are great, and it shows that you spent a long time developing int!

  2. 3

    I usually have at least 10 of these items always on hand. It really has made my life easier. I meal plan, but usually only during the week and have to wing it by friday. you can definitely make a lot out of these things!

  3. 4

    I have almost every single one of these on hand especially the beans with no salt added. I always have a good flavored olive oil (garlic is my favorite with tuscan herb a close second) as it can enhance food and vegetables so quickly by sauteeing in it or topping it lightly at the end. My other go to is storing parmesan cheese in the freezer to grate over a dish whenever it needs a little touch of something.

  4. 6

    Great post Anne! I’m eating an unusually large amount of tuna from a can these days. I find it’s the perfect post gym snack for me and it’s easy. Touch of vinegar and black pepper and I’m happy, haha!

  5. 8

    What a great list and resource!! I always try to have canned beans and lentils on hand as well as potatoes, onions, spices, and vegetable broth. Tamari and nut butter as well as rice noodles and frozen stir fry veggies are a life saver during the week too!

  6. 10

    oh man – the rice, tuna, salsa, eggs and olive oil all make many appearances throughout the week at our house!
    Lately, one of my favourite oops-I-don’t-have-time lunches is a bag of pre-washed salad + 1/2 avocado + big scoop of hummus + fresh salsa. Bonus if you have tuna or beans to add for some protein!!

  7. 12

    Oh yes to all of these! Spices are the best. I’m currently loving cumin and turmeric. Eggs are a MUST for me- I never get sick of eggs! I also always have parmesan sprinkles because everything is better with cheese :D

  8. 14

    Anne, this post is awesome. Thank you!

  9. 16

    That is pretty much my weekly grocery list :) I usually add onions (for cooking), regular whole milk and breakfast food (yogurt for my husband, oatmeal for me)

  10. 18

    This is such an awesome list!

  11. 20

    thank you for sharing these!!!! canned beans, sweet potatoes and rice have all been lifesavers for me, but i haven’t really added the others into my weekly dinners, which i’m always pressed for time to make!

  12. 21

    What kind of salsa do you use? I find most jarred salsas to be way too sweet for my taste. I like the fresh pico de gallo style but that tends to go bad pretty quickly.

  13. 23

    Yes to every single one of these! Often times we look in the cabinet and feel like we have no food but if you got rice, eggs and frozen veggies you are good to go! Soy sauce and spices can flavor that combo!


  1. […] This dish is great with a whole grain on the side, like quinoa or brown rice. I usually serve it with 90-second instant brown rice, my all-time favorite healthy dinner shortcut! […]

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