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.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.