The best way to make sure you're eating healthy, balanced meals is to plan ahead.

Making a weekly meal plan and shopping list helps you to be in control of what you're eating.

However, life doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes things come up unexpectedly and we're left without a plan or without the ingredients for a balanced meal.

The best way to ensure you can always whip up a satisfying, balanced meal is to have some staple ingredients on hand at all times, along with a few quick, go-to recipes to fall back on.

Pantry staples

Stock these ingredients in the pantry to help make a last minute dish when you need to:

  • Tinned chopped tomatoes
  • Tinned legumes and lentils (choose the ones you use the most, like chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans, or cannellini beans)
  • Onions
  • Bulb of garlic
  • Tinned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines, or mackerel)
  • Eggs
  • Brown rice
  • Your favourite grains (quinoa, bulgur wheat, pearl barley)
  • Wholemeal pasta
  • Rolled or porridge oats
  • Nuts and seeds (choose your favourites like walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds)
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar (red/white wine, balsamic)
  • Soy sauce
  • Mustard
  • Stock cubes
  • Herbs and spices

Keep your favourite dried herbs and spices at the ready to add flavour to your dishes. There's no need for an elaborate spice rack, just pick the ones you cook with regularly, such as:

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Paprika
  • Chilli flakes/powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • Salt & pepper

Fridge and freezer essentials

Keep these fresh and frozen ingredients topped up to form the bulk of any last-minute meals:

  • Cheese (cheddar, parmesan, and mozzarella or feta)
  • Plain Greek or natural yoghurt
  • Butter
  • Frozen vegetables (such as peas, broccoli, green beans, cauliflower)
  • Fresh vegetables for basic salads (carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, spinach leaves/mixed lettuce, peppers)
  • Frozen berries
  • Frozen plain white fish fillets

Putting it all together

You might already have some favourite recipes that you rely on for a quick and easy meal. Here are a few additional ideas:

Two bean chilli

Serves: 4

Complex carb portions, per serving: 1

Dice 1 onion, 1 red pepper, and 2 cloves of garlic. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the onion and pepper until softened. Add 1 tsp each of cumin, chilli powder, and paprika and fry for 1 minute.

Tip in 200g of red kidney beans (rinsed and drained), 200g of black beans (rinsed and drained), and 1 tin of chopped tomatoes. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, season with salt and pepper. Serve the chilli with a portion of brown rice and a leafy green side salad.

Tuna pasta

Serves: 4

Complex carb portions, per serving: 2

Finely dice 2 cloves of garlic and 1 onion. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan. Cook the onion for a few minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic, 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, and ½ tsp of chilli powder. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water and ½ tsp of salt to the boil (you can use freshly boiled water from the kettle to speed this up). Add 160g of wholemeal pasta and cook according to packet instructions.

Drain the liquid from 2x 200g tins (or 4x 80g tins) of tuna. Flake the tuna into the tomato sauce and heat through. Drain the pasta and stir into the sauce. Remove from the heat and season with pepper. Serve with a large mixed salad.

Salad your way

Serves: 2

Complex carb portions, per serving: 0

Chop up any fresh vegetables you have on hand, such as tomatoes, cucumber, and peppers, and toss together with a few large handfuls of baby spinach leaves or mixed salad leaves. Choose your source of protein – tinned tuna, boiled eggs, or drained chickpeas – and add to the salad.

In a small bowl, mix together 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp mustard, 1 clove minced garlic, 100ml olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle over your salad (any leftover dressing can be stored in a glass jar or container in the fridge for next time) and toss to combine. If you want to keep the salad for longer, don't add the dressing until just before eating.

Vegetable stir fry

Serves: 4

Complex carb portions, per serving: 1

Take out a large handful of each of the frozen vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans. Partially cook them by heating in the microwave for roughly 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice 1 onion, finely dice 2 cloves of garlic, slice a red pepper into strips, and chop 1 carrot into thin matchsticks. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large wok or fry pan. Fry the onion until slightly softened. Add all the vegetables (fresh and frozen) to the pan with the garlic and stir fry for roughly 5 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened slightly. Add 2 tbsp of soy sauce and ½ tsp chilli flakes (more if you like it hotter) and stir fry for another 2 minutes.

Serve with one serving of brown rice (20g uncooked or 50g cooked) and any meat/fish/chicken you have on hand or top with a fried egg each.

Baked fish

Serves: 1

Complex carb portions, per serving: 0

Preheat the oven to 180℃ and oil an oven tray. Take out 1 frozen fish fillet per person and place on the oven tray. Drizzle over a little olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of chilli flakes (optional). Cook for 15-25 minutes until cooked through (when cut the fish should all be white – if grey or pink, it needs a bit longer). Serve with a mixed salad or any prepared frozen vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and green peas.

Green pea omelette

Serves: 1

Complex carb portions, per serving: 0

Cook 80g of frozen peas in the microwave according to packet instructions. Grate 30g of cheddar cheese, slice 30g mozzarella, or have 30g of feta ready to crumble (whichever you have on hand). Crack 3 eggs into a bowl and whisk with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a fry pan and pour in the egg mixture. Once starting to set, sprinkle over the peas and your choice of cheese. Continue to lift the edges of the omelette and let any uncooked egg mixture run underneath. Once firm enough, fold the omelette in half and serve onto a plate with a leafy green salad.

Breakfast parfait

Serves: 1

Complex carb portions, per serving: 1 (if using 1/3 cup of oats)

Take a large glass or glass jar and spoon in 1 tbsp of Greek or natural yoghurt. Place a small handful of frozen berries on top, then another tbsp of yoghurt. Sprinkle over a layer of oats and crushed nuts. Repeat all of these layers once more and finish with 1 tbsp yoghurt with a few berries on top.

Get prepared

Have a go at making some of your own last-minute meals or look for inspiration online.

You may like to write out the recipes and the ingredients you use regularly and stick them on the fridge. Then when anyone in the household is a grocery shop they can check that these ingredients are well stocked. Remember, you can always ask your health coach for inspiration and recommendations. Bon appétit!

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