I know that when we think of fresh, healthy, homemade meals, we don’t think of canned foods. I have very ambitious ideas for my homemade meals. In my dream world exists this other version of me that somehow visits the Farmer’s Market every day—with her own reusable bags that she somehow remembered to pack—and picks up fresh-from-the-dirt produce, chatting with the vendors, learning what new, special recipe she should try. My ideal version of me even has a little garden in her yard (I don’t even have a yard) and potted herbs on her windowsill. But, the reality of the situation is that the only people who have time for that are retirees and chefs who have to hit up the Farmer’s Market regularly for their restaurants.
My life looks a bit different. I have to schedule oven times between laundry cycles and dog walks and often eat over my laptop or in the car (which is not safe, and I should stop doing.) So I have to take some shortcuts if I am still technically going to make meals from scratch, at home. Which I do want to do, most days of the week, because it’s a serious money-saver and generally healthier than dining out. There are just so many benefits of eating in.
While I used to see canned foods as apocalypse preparation items that I just stocked up on and forgot about, I’ve been starting to learn more about all of the ways I can incorporate these little tin-lined items into the many healthy recipes I make on a regular basis. Sometimes, when you’re in a hurry, it’s nice to just use a can opener as opposed to some fancy vegetable chopper/slicer/peeler/puree machine. Here are multipurpose canned foods you should always have in your pantry.
Boiling an artichoke and extracting the heart is time-consuming and inefficient. Use canned artichokes to make things like parmesan-crusted artichoke, pureed artichoke soup, or a simple salad with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and goat cheese with balsamic.
Garbanzo beans can be used in so many things. Blend them up to make hummus. Add them to a pesto pasta dish for some vegetarian protein. Make a salad with garbanzo beans, diced bell peppers, onions, feta, lemon juice, and olive oil. Or add them to vegetable soups.
If you want to make tacos but find yourself out of meat or more traditional forms of South of the border beans, kidney beans in tortillas with some green salsa is quite good. You can also make minestrone soup, chili, sausage and beans, or simple beans over rice.
I personally never make it through a bag of fresh spinach before it goes bad, and that’s one food you don’t want to eat past its expiration date. But you can use spinach to make puree of spinach soup, add it to minestrone soup, make spinach artichoke dip, feta and spinach omelets, or feta and spinach filo dough puff pastries.
The possibilities with these are nearly endless. Make pasta sauce from scratch. Combine them with kidney beans to make chili. Add fresh garlic, olive oil, and herbs to make bruschetta. Puree them to make a soup for dipping grilled cheese sandwiches. Pour them over baked chicken with vegetables.
Sweet corn kernels
If you have canned corn, black beans, jalapenos, and tomatoes, you have a delicious fresh salsa. You can also use canned corn to make corn fritters, cream of corn soup, or a fresh salad with corn, cucumbers, red onions, and vinaigrette. They can also be a simple side, paired with some baked beans, for your hotdog dinner.
Beets are highly nutritious but can be a pain to make from scratch. Boiling and peeling them takes quite a bit of time. So just buy them canned, and add them to a spinach and goat cheese salad, blend them with chickpeas for a beautiful red hummus, or add them to your baked frittata.
Not quite sure what to add to your steak to make it flavorful and moist? Dump some canned mushrooms on it. Add these to your vegetable stir-fry if you’re low on fresh produce. Blend them with heavy cream to make a beef stroganoff. Dice them up and put them in a quiche.
Add peas with some chopped bacon to your mac and cheese to dress it up. Make some cream of pea soup. Mix cold peas with garbanzo beans and cold pasta for a filling salad. Mix them with cooked carrots and rice for a simple side dish. Blend them into your pesto sauce to get some veggie points.
Don’t knock canned salmon until you’ve tried it. There’s so much you can do with it, from adding it to frittatas, having it with crepes and sour cream and dill, putting it over your salad for quick protein, or mashing it on toast with avocado for a filling snack. It’s also delicious with cold pasta and peas, olive oil and lemon juice.
Pumpkin puree isn’t just for pumpkin pie around the holidays. You can mix it with coconut milk to make pumpkin curry. Add it to a pasta and sausage dish with a cream sauce. Make yummy, comforting pumpkin soup. Add it to lentil soup for a sweet variety of this nourishing dish. Stuff it into your cheese manicotti.
If you need a quick way to dress up your oatmeal and get some added fiber, add prunes. You can also use these for a delicious Moroccan chicken dish over couscous, add it to a brandy reduction sauce over lamb, make a prune red wine sauce for duck, or add it to your potato gratin.
Diced green chiles
These go well over so many things. Use them to add zest to oven-baked nachos. Add them to a cheesy casserole. Add them to your corn fritters for a little kick. Put them on top of deviled eggs, or eat them with cheddar cheese scrambled eggs. Mix kidney beans, corn, and green chiles with diced tomatoes and put the mixture over rice.
If you’re going to keep sardines on hand, consider keeping cannellini beans, too. Blend the two up together. The mild bean evens out some of the kick of this flavorful fish. Put this mixture on high-fiber bread or crackers for a delicious and protein-filled snack. Or, add sardines to pizza, sprinkle just a little into a quiche or frittata, or drizzle some into your sautéed greens for more flavor.
Light tuna in water
Make sure to keep white chunky tuna around if you want the most multifunctional variety. Its mild flavor tastes great in tuna melts, over salads, mixed into pasta dishes, grilled up with breadcrumbs, egg, and herbs for tuna patties, or in a simple tuna, avocado, tomato, and sweet onion salad.