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Winter-Proof Your Pantry

Make quick meals with what you have on hand if you would rather not venture out in ice and snow

Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup — Kate Brittle/Getty Images

En español | When the snowdrifts block the door and the roads are treacherous, dinner becomes more of a challenge. Which is why winter requires a well-stocked pantry. Most homes have enough food staples to put together a good meal and sometimes even a great one. It's a good idea, whatever the season, to keep the larder stocked with staples. What the staples are depends on what you like to cook and eat.

Pantry meals often rely on canned, frozen or shelf-stable ingredients. It is not a culinary crime to use these ingredients. I far prefer using fresh, seasonal foods when I cook but sometimes the weather gods conspire against us.

Basic pantry and freezer staples:

Flash-frozen fruits and vegetables are usually processed at the peak of their ripeness when they are most nutritious, since flash freezing locks in the nutrition. They may even be more healthful than fresh. Their out-of-season fresh counterparts are often picked underripe, and don't have time to develop all their nutrients on their long ride to "fresh food" aisles of supermarkets.

Canned vegetables are commonly thought to lose more nutrients in processing, but not always. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has established quality standards to help consumers make the best buys. Grade A vegetables are carefully selected for color, tenderness and freedom from blemishes, according to USDA. They are sometimes labeled "fancy."

Canned tomatoes are critical. Diced, crushed, whole, stewed, with or without chiles, they can make a pantry meal. Canned tomatoes seem not only to retain most of their nutrients but may even contain more carotenoid lycopene, which helps prevent heart disease and cancers, than fresh tomatoes because of something that happens in the processing.

Some frozen meats and seafood hold up just fine in the freezer and are a good resource for an emergency. So if you enjoy a quick shrimp stir-fry, make sure there are always shrimp and vegetables in the freezer. Pre-cooked chicken strips can be used in stir-fries, salads and other dishes. Vegetarians probably have tofu on hand.

Other pantry suggestions:

Parmesan cheese can enhance many dishes. Use it with eggs to make a frittata, put it on top of the good-quality spaghetti sauce you have in the pantry, throw it over a salad.

Beans can be lifesavers. Stock black, pinto, cannelini, garbanzos and kidney to use in soups, salads and stews. Also stock a few kinds of lentils.

Corn Tortillas allow you to make tacos, tamale pie and other dishes combined with frozen corn, canned tomatoes, beans and spices. They freeze well.

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