Fast, Fresh, and Healthy Ingredients for the Quick Cook
We've identified 20 ingredients that get our creative juices flowing, from fresh, superconvenient products like bagged baby spinach, to go-to pantry standards like organic canned black beans, to high-flavor spice-rack heroes like smoked paprika, which gives a bacon-y savor to foods while adding zero calories and zero saturated fat.
With this list of gold-standard quick-cooking ingredients in hand, we also provide 20 easy recipes perfect for busy nights. We hope these inspire you to stock your own pantry and experiment further. Fast, fresh, and healthy can be something else, too—fun.
Boil-in-Bag Brown Rice
Boil-in-bag brown rice is one of the quickest ways to get more whole grains in your diet.
Use for: rice pilaf, rice salad, soups, and stews
Canned Diced Tomatoes
Canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes save you the time and effort of seeding, chopping, and peeling fresh tomatoes.
Use for: marinara sauce, bruschetta, salsa
Canned Organic Black Beans
Canned organic black beans offer options for main dishes and sides, and going with organic ensures there's minimal added salt.
Use for: black bean cakes, filling for tacos or burritos, salsa
Frozen Shelled Edamame
Frozen shelled edamame (soybeans) are a superconvenient way to add color, texture, and protein to most any dish.
Use for: salads, (pureed) dip or spread, whole-grain salads
More from Real Simple
Top 20 Ingredients for Quick Cooking
Couscous is one of the easiest and most versatile starches you can find.
Use for: salads, stuffing roasted veggies like zucchini, serving with Moroccan tagines and other stews
Canola mayonnaise has far less saturated fat than conventional store-bought mayo.
Use for: marinades, flavored sandwich spreads, dips
Smoked paprika packs a huge punch of flavor—and you don't need to fire up a grill.
Use for: replacing the smoky flavor of bacon, dry rubs on oven-roasted meats, stews, and chili
Frozen Corn Kernels
Frozen corn kernels allow you to skip corn shucking and cutting the kernels from the cob.
Use for: cream-style corn, salsa, corn bread
Grape tomatoes add a quick splash of color and flavor.
Use for: pasta tosses, salads, garnish
Fresh pasta cooks in half the time it takes to cook dried. Here we focused on fresh ravioli.
Use for: soups, baked casseroles, appetizers
Large eggs: There's simply no quicker protein, and they're just so versatile.
Use for: binder in patties and meatballs, salad topper, thickening and enriching sauces and salad dressings, or bulking up fried rice
Plain Greek-Style Yogurt
Plain 2% reduced-fat Greek-style yogurt is luscious, smooth, and rich, not chalky like traditional plain yogurt.
Use for: dips, sauces, marinades
Pitted Kalamata Olives
Pitted kalamata olives add a rich, meaty, and unique flavor to any dish they grace.
Use for: tapenade, pasta dishes, roast with chicken or vegetables
Refrigerated Potato Wedges
Refrigerated red potato wedges are ready to cook straight out of the bag.
Use for: potato salad, roasted potato sides, soup
Bagged Baby Spinach
Bagged baby spinach saves you the time and trouble of removing the stems.
Use for: pizza topping, pasta dishes, wilted for a green side dish or salad
Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) is every bit as convenient but tastes better than bland dry breadcrumbs. Panko also gives foods a supercrisp crust.
Use for: filler for meatballs, crab cakes, and the like; breading for oven-fried shrimp or fish fillets; casserole toppings
Presliced Cremini Mushrooms
Presliced fresh cremini mushrooms allow you to simply dump and stir.
Use for: sauces, casseroles, stuffings, or fillings
Lower-Sodium Soy Sauce
Lower-sodium soy sauce adds depth and flavor to a wide range of dishes, not just Asian foods.
Use for: fajita and other marinades, roasting veggies, dipping sauces
Chile paste (sambal oelek) is an all-purpose hot sauce.
Use for: marinades, vinaigrettes for steamed vegetables, scrambled or poached eggs
Fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth is indispensable for fast cooking.
Use for: poaching liquid, sauces, braising and stewing liquid
Keep these essential ingredients on hand and in mind. You can combine them in creative ways to yield deliciously quick and healthy weeknight meals.