For those days where you need something stat, these pantry staples come in handy. Stock up on some of these items and you'll have what you need to make a delicious 3-ingredient meal at the drop of a hat.

Andrea Mathis
February 26, 2021
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Keeping your pantry stocked can save you a lot a stress, especially on those busy weeknights when you're trying to determine what to cook for dinner. No need to fret because we've compiled a list of the top 8 pantry staples to keep on hand for making easy 3-ingredient dinners—not including basics like oil, vinegar, salt and pepper—on a whim.

Canned Tuna

Tuna White Bean Salad

A pantry isn't complete without several cans of tuna on the shelves. It is packed with protein, it's inexpensive and it's extremely shelf stable. Canned tuna is a good source of essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, high quality protein, selenium and Vitamin D.

3-Ingredient Dinner Ideas to Try:

  1. Combine tuna with white beans, olive oil and parsley for a fresh take on a tuna salad. Eat with a fork or scoop up with crackers for an easy dinner or lunch.
  2. Serve tuna over mixed vegetable slaw (found in the produce section) and top with your a bottled ginger-soy dressing and you're ready to eat!
  3. Combine cooked spaghetti with tuna and top with capers (or chopped olives), olive oil, salt and pepper for a simple pasta dinner.

Beans

3-Ingredient Green Goddess White Bean Salad
Credit: Carolyn A. Hodges, R.D.

Beans are a great addition to any meal. They are fiber- and protein-rich and very affordable. Depending on the amount of time you have to spend in the kitchen, you can choose to purchase canned beans, dried beans or both. There are a variety of beans to choose from and don't forget all the healthy convenience products that contain beans, like soups.

3-Ingredient Dinner Ideas to Try:

Salad dressing

3-Ingredient-Diabetes-Chix-Caesar-Flatbread
Credit: Photo by: Carolyn A. Hodges, R.D.

It's no secret that salad dressing pairs well with raw veggies, but did you know that it also makes a great marinade? Flavors such as, Balsamic Vinaigrette, Italian and Caesar, are great for adding flavor to any pasta dish or grilled meat. Salad dressing has a long shelf-life so you feel free to stock up on your favorite flavors.

3-Ingredient Dinner Ideas to Try:

Quinoa

Black-Bean Quinoa Buddha Bowl

Quinoa continues to grow in popularity due to its awesome health benefits. This ancient grain is one of the best sources of plant-based protein because it's classified as a complete protein; meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa can be used as a side or an entrée and depending on your palette, you can choose from red quinoa, black quinoa, white quinoa or tri-color quinoa.

3-Ingredient Dinner Ideas to Try:

  • Pair cooked quinoa with canned black beans and top with pico de gallo for a quick and easy dinner. And while three ingredients is super easy, you don't have to stop there. Add what you have on hand, like fresh herbs and a bottled salad dressing.
  • For a quick dinner recipe, try making a simple stir fry. Sauté thawed frozen mixed vegetables in olive oil, stir in cooked quinoa and soy sauce and cook until warm and sizzling.
  • For an easy side dish, mix cooked quinoa with cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices and top with salt, olive oil and a little vinegar to create a Greek-inspired salad.
  • To amp up a simple salad, mix cooked quinoa with mixed greens and top with your favorite salad dressing.

Pasta

3-Ingredient Goat Cheese Pasta with Broccoli
Credit: Carolyn A. Hodges, R.D.

One of the most useful foods that you can keep on hand is pasta. It's extremely versatile—you can add it to your favorite soup, salad or combine it with your favorite protein and turn it into a delicious entrée. There's also gluten-free, whole wheat or vegetable pasta options available. It's a great way to feed your entire family at an affordable price.

3-Ingredient Dinner Ideas to Try:

Soup

3-ingredient Roasted-Red Pepper Soup with Chickpeas
Credit: Photo by: Carolyn A. Hodges, R.D.

Canned soup is a staple item for any home. It can serve as a quick and easy meal option, or it can be paired with a sandwich or salad. There are numerous different flavor combinations out there and come with low-sodium and vegan options. Stock up on a few cartons or cans of soup the next time you're at the store and try jazzing them up with the different combinations below.

3-Ingredient Dinner Ideas to Try:

Tomato sauce

Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Chickpeas Spinach

Whether you're mixing it with pasta, topping pizza dough or simmering eggs in it to create a shortcut shakshuka, jarred tomato sauce comes in handy in a million different ways. Having a few jars on hand means you're only two more ingredients away from an easy meal.

3-Ingredient Recipes to Try:

  • Top store-bought whole-wheat pizza dough or a frozen cauliflower crust with tomato sauce and cheese for a margarita style pie.
  • Simmer tomato sauce in a skillet, stir in a fresh or frozen veggie and crack some eggs in to poach in the silky sauce.
  • Bake a regular or sweet potato and top with tomato sauce and cheese.

Pesto

Cauliflower Gnocchi with Asparagus & Pesto
Credit: Carolyn Hodges, M.S., RD

With a jar of pesto in the pantry, you have the beginnings of a flavorful dinner at your fingertips. You can mix pesto with just about anything and it'll be delicious! Of course pasta is an obvious choice but there's more to it that just that. Try one of the tasty 3-ingredient dinners below that utilize a jar of tasty pesto.

3-Ingredient Recipes to Try: