Healthy dinners: 10 kitchen staples for easy weeknight meals

Get tips on shopping, preparing and planning healthy dinners. Try our delicious brown rice pesto pasta recipe
By Marni Wasserman
pantry staples, food ingredients, jars Getty Images

People often think that because I’m a chef and because I teach others how to make healthy and delicious dishes, that I'm whipping up luxurious and mouth-watering meals for myself every night. I wish that was the case. It's not always easy to practice what I preach.

That said, I do manage to make a few chef-styled dishes on a weekly basis (although certainly not nightly). When it comes down to it, at the end of a long workday, I just want to know that I have something delicious, healthy, and satisfying to eat.

Here’s what I usually do:

I put together a recipe or two on the weekend so that I have at least a soup, bean-based dish or a wholegrain to base my meals on throughout the week.

A simple grain like quinoa or brown rice can be used in multiple ways; it can be eaten as a side dish, put into salads, or made into veggie burgers. It’s important to make a single item that can be turned into a variety of meals. I do this so I don’t get bored of what I’m eating every day (a common complaint for many people), and it allows me some creativity, too.

I also buy fresh produce on the weekend at the farmers' market, and often get another delivery mid-week from a local food box. This provides me with fresh fruits and vegetables to work with during the week to complement any meals I plan to prepare. I highly recommend keeping these 10 basic staples in your kitchen.

10 basic staples to have on hand for easy, quick dinners

- Quinoa, brown rice or other whole grain

- Fresh or canned organic beans, such as chickpeas or black beans

- Pure tomato sauce

- Fresh produce: kale, bok choy, spinach, mushrooms, onions

- Yams or sweet potatoes, squash

- A variety of nuts and seeds: almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds

- Salad greens: romaine, arugula, leaf lettuce

- Brown rice pasta

- Sprouted wraps

- Spelt or whole grain flatbread

Quick tips to make dinner planning easy

- Beans: They’re easy to blend into a bean dip, toss into salads or store as is for future use.

- Soup: A great leftover food. I can freeze some of it, or just store it in a glass jar to heat up for dinner. Then all I have to do is serve with it is a salad or steamed greens for a complete meal.

- Pre-wash veggies: I always wash and prep my veggies ahead of time so that they’re ready to go when it’s dinnertime.

- Fridge organization: I always have my fridge organized with items in containers so it’s easy to find food or mix and match different meals. I call this compartmentalizing.

- Utilize leftovers: The nights I have more time to cook, I make a little extra so that lunch or dinner is taken care of the next day, especially if I know it’s going to be a busy or long one!

With these few tips, you can save a lot of time and stress in between those busy meetings and hectic workdays. You can grab some more ideas and advice on quick homemade meals and energy boosters in my e-book Weekday Meal Planning. It includes a five-day meal plan, grocery lists, recipes, and lots of others resources that make eating healthy (and finding information) easy.

My go-to meal: Brown rice pesto pasta

1 bunch or 1 cups of fresh basil

¼ cup olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp white miso

1 tbsp honey

¼ cup pinenuts or walnuts, toasted

Salt and pepper to taste

1 package of brown rice or kamut pasta

1 tbsp olive oil

1 bunch of spinach or swiss chard, lightly steamed or sautéed (optional)

1 can of white beans or cooked navy beans

For the pesto:

Grind the nuts in food processor; add remaining ingredients and process for a few minutes until well combined.

For the pasta:

Boil a pot of water, add sea salt and cook pasta until tender or al dente about 7-10 minutes

Putting it together:

In a large pot, on a medium or low heat combine the pesto with the cooked pasta, add in the beans, chard or spinach.

Stir a few minutes until well combined.

Click here for more quick and easy dinner ideas!

Marni Wasserman
is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.


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