The staples in my fridge used to revolve around flavor: shallots, lemons, parsley, cilantro, feta cheese, miso, anchovies, fish sauce, Dijon mustard, and a whole bunch of condiments, including Brooklyn Delhi’s Tomato Achaar and Bachan’s Japanese Barbecue Sauce. I made sure to keep ingredients on hand that provide easy elegance at a moment’s notice, such as cherry tomatoes, olives, compound butter, and burrata. And I always had fancy cheese for last-minute visitors. (Pre-kids, spontaneity was in.)
These days I still keep these big-impact staples on hand, and as a mom of three, I’ve had to make room for items I never used to consider necessities.
My priorities have expanded to include speed, health, and endurance—for my children and myself. In terms that even my three-year-old will understand, that means food that the kids will reliably eat—for three meals a day, plus snacks—that’s nutritious and quick to cook. It often must be portable, too.
Here are 13 staples that now take up prime real estate in my fridge—next to the anchovies.
In cereal, coffee, or as is in a glass, milk goes fast in our house. Sometimes we’ll use almond or oat milk, especially in smoothies or overnight oats—and for friends who don’t drink cow’s milk. Whatever the format, milk (or “milk”) is a must.
Another must? Eggs. For breakfast, of course, but also, and maybe more often for lunch or dinner. There’s hardly a faster protein with the potential for so much variety.
This is a new one for us, but recently I learned that gnocchi cooks in minutes in a skillet, crisping to a wonderful texture, with no boiling required. I’ve been hooked. Toss vegetables in, brown butter, or cheese—gnocchi is an excellent blank slate and dinner will actually be ready in 15 minutes.
Tortellini is lightning fast too, needing just a few minutes in boiling water, and crucially, requiring very little water to cook in, since it’s not a long pasta that requires more room in the pot. Instead of waiting for a tall pot of pasta water to boil, a shallow pot will do for tortellini, and when you’re counting minutes, that matters. I’m a fan of tortellini for a quick dinner, but perhaps even more so as leftovers for lunch, especially with pesto. (Full disclosure: only one of my children eats pesto.)
Where would we be without quesadillas and tacos? I don’t even want to image that world.
6. Shredded Cheese
I repeat: Where would we be without quesadillas and tacos? (Also, my son, who has taken a real interest in cooking, loves sprinkling shredded cheese onto whatever we’re making, or even from one bowl to another. He may eat half of it while “cooking,” but who can blame him?)
7. String Cheese
And in other forms of cheese that I didn’t require quite so much pre-children, there’s string cheese. It’s one of the all-time greatest snacks: fun to eat, portable, and not messy.
Cups, pouches, smoothies, tubes, or however it comes, yogurt is another favorite snack. And, depending on the mood, breakfast or dessert.
9. Easy Fruit
Fruit always felt like such a luxury before I had kids. Now it feels both like a luxury and a necessity. We go through a lot, and I specifically rely on the kind that requires no cutting, like berries and grapes. So many berries. So many grapes.
10. Vegetables To Serve Raw
Cucumbers, carrots, red pepper, and celery—if all we’re having for dinner is frozen pizza, which is often the case, or if my kids are refusing to try the asparagus I cooked, which is also often the case, giving them speers of raw vegetables makes me feel much better. Plus they take no time at all to cut.
Yes, really. Wilted spinach disappears anywhere, including in a quesadilla or pasta sauce, where I regularly throw it. I typically just microwave a bowl of spinach for 20 to 30 seconds, then chop it up very fine, and sneak it in where I can.
Despite the off-putting smell while it’s cooking (welcome home, kids!), broccoli is actually quite sweet when steamed, and its soft texture has made it an appealing food for our kids at all ages. They eat it, so I serve it—almost every night.
I rely on ketchup to get my kids to eat chicken. Yes, I said it. They also love it on hot dogs and burgers, the chicken nuggets that are always in the freezer, and the sweet potato fries that are too. I’m convinced that dipping is half the appeal. In any case, there’s always a ketchup bottle on the fridge door, right next to my personal stash of condiments, which I still have and do look forward to sharing with my kids—one day.