It’s 5:00 pm and OMG what am I going to feed these people? Been there, done that! How many times have you stood in the middle of the kitchen, stared at the clock; it’s dinner time and you’ve done nothing about it–including shop. Your first reaction might be to pull out the take-out menus and make the food come to you! But, in honor of National Nutrition Month®, I challenge you to try to make simple changes like working with what you’ve got on hand, rather than calling up the pizza delivery guy!

Here are five quick meal ideas to help you create take-out-worthy dinners using stuff that you probably have in your pantry and fridge. Best part is they are all simple and kid-friendly!

#1 – Pizza

Start by toasting whole-grain English muffins, bread, or pitas. Sauce it up with some canned tomato sauce, mashed avocado, or hummus. Sprinkle on some shredded cheese and fresh or dried herbs. Add a layer of veggies like canned mushrooms, fresh broccoli, or peppers, and if you have some leftover meat, poultry, or fish available throw it on top. Now you, my friend, have got yourself a pizza!

#2 – Mexican

Who doesn’t love taco night?! The easiest way to do this is to put each ingredient in separate bowls and place in the center of the table. Take a can of black beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, or whatever is available. Drain and rinse. Finely chop veggies that are in the fridge — lettuce, cucumber, red bell peppers, onion, green beans, celery, radishes, whatever. Put in separate bowls, grab whatever cheese you have in the fridge – cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Parmigiano Reggiano, again whatever. If you have ground chicken, turkey, or lean beef in the freezer, that’s great. Just defrost and sauté with a little dried cumin, cilantro, chili powder.

Make a quick salsa by taking some of the veggies you just chopped, add a can of diced tomatoes with green chilis, canned black beans or corn, squeeze in some lime juice, sprinkle with salt & pepper, toss in some garlic, and drizzle some red wine vinegar. Whip up a quick guacamole with the avocado you should already have in your fridge because they are so good for you. Take hard or soft corn tortillas and place in center of the table.

#3 – Diner-Style Breakfast

It is perfectly acceptable and healthy to have breakfast for dinner. Call it “Opposite Day” and the kids think it’s great! Make breakfast for dinner, and let them have dinner for breakfast on another day. And there’s another word for that: LEFTOVERS! A few suggestions:

  • Tossed salad and scrambled eggs (just like in the tune from “Fraiser”). Consider adding some canned diced tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, or even a can of salmon to spruce things up! Add a slice of whole-grain toast or potatoes and dinner is served!
  • Pancakes or waffles…top with canned peaches or pears or add chopped banana or raisins for added nutrients and flavor.
  • Yogurt parfait…low fat yogurt, fresh berries or canned fruit cocktail, peaches, pears or pineapple, unsweetened cereal, chopped nuts, or any combination you like.
  • Omelets with your favorite fillings, hashed sweet potatoes, and fresh fruit.

#4 – Build-Your-Own Salad Bar

Make a huge salad with whatever fresh veggies you have. Open canned olives, chickpeas, mushrooms, beets, corn, peas…ok you get the point. Set it all out in bowls and let everyone make their own salad. Toss with your favorite dressing or make a quick one with 2 parts olive oil, 1 part vinegar (balsamic, red wine, rice wine, cider, any kind), Dijon mustard, and dried spices.

Top with leftover protein, canned salmon or tuna, canned beans, rotisserie chicken pieces, tempeh, tofu, edamame, etc. and serve with a few whole-grain crackers.

#5 – Chinese

We can’t talk take-out and not include Chinese! This cuisine is simple and quick with tons of flavor. Try these easy and delish dishes that you can get on the table in a snap.

  • Un-Fried Rice – Cook up some rice and gather whatever veggies and leftover protein you have on hand. Toss together in a hot wok with a hint of sesame oil and seasonings, get the chopsticks out and dinner is served.
  • Chinese Corn & Crab Soup – All you need is some canned chicken or veggie broth, a can of creamed corn, and some classic Chinese spices like ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. Mix it all together, boil it up, add a can of crab meat or shrimp and that is that!
  • DIY Stir Fry Noodles – Cook up any kind of noodle; linguini, rice noodles, udon, spaghetti, kelp, whatever you have on hand. Open some cans of bamboo shoots, baby corn, sprouts, and water chestnuts. Forage the fridge, freezer, and pantry for veggies like broccoli, spinach, kale, bok choy, carrots, celery, onions, and cook them up. Toss in some teriyaki and sesame oil, add the cooked noodles and you’re good to go.

Cooking with items you have on hand has many benefits, including saving money, reducing food waste, and improving your waistline by controlling portions, sodium, and fat intake. As I always say, “Any dish can be revamped to be good for you, it just takes a little education and finesse!” What better time than National Nutrition Month to give it a try!


Diane HenderiksBy Diane Henderiks, RD
Chef and Culinary Nutritionist
For more, visit Diane’s website at

Follow Diane on Facebook, on Instagram @dianehenderiks, and on Twitter @DianeHenderiks.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email