Let's face it: we're all busy – and hectic schedules can leave little time to get a “real" dinner on the table most nights. Even as a professional chef (who is also a wife and mother), I face the same challenges – the same age-old question of “what's for dinner?" night after night. My secret weapon? Keeping practical, healthy staples on hand so I'm prepared no matter what the day brings. Stock up on these pantry essentials and you'll be far less likely to reach for impulse, expensive, unhealthy buys when things get crazy. Load your shelves with foods that are filling, flavorful and non-perishable, so you can whip up something delicious in a pinch, whether craving a full-on meal or a satisfying snack.
Not only are beans an excellent source of protein, but they're versatile and affordable. From cannellini and black beans, to red kidney and garbanzo beans (otherwise known as chickpeas), there are endless ways to put them to use. You can use them in chili and Mexican-inspired meals like burritos and fajitas, as well as grain bowls, salads and hummus. They're also delicious when baked into desserts (hello, black bean brownies).
Claudia Sidoti, Head Chef and Recipe Developer for HelloFresh. “My secret weapon? Keeping practical, healthy staples on hand so I'm prepared no matter what the day brings"
2. Quick-Cooking Whole Grains
Quinoa, brown rice, couscous, and oats are just a few of my favorite go-to grains. Nutritionally dense and surprisingly simple to prepare, they work great in healthy side dishes, bulked-up salads, comforting soups and trendy grain bowls.
3. Canned Tomatoes
These work great for a quick pasta sauce, chili, soup or pizza topping. Alternatively, you can use canned tomatoes to braise vegetables, whip up a Bloody Mary, tomato basil muffins or even try your hand at some homemade ketchup.
4. Canned Tuna
I love a high quality Italian tuna. It's another great source of protein and perfect for making a quick and healthy tuna salad, which can be used for sandwiches or to top greens. I love to bulk up tuna salad with extra veggies to keep it on the healthier side and add fiber, so you'll stay full longer.
"Load your shelves with foods that are filling, flavorful and non-perishable, so you can whip up something delicious in a pinch, whether craving a full-on meal or a satisfying snack."
5. Olive Oil
Olive oil is a must-have for every kitchen. You'll need it for everything from sauteéing and roasting, to salad dressing, sauces, or as a finishing oil for extra flavor atop veggies and salads.
6. Maldon Sea Salt
I keep a box of Maldon sea salt flakes in my pantry at all times. I love it for finishing dishes, particularly salads, veggies or just seared proteins like steak, chicken or fish. It's an upgrade from classic kosher salt, and a little goes a long way.
7. Peanut Butter
This childhood favorite can be used for so much more than your classic PB&J. Pair a spoonful with fruit like apples or bananas for a high-protein, high-fiber snack. You can also use peanut butter to make homemade dressings and sauces like satay and Asian noodles.
"Pair a spoonful with fruit like apples or bananas for a high-protein, high-fiber snack"
8. Artichoke Hearts or Roasted Red Peppers
These delicious jarred goods are full of flavor, making them ideal for jazzing up a simple salad or pasta dish. You can also go the breakfast-for-dinner route and mix them into omelets.
Think beyond the bag of chips. While Mexican dishes may seem like the obvious use for salsa, it makes a delicious topping for a range of foods. From scrambled eggs and burgers to salad dressing alternative, salsa is a guilt-free staple I can't live without.
10. Panko Breadcrumbs
This Japanese-style breadcrumb is a great addition to add crisp to a variety of recipes without having to turn to a deep fryer. I like to use it to top mac & cheese or crispy cauliflower, or crust proteins like salmon or chicken. The texture and flavor are a winning combination.
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.