Whole Story

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Value Guru and the Ticking Dinner Bomb


It was one of those days where time gets away from you and everyone is hungry and you know if you don't act fast, hungry turns to cranky turns to worse. Dinner had to happen PDQ and I was so tempted to do the drive-thru. I stuck it out, though, and headed home to my own trusty kitchen.

It's taken perseverance, but I've finally learned to keep some longer-lasting foods on hand to ensure I can make dinner fast and affordable when I need to. These are things I always add to my kitchen-drawer shopping list again as soon as I use them. I've also been known to keep a list of quick, easy-and relatively healthy-meal options taped inside a kitchen cabinet door for when my brain is tired. Here's a peak at my list and the "on-hand" ingredients that make them possible PDQ. (I call them silly names to let humor help when a hungry someone asks "what are we having?")

Fancy Pants Salad

  • Frozen shrimp or scallops
  • Romaine hearts
  • Red onion
  • Feta or goat cheese crumbles
  • Salad dressing
  • Frozen whole grain sliced bread
IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) shrimp and scallops make this so simple and inexpensive-but seem so indulgent! You only take a few out of the bag at a time; they thaw and cook quickly. I either sauté or grill and put on top of salad. Toast frozen bread for your filling whole grains on the side, cutting them in quarters or triangles like big croutons to make them dinner worthy.


Pizza My Mind (a great answer to "what's for supper?")

  • Frozen whole wheat pita bread
  • Canned pizza sauce
  • Part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Canned artichoke hearts
  • Red onion
Not everyone knows this ('til now I guess!)… at all times I must have something resembling pizza available to me. 365 Everyday Value frozen pizzas are really great and affordable, but they mysteriously disappear from my freezer! On the other hand, these disparate ingredients don't appear to be pizza until you bring them together…with love, of course.


Cheating Meat-Lover's Chili

  • Onion
  • Frozen ground beef, bison or dark turkey
  • Granulated garlic (not garlic salt)
  • Chili powder
  • Canned unsalted diced tomatoes
  • Canned beans (pinto, black or kidney)
Here's why I call it "cheating": you can start with a frozen solid 1-pound chunk of ground meat by warming a little oil in a heavy skillet, plopping in the meat chunk, then turning it over every minute or so and scraping the browned parts off to the side until the chunk is small enough to break up with your cooking spoon.


Everything-but-the-Bagel Pasta

  • Dry pasta
  • Smoked salmon (4 ounces)
  • Neufchatel cheese
  • Frozen spinach
Add the frozen spinach to the boiling pasta water just before you strain it. Stir the cheese (how much is up to you) into the hot pasta, but flake the salmon over the top once it's all done...looks more impressive. I recommend hiding the salmon and neufchatel in the back of the fridge to keep them out of random snacking hands.


Chicken Make-Nice Bowl

  • Frozen IQF chicken tenders
  • Onion
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Frozen brown rice
  • Bottled soy ginger sauce
  • Brown rice vinegar
  • Hot sauce of some kind (optional)
Like I was saying about IQF shrimp and scallops above…IQF chicken tenders are brilliant and I learned on the bag that you don't have to defrost them. I cook them first, then take them out of the pan to cool and cut into pieces while the onion and broccoli cook in the same pan, add chicken back in with the sauce and a dash of vinegar. Serve over brown rice in bowls, with chopsticks for effect, if you have some.

So, there are a few of my own best tactics. I know there are plenty of home-crisis-avoidance experts out there. How do you disarm the ticking dinner bomb before your patience explodes and your budget gets blown?

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MClay says …

I keep fresh or frozen ravioli in the freezer and jarred pasta sauce on the shelf for nights of desperation. Also handy is some yummy sausage (WF flavor of your choice) in the freezer to make nachos (brown and sprinkle over tortilla chips and cheese and stick under the broiler for 2 minutes). Or my third fall back is taco night - ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken) from the freezer, taco seasoning (I mix extra cumin and chili power with Fiesta Taco Seasoning and some corn starch), tortillas or tortilla chips depending on what's on hand, and onion, tomatoes, cheese, corn, avocado, etc optional.

Miko says …

After seeing your list of ingredients, I also thought of rearranging them for a quickie veggie chili. canned diced tomatoes, canned beans, canned corn (or frozen mixed veggies) even shredded carrots (to cut the tomato acid). simmer 10 mins with chili powder to taste (or chipotle chilis) top with cheese, any kind. Corn bread mix, french bread (frozen), or drop biscuits from mix or scratch. Ta Da! dinner, no meat, no miss. Please and Thank you, Miko in Metairie (VET store)

SandyP says …

Here's a quick and easy shrimp scampi that I make on rushed evenings. It's 1 lb. of frozen shrimp, 3 TB butter, 1 tsp lemon & pepper seasoning, and 1/4 tsp granulated garlic. I put frozen shrimp in skillet with all the ingredients (no need to thaw first). I saute until pink. In the meantime I boil linguine until al dente. Top cooked linguine with shrimp and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. If I have time I'll bake a frozen garlic bread (no need to thaw first) for 15 minutes.

Mother Crane says …

You are "peaking" in your recipe department. Thanks for ideas to have on hand. But you "peeked" into your cupboard....signed a Virgo who loves this recipe learned from a bus driver on the UT shuttle back in the 80s. Ingredients = whole wheat spaghetti, fresh parmesan cheese, fresh mushrooms, fresh spinach, lots of chopped and sauteed fresh garlic. Cook pasta until done, layer the washed spinach and mushroomsin a colander. Drain the spaghetti over them (this cooks them enough), then toss with parmesan and sauteed garlic. YUM. Even better the next day.

Mother Crane says …

RE: whole wheat spaghetti, fresh mushrooms, fresh spinach, garlic and fresh parmesan cheese recipe...juggle amounts of each to fit how much you enjoy of each ingredient. The garlic should be sauteed in lots of olive oil..which is also mixed into pasta, spinach, mushroom combo with the garlic and the parmesan. GRIND fresh black pepper over all to serve.

Donna Mollin says …

Damy: A very quick and healthy meal: Saute sliced shallots or onions, until soft. Add coconut milk to the pan and some red curry paste; found at WF,s.Add chopped or grated fresh ginger. Bake or saute fish, firm white fish; such as, halibut,flounder, sea bass, etc. Whatever is on special at Whole Foods that week. Simmer the sauce a bit, and then add chopped fresh kale, cook until kale is tender. At the last minute, add a bag or container of fresh baby spinach. Warm slightly and sreve over the fish with brown rice on the side.