We get it. Making healthy meals at home can feel a little intimidating, especially when your friends on social media are posting about their sourdough adventures and the bounty of fresh veggies from their new COVID-19 victory gardens. But we’re here to assure you that you can make easy, healthy food without fancy ingredients or huge time commitments. In fact, you probably already have most of what you need in your pantry—which is super-helpful these days when we’re all trying to make fewer trips to the grocery store.
So, let’s first highlight some of the most useful items to keep in stock, beyond salt and pepper.
PANTRY: rice (preferably brown), dried beans, chicken stock (low sodium), soy sauce (low sodium), pasta, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, coconut milk, nuts, white and sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, old fashioned rolled oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, all-purpose and whole wheat flour, baking powder, and baking soda
FREEZER: vegetables, berries, chicken parts, lean beef and pork
FRIDGE: long-lasting fresh produce, milk, butter, eggs, cheese, plain yogurt
And here are some helpful kitchen hacks that can really raise your game with little effort.
When bananas get overripe, peel them and store them in the freezer for smoothies, banana bread, or oatmeal breakfast cups (recipe below).
Ginger root is a delicious and healthy addition to sweet and savory dishes like chicken fried rice (recipe below). It stores great in the freezer, so you can always have it on-hand. Bonus, it’s easier to grate when frozen—just use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin first!
Plain yogurt is a healthy and versatile addition to baked goods, or whisk a dollop into a cup of milk and use in place of buttermilk for light and fluffy pancakes (recipe below).
If you’re not a big fan of mincing garlic, you can buy pre-minced and keep it in the refrigerator. It beats garlic powder by leaps and bounds!
OK, ready to get cooking? Here are some easy recipes to try out.
1. Easy Chicken-Fried Rice
(adapted from Eating Well) – 4 servings
1 teaspoon peanut or canola oil plus 2 tablespoons, divided
2 large eggs, beaten
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
2 cups cold cooked brown rice
2 ½ tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat. Add eggs and cook, without stirring, until fully cooked on one side, about 30 seconds. Flip and cook until just cooked through, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the wok along with scallions, ginger and garlic; cook, stirring, until the scallions have softened, about 30 seconds. Add chicken; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add vegetables; cook, stirring, until just tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the contents of the wok to a large plate.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the wok; add rice and stir until hot, 1 to 2 minutes. As you stir, pull the rice from the bottom to the top so it all gets coated with oil and evenly cooked.
Return the chicken mixture and the eggs to the wok; add or soy sauce and stir until well combined.
2. Roasted Broccoli Pesto Pasta
(adapted from Real Simple) – 4 servings
1 1⅓-lb. head broccoli
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
8 ounces pasta (for healthiest option, use whole-grain)
¼ cup nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, or another kind)
2 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 1 Tbsp. fresh juice (from 1 lemon)
3 cups packed baby arugula, divided
Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut stalk from broccoli head; peel and thinly slice into rounds. Cut crown into florets and toss with stalk, garlic, 1 tablespoon oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until charred in spots, stirring halfway through, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Set aside.
Place 1 cup roasted florets in a large bowl; transfer remaining to a food processor. Add reserved pasta water, almonds, cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 cup arugula, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper. Process until pesto is smooth, about 1 minute.
Transfer pasta to bowl with florets. Toss with pesto and remaining 2 cups arugula. Top with more cheese, if desired.
3. Spinach Tortellini Soup
(from Food Network Kitchen) – 4 servings
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
One 9-ounce package cheese tortellini (small ravioli works, too)
One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed
1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic
One 14.5-ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes
Dried basil, to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated, for serving
Bring the stock to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the tortellini and simmer gently for 3 minutes. Stir in the spinach, garlic, tomatoes, and dried basil. Season with salt and pepper. Return to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Serve hot with the grated Parmesan cheese.
And what about breakfast? We’ve got you covered, there, too.
4. Peanut Butter Banana Baked Oatmeal Cups
(adapted from Ambitious Kitchen) – 12 servings
1 heaping cup ripe mashed banana
½ cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
2/3 cup milk (dairy, soy or nut)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips, plus 2 tablespoons for scattering on top
1/3 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with muffin liners and spray with nonstick cooking spray to prevent oatmeal cups from sticking.
In a medium bowl, mix together the mashed banana, peanut butter, eggs, maple syrup, almond milk, and vanilla until smooth and well combined.
Next stir in dry ingredients: oats, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt; stir well to combine. Fold in ⅓ cup chocolate chips and chopped nuts, if using, into batter.
Evenly distribute oatmeal batter between muffin liners. Sprinkle extra chocolate chips on top and bake for 20-25 minutes. Drizzle with your favorite nut butter before serving, if desired.
5. Homemade Pancake Mix
(from Simply Recipes)
This pancake mix is better than store-bought and keeps for up to six months! You can substitute half the all-purpose flour for a healthier version or add some frozen or fresh berries to the pancakes once they’re poured on the pan, but before they’ve set.
For the pancake mix (makes 7 cups)
6 cups (940 g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (77 g) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
To make the pancakes (makes 6 pancakes)
1 cup pancake mix
3/4 cup milk, or 1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon melted butter, plus more for the pan
Mix: In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together. Transfer mix to an airtight container. Write "batter recipe" on a notecard, and tape it to the canister. Store for up to six months.
Pancakes: Put 1 cup of mix into a medium mixing bowl. In a separate small mixing bowl, combine milk, egg, and vanilla extract. Beat the egg with a fork or whisk until it’s well incorporated with the milk and extract. Continue whisking the milk while you pour in the melted butter.
Pour the egg mixture into the bowl with the pancake mix. Use a spatula to stir to combine. Don’t worry about getting all the lumps out.
Set a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Once it’s hot enough for a few droplets of water to dance on the top, add a tablespoon of butter. Once the butter melts, pour 1/3 cup of pancake batter onto the skillet to form a pancake. Repeat until the pan is filled, but not too crowded.
Once bubbles form on the top and the edges of the pancake look slightly drier than the middle, flip the pancake. You should cook the pancake for about 3 minutes on the first side and 1 to 2 minutes after flipping. The pancakes should be lightly golden on both sides, with crispy edges.
And those are just the beginning. The internet can often be your best cookbook resource. Got some dried beans? Search “easy dried bean recipes.” Frozen corn kernels? “cooking with frozen corn.” Your friends—even the more experienced cooks—will have their own go-tos for easy, pantry-friendly meals. Ask and they’ll probably be more than happy to share.
Written by Amy Klinger for Matcha in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.