Pantry Staples for Great Family Meals During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Pantry Staples for Great Family Meals During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Kelly Wannier, Guest Blogger

It’s official. We’re all getting used to staying home due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

It’s been challenging (hello full-time job and full-time parenting duties!) But, there have also been some wonderful moments. For example, I witnessed my son’s first steps – which I know he would have saved for daycare! Plus, I’m learning how to cope with difficult situations and help my kids navigate anxiety

Along those lines, I’ve learned that I can create some fun, creative things for my kids to do and thrive. I’ve also come to realize that we don’t have to be busy all the time. We can, in fact, be bored. That’s not to say that I don’t have moments when I want to tear my hair out. I have two boys, ages one and three…the impulse to tear my hair out is a way of life.

And, while we can still make the trek to the grocery store in Boston, it obviously comes with risks each time we enter a public indoor space. So, as much as I can, I’m minimizing my footprint into public spaces. You know what also helps? Building up pantry staples of kid-friendly items that I can keep on hand so that I don’t need to go to the store as often. 

Here are 4 categories of items I suggest to stock your pantry for family meals:

Grains and Dried Goods

  • Oats
  • Brown rice 
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Dried or canned beans

Vegetables and Fresh Goods

  • Diced tomatoes
  • Onions
  • Potatoes / sweet potatoes
  • Vegetable broth
  • Frozen broccoli

Meat and Dairy (you can freeze all of these!)

  • Chicken thighs
  • Ground beef or turkey
  • Cheese 

Other Pantry Staples

  • Peanut butter (or other nut butters)
  • Little Pickins (Ahem…)
  • Wine (need I explain?)

Once you are stocked up on the basics, reference the 5 recipes below for some yummy go-tos that don’t require a lot of ingredients, include pantry items that are easily swappable, and are nutritionally packed

1. Black bean burgers

If you were one of the many who bought cans of beans (hello, me) when you heard we’d be indoors for the long-haul, perhaps you don’t know what to do with them. I am not clear why I bought 10 cans of beans when my kids aren’t fans, but here we are. 

Luckily, there’s a workaround for these beans and it only requires five ingredients. Check out black bean burgers! They are indulgent yet pack a punch of nutrition. They are also kid craveable, and if you don’t have lime juice, skip it! 

2. One sheet pan chicken

At the end of a day of parenting and working full-time (we are being awarded gold medals at the end of all of this, right?) I don’t want to do dishes. Well, let’s be honest: I also didn’t want to do dishes pre-pandemic, but that apathy for cleaning has only increased. 

While I want my kids to eat a complete meal full of protein, veggies and healthy carbs, I don’t want to do a hundred dishes at the end of it. That’s one of the many reasons I love this one sheet pan chicken. The last time I made this I didn’t have broccoli and used carrots instead! 

3. Simple pasta – taken up a notch

I am all about the simple dish: pasta sauce and noodles. Everyone likes it. Everyone eats it. All are satisfied. What I’m not crazy about is the lack of veggies and protein or – if I’m really dedicated to packing in nutrition – the time involved to cut up a million vegetables. Little Pickins (my third baby, ehem company) makes pre-cooked and frozen nutrient dense finger food. It’s a great healthy option for busy parents. 

Little Pickins also provides recipes on how to use the finger food with a ton of veggies, lots of fiber, and healthy protein – in a format for the entire family. Heat up nine Pickins in a pan, breaking them apart, then add a pasta sauce the family loves. Voila: You have a nutritional and easy option for dinner that all family members can enjoy. And if you don’t have Pickins (cry…), throw in some ground beef or turkey and minced vegetables instead. You’ll be surprised at the vegetable load you can hide in pasta sauce!

4. No bake peanut butter balls

I need recipes that allow for flexibility; it’s an everyday occurrence in my household where I’ve forgotten at least one ingredient that a recipe calls for. [Side note: let us all join together in a movement to pick one kind of oil to be used in all recipes and call it a day!] 

This recipe for No bake Peanut Butter Balls, or as I call them, please-stop-me-from-eating-all-of-them balls, is so easy to modify with whatever you have in your pantry. The basics you need are oats and a nut-butter. I’ve used flaxseed in lieu of chia seeds, cranberries instead of raisins, and I’ve even skipped the honey if I want a truly no sugar option for the kiddos. Bonus: Enlist your kids to help roll out the peanut butter balls. A truly messy, fun affair!

5. Fried rice 

There may be a shortage of rice in grocery stores, but perhaps you have a bag or two laying around. Why not cook up some fried rice?

I cannot count the number of times my brothers and I requested fried rice growing up. In hindsight, it was probably the MSG we were craving (it was a different time!), but some broccoli managed to get into the dish as well. 

This Fried Rice with Vegetables is a healthier version of the classic takeout and I love that it uses so many pantry staples. Use this recipe as a starting point and modify as needed. You can use a different high heat oil (sunflower, peanut, safflower) in lieu of coconut oil or use olive oil – it’ll still be delicious. Don’t worry about the vegetables the recipe calls for. Throw in whatever veggies you have on hand and have your own homemade feast! 

Let’s Get Cooking! 

At the end of the day, we are all trying to make this new normal work. It feels like the little things add up to big things these days. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to grab drinks with my friends on Friday and my sons aren’t going to see their teachers tomorrow.

Yet, little by little, the small victories add up to big wins. If I can save a trip to the grocery store, clear out the pantry, and provide my family with nutritious food, I count that as a huge victory. 

Here’s hoping that some of these kid-friendly, healthy recipes make their way into your home and take a little burden off your plate!  

About Kelly: Kelly Wannier is a Co-founder of Boston-based Little Pickins, which makes pre-cooked and frozen nutrient-dense meals-in-a-bite. When her second son was born, she struggled to find time to be a mom of two, a career woman, and, oh, that little thing called a wife. Little Pickins is Kelly’s way of helping busy parents to balance it all, by providing them with nutritious food that is fast and easy.

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