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Dinner Emergency? Here's What to Keep on Hand

Chef and cookbook author Domenica Catelli shares what she keeps in her pantry for quick, easy, no-shop dinners.
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Summer is supposed to be a carefree time, with barbecue dinners, pool parties, and fireflies. But for parents, even summertime is often hectic. It can be a recipe for family dinner disaster -- grabbing burgers at the drive-through or running down the supermarket's freezer aisle looking for precooked meals.

Here's a better way: Keep your freezer and pantry stocked with a few basics so you're always ready for a quick dinner -- one you can make in 30 minutes or less. This is what I like to have on hand.

  • Chicken breasts. Pound boneless, skinless breasts until they're thin, then freeze them. They thaw in under 30 minutes. Or throw them, still frozen, onto a hot grill pan, where (depending on thickness) they can cook in about 10 minutes. Add a big salad and rice, and you've got a full meal.
  • Pasta. Keep several whole-grain or vegetable-based (like spinach) varieties on hand, including spaghetti, penne, and egg noodles. For a super-nutritious quick meal, add sautéed or roasted veggies (think asparagus, zucchini, green beans, or broccoli), olive oil, and some grated cheese.  
  • Canned beans. They're inexpensive, tasty, and packed with protein and fiber, and they're key to many last-minute dishes. Just rinse them well to remove salt (or buy the no-salt variety). Try adding a bit of chopped garlic and tomato to white or cannellini beans for a delicious side dish with lamb, chicken, or beef. Simmer garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas) with Indian spices (like garlic, coriander, and cumin), sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro, and serve with rice. Red kidney or black beans are a classic base for chili, burritos, or tacos.
  • Spices and other flavors. Flavoring is the trick to quick meals that taste like something you cooked for hours. Red chili flakes, black pepper, balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon, and garlic can spice up a last-minute dinner.

Pot o' Beans

Makes 6 servings


1½ tsp extra virgin olive oil

½ small onion, chopped

1 tbsp fresh thyme, sage, or combination, finely chopped (or 1½ tsp dried)

1 pinch chili flakes

1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

3 15-oz cans Italian white (cannellini) beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed

¼ cup canned

tomato purée

½ cup chicken broth, low-sodium

handful chopped parsley

cracked black pepper

dash of salt


  1. Drizzle bottom of heavy-bottomed pot with extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Stir in onion, herbs, and chili flakes. Cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes, then add garlic.
  3. Sauté 2 more minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, and chicken broth.
  4. Cook 5 minutes. Serve with chopped parsley, pepper to taste, and a dash of salt.

Reviewed on May 15, 2012

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