How to stock your pantry: rice, grains, pasta

April 3, 2013

OneHungryMama Browned Butter Cauliflower Pasta

Browned Butter Cauliflower Pasta

Babies don’t come with a handbook, but motherhood certainly comes will a million books and competing ideas of how to do it “right,” especially when it comes to feeding. The good news is that you’re doing way better than you think you are. (That goes even if you think you’re doing an awesome job—because you are!) The even better news is that being a great family cook is simpler than you think, you just need to learn the ropes. That’s why I’m here.

Welcome to One Hungry Mama’s Family Cooking School!

If you’ve been following along you may know that I’ve started working with private clients. (The site will be updated with info soon, I promise; you can read more about my practice here in the meantime). I kicked things off with a private one-on-one program that gives parents highly customized healthy eating solutions tailored to YOUR schedule, YOUR family’s taste and YOUR budget. Now I’m excited to announce that I’m adding a group program, Family Cooking 101. Think of it as a foundations class to give you the tools you need to start the process of getting mealtime back on track.

To celebrate the launch of my group program, I’m starting a “Family Cooking School” series of posts to touch on some family cooking basics that will help you move from pre-baby cooking to family cooking. The difference between the two? Family cooking is big on flavor, but made short on time; meals are efficiently planned and made; and ingredients are healthy enough for everyone to share.

Lets start with pantry basics: rice, pasta and whole grains.

While not exhaustive, these items are on the tippity top of my must-have-at-all-times list. These ingredients are the foundation of healthy meals that also have the heft to satisfy grown ups without just being empty filler calories. They also make vegetarian cooking easier.

Be sure to chime in: What are your favorite family cooking pantry staples?

And don’t forget to drop me a line at to set up a free Take Back Your Kitchen session for more personalized pantry tips and answers to your burning questions about how to make life as the family cook easier.

Rice is an easy go-to side dish and, in some cases, even makes a main entrée like with this Mujaddara. Whole grain brown rice is best, but takes time. It helps to have other varieties on hand, too.

  • Brown Rice: This whole grain is packed with vitamin B3 and magnesium. The catch is that it takes a bit longer to cook so requires planning… or freezing! Make a big batch and freeze 1-4 person portions in ziplock bags that can be easily dunked in very warm water for quick defrost. Brown rice also makes a great whole grain cereal that’s much better for baby than commercial white rice cereal.
  • Quick Cook White Rice: It’s important to have this on hand for when you don’t have time to cook brown rice.
  • Arborio Rice: This is a short grain rice specifically used to make risotto. Think risotto is too hard for the family cook? Think again! It turns out that risotto is a perfect family food and endlessly adaptable.

There is no more convenient a family dinner than pasta, and the right choice can even be nutrient rich. That’s right: pasta’s got a healthy side. And it can be made ahead: here’s how to perfectly pre-cook pasta.

  • Enriched pasta: While I don’t recommend relying on enriched pasta as a primary source of nutrients, there’s no harm in getting a boost from products like Barilla Plus which provides added protein , Omega-3’s and fiber.
  • Barilla Veggie Enriched Pasta: While talking Barilla, I’ve got to mention their veggie enriched pasta. I love this stuff and each (3.5 ounce) portion also includes a full serving of pureed vegetables including spinach, zucchini, squash and carrots. That doesn’t mean you should skip veggies, but it’s a fun way to get even more in. (And the pasta comes in fun, naturally vibrant colors.
  • Gluten-free pasta (for GF families): With so many options, ranging from rice pasta to quinoa pasta, there’s no reason for families following a gluten-free diet not to enjoy pasta. Different types of pasta, and even different brands, have varying textures. Experiment for the one that’s right for you.

These whole grains are an excellent way to balance a meal with heft, like rice and pasta, but with even more nutritional power.

  • Quinoa: So, technically, this is a seed. It works like a grain, though, so we’re going to keep it here, at the very top of the grains list. Why the top? Because it’s packed with nutritional goodness, particularly protein and iron. This stuff is especially great for vegetarian meals like these Quinoa and Lentil Stuffed Tomatoes or this One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf.
  • Rolled Oats: When it comes to oats, there are many options. I recently went over the myriad oatmeal choices on the Baby Bullet blog. The bottom line is that, like with rice, there’s a bit of a compromise. I choose rolled oats that are not quick cook. They are more nutritious than the quick cook kind, but can still be made in relatively short time. Steel cut oats are the best option, but require time or planning. If you’re super into oatmeal, though, I’d also keep steel cut on hand.
  • Couscous: Is couscous a pasta or a grain? The debate rages on; I say it doesn’t matter because, either way, you need to have this on hand. This done-in-five-minutes side is the ultimate family cook ingredient. Plus, it contains twice the amount of folic acid and vitamin B6 than pasta. Follow the directions on the packet or, even better, try this equally fast cooking method.
  • Barley: Of all the less mainstream grains, barley is my favorite. It’s hearty, relatively easy to find and versatile, too. It’s also packed with fiber and important minerals. You can add it to soups, stews or even make a barley risotto.

4 Responses

  1. Lucy says:

    Great post! I’d love to pick your brain, if I may. As a gluten-free person, rice comprises a lot of my diet. I’ve recently heard some unsettling things about arsenic levels in rice, which has made me a little paranoid about eating so much of it. Does this concern you? Have you changed your rice consumption because of it at all?

  2. Jason Roland says:

    I have a friend who has teenage girls. With everything in the news about Cabs and idea that gaining weight comes from carbs they will not eat pasta and rice! Her favorite on your list is rolled oats. How do you accommodate those types of issues when it comes to feeding a family.

  3. Judy Murray says:

    There is a lot of great information in this piece and although my kids are grown, I still cook for my husband and larger family gatherings on the holidays. I will print this out and keep it in one of my recipe books!

  4. Robin Kahn says:

    I like these kinds of staples for my family because they seem to fill my boys up and with three of them, that can be a real task sometimes!

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