I would love to say that my top 5 ingredients are gourmet or organic, but the reality is I need quick meals that taste great and ingredients that won’t go bad quickly. I have many spices and other ingredients that I depend on, but here are my top 5.
Sour cream. We use sour cream in EVERYTHING. We put it on top of our homemade soups, chili, baked potatoes, Mexican food and as a way to fancy up premade food. We also use to thicken or add creaminess to different sauces. We always have several containers in our fridge (right now, we have 3!).
Jimmy Dean’s low-fat ground sausage. Most people would probably put chicken down, but sausage is so versatile. It’s easy to cook and you can put it in breakfast food (omelet anyone?), lunch, and dinner (it’s a great pizza topping!). Go low-fat though. The original stuff is pretty caloric.
Frozen vegetables. Ideally, I would always have fresh veggies in my fridge. When I shop, I always grab a cartful of fresh veggies. But by the end of the week, we’ve used them up (or worse, they’ve gone bad) and all I have is one onion rolling around. So I always have tons of frozen veggies in the freezer. They are also great if you want to add veggies quickly to a meal, but don’t have time to prepare them. We always have corn, peas, carrots and edamame (frozen soybeans).
One jar of prepared alfredo or cheese sauce. These are not super healthy, but awesome for quick meals in a pinch. All I have to do it boil some gluten-free pasta, sautéed any mix of vegetables (frozen or fresh) and a pound of sausage and I have a filling dinner for my family. You can even make the meal gourmet by adding fresh basil leaves and real parmesan.
I have tons of other things I love having on hand (hooray for ground red pepper!), but these are definitely my top five!
Tomato paste. Because what can't you do with tomato paste? You can use it as an emergency base for pasta sauce, to thicken soups, to make Spanish or Mexican style rice, to flavor chicken or beef for casseroles. It's the little black dress of canned foods!
Eggs (and tofu--yeah, you heard that right). You can do a lot with eggs. You can add them to soups or rice dishes for an added punch of protein, or like at our house you can do a "lazy dinner" of scrambled eggs, toast and waffles. That being said, this is also a difficult one for us as a family because my four year old daughter has an egg allergy! We have gotten really creative with tofu as an egg substitute, which is why it's on this list with eggs.
Spaghetti noodles. We have spaghetti at least once a week. If I'm feeling fancy I'll add pesto and some veggies, or alfredo sauce with chicken and asparagus. But mostly we just have plain old spaghetti!
Low sodium fat free chicken broth. We like chicken broth instead of bullion because it's low(er) sodium, fast, easier to use and cheap! (although not as cheap as bouillon) This is our base for all our soups, as well as adding flavor to rice and sometimes pasta dishes.
Cheese. Do I need to say why? Because cheese makes everything taste better! We generally have at least three kinds if not more on hand; Feta (for salads, dips and sandwiches), Cheddar (for, well, everything), and Parmesan (for pretty much everything, it's also fabulous on baked veggies!)