Fat-free Greek yogurt, which I use as a tangy substitute for sour cream. I dollop it on quesadillas and chili, and I use it in dips, spreads, and baked goods.
Kernersville, North Carolina.
Honeycrisps are my favorite kind of apple, hands down. They are a bit more expensive than other varieties at the market, but the crunchy, sweet taste is worth the extra cost per pound. I add apple slices to peanut butter and toast in the morning, and I puree them to sweeten a dairy-free butternut-squash soup that I serve for dinner. Although apples have always been my fruit of choice, now that I’m pregnant, I crave them constantly. Not surprisingly, my doctor approves.
I toss mushrooms into every possible dish. I often add them to stews in lieu of meat, since they are fairly substantial and have fewer calories. In my opinion, cremini are the best, but I will settle for just about any mushroom— even the oily ones you find on top of the average pizza. I insist on having them in stock: If you look inside my pantry at any time, you’ll find at least three cans of button mushrooms…just in case.
Merrimack, New Hampshire
I often turn to low-fat, high-protein skinless chicken breasts for my weeknight dinners. There’s so much you can do with this popular cut of poultry: Spice it up with Old Bay seasoning, or pair it with stir-fry vegetables. And every Sunday I bake or grill a few extra pieces so I have them on hand to throw into salads and sandwiches during the week.
As a vegetarian family of five, we are always looking for ways to add plant-based iron and protein to our diets. Wheat germ, which comes from milling whole-grain kernels, contains dozens of nutrients—iron, zinc, magnesium, you name it. I always keep a jar of it handy so I can mix it into shakes or yogurt or sprinkle it on cereal. My three kids, who are all under the age of nine, reap its nutritional benefits without ever noticing that it’s there.
I’ve always been a meat-and-potatoes girl and somewhat averse to vegetables, but zucchini is the exception. It’s one of the few green foods that everyone in my family will actually eat. I like it grilled with Italian seasonings or steamed with celery and tomatoes—a preparation I learned from my late mother. My daughter prefers sautéed zucchini with grated Parmesan on top. My son likes it sautéed with onions and peppers. We find it an uncommonly versatile vegetable.
Los Angeles, California
Fresh garlic. I like to use whole cloves in tomato-based sauces. Garlic is particularly tasty in combination with the basil, thyme, oregano, and parsley that I grow in my herb garden. I also savor it minced in a dish of Brussels sprouts and bacon—or in a Romano cheese and chive omelette. Garlic has so many benefits: It is thought to promote heart health and build your immune system. But best of all, it gives even the simplest foods a kick.
Mercer Island, Washington
Recently I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called celiac disease. People with this ailment cannot tolerate gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Eating most carbohydrates was no longer an option, so I had to find a substitute—fast. Fortunately I discovered quinoa, a gluten-free grain that can be cooked like rice or made into pasta. I was so thrilled to learn that I wouldn’t have to live without spaghetti and meatballs.
To give my family a dose of protein, I regularly turn to canned black beans. My favorite recipe using this pantry staple is a twist on French-bread pizza. I slice a baguette in half, sauté a can of beans with garlic and onion, and add diced jalapeños for heat. In place of tomato sauce, I use salsa, then sprinkle pepper Jack cheese on top. The entire dish can be prepared in 15 minutes, which is a relief, since I don’t have much time to get dinner on the table.
Cary, North Carolina