THEME WEEK | What’s for Dinner? The Well-Stocked Kitchen


IMG_0053THEME WEEK | What’s for Dinner?

This week on SMB, we’re tackling the daily question “What’s for Dinner”

Join us all week long as our contributors weigh-in with different ideas and recipes related to the nightly dinner -time dilemma! 


I am one of those cooks that is able to just open the fridge and figure out amazing and quick family dinners.  Handsome husband says I shine the brightest when we both think there’s “no food in the house”. Truly, it is when I do some of my best work.  About the time my husband says, “Honey!  This is the best thing you’ve ever made!”, I sheepishly tell him that I have absolutely no idea what I’ve done and will likely never be able to replicate this heavenly dish. It’s a curse, I tell ya!

At the risk of making my husband think I am a little less magical, I am here to demystify my kitchen wizardry.  I owe it all to maintaining a well-stocked kitchen.  I’m not talking milk, eggs and cheese, here.  I am talking about your spice rack, your pantry and your freezer.  If you are well-stocked in these areas, you’ll never order pizza at 7pm again. (Though that DOES sound delicious…)

This list is not all-inclusive–I’ve tried to focus on the items that help me make quick, delicious dinners for my family in a pinch. (And though my family has some picky eaters, none of us have food allergies, so you may have to adjust this list accordingly.)


Raw shrimp

Boneless Pork Loin Chops

Boneless Chicken Breasts

Salmon/Tilapia/whatever fish your kids will actually eat

Ground Turkey

An assortment of basic frozen veggies (we use peas, corn, broccoli and spinach)

These meats are all quick and easy to thaw–especially the shrimp which will thaw in mere minutes in a bowl of water.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone from “what’s for dinner??” to “delicious!!!” in under 30 minutes because we had these items in the freezer!

We use fresh veggies most of the time, but it’s super handy to have frozen ones, as well.  Unlike their canned counterparts, frozen veggies retain virtually all of their nutritional value. This helps when I’m making, say, an Indian curry and am short on veggies–I grab a couple handfuls of frozen peas to toss in and dinner is served!


a great selection of basic herbs and spices (there’s too many to list, but basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, etc. The more you have, the more you can do!)

GIANT jar of minced fresh garlic in the fridge

fresh cilantro

fresh parsleyHerbs-and-spices

fresh ginger

Chinese 5-Spice (your stir-fry will never be the same!)


chipotle powder

two great pre-mixed dry rubs

a few curry powders

whole nutmeg (you will never buy ground nutmeg again!)

cocoa powder (I toss this into chilis and stews)

I used to be a purist and would only buy garlic by the bulb.  Buying a mega-jar of pre-minced fresh garlic is one of the best time-savers EVER (and your hands don’t get stinky)!

Fresh ginger, parsley and cilantro make SUCH a difference when you’re cooking.  They are inexpensive and have a decent shelf life–they are ALWAYS in my fridge.


rice wine, red wine, cider and balsamic vinegars

cooking sherry

leftover red wine

worchestershire sauce

lemon and lime juices

sesame oil

olive oil

vegetable oil

dijon mustardlentilsdriedbeans

your favorite hot sauce

artichoke hearts

roasted red peppers

black olives


coconut milk

canned, diced tomatoes (I prefer “no salt added” so that I can control salt levels)

assortment of canned beans (kidney, garbanzo, pinto and black beans, all low sodium)

canned tuna

brown sugar

a few jars of pre-made pasta sauce

a few jars of pre-made simmer sauces (we LOVE the Korma and the Tikka Masala at Fresh & Easy!  They taste SO close to homemade!!!)



dry lentils

several shapes of multi-grain pasta

soba noodles

assortment of rices, pearl couscous, quinoa, or whatever your family will eat!

a great stock of root veggies: sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots

I use fresh lemon and lime juices when I plan ahead, but keeping a bottle of each in the fridge helps with quick marinades, dressings and to brighten up heavy, earthy dinners.

Artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, capers and black olives are so versatile! I use them in chicken dinner salads, homemade pizzas, pasta dishes, etc. 


Here’s a quick recipe using only things on this list.  I call it “Black Bean Salad/Quick Salsa/Easy Potluck Dish”

2 cans black beans, 2 cans diced tomatoes, small bag of frozen white corn, half a bunch of rough-chopped cilantro, a splash of lime juice and as much or as little pre-minced garlic as you’d like.

Dump everything into a bowl and stir.

You are welcome.













  1. This is really great! I find I’ve got a similar gift/curse…but I’d never pinpointed why and I think this is probably the reason! I’m excited to add some of your suggestions to the mix. Also, I’m not a huge fan of minced garlic, but I do love try frozen little squares of crushes garlic. I’ve found them at TJ’s and just saw them at Costco. Fresh crushed garlic makes everything better!

  2. What great ideas! It is true, a well stocked freezer and pantry make all the difference in making great meals. I try to keep our pantry well stocked and I like to plan meals for the week before going grocery shopping. I usually just put something like “chicken and veg” and then make sure to buy what looks best in the organic produce section as well as some frozen veggies, as you suggested. Then, I make my mind up on what to actually cook after work. Cooking, especially weeknight meals, doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming to be healthy and delicious!

    • Noelle! I am totally going to try the crushed garlic cubes–they sound amazing (and FAST)!

      Terese! It sounds like we shop in a similar way. I try to be fairly flexible when I go to the store–if asparagus is on sale and looks gorgeous, I’m buying that instead of broccoli, etc. Also, when chicken breasts/roasts/London Broils/Salmon/whatever are on a ridiculously great sale, I buy a TON, repackage them into portions suitable for my family and put them in my chest freezer.

      Thanks for your comments!


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