Top 10 Foods to Enhance Simple Meals

The kitchen is my happy place, and I love cooking meals from scratch. I’m a darn good meal planner, so it’s unusual for me to be totally out of ingredients needed for school lunches, potlucks and Sunday brunches.

Even with planning ahead, busy times and late notices pop up. I’ve found that a collection of go-to pantry and fridge-door foods helps to prepare quick, wholesome, healthy meals!

Besides extra virgin olive oil, butter, etc. as a base for cooking and baking, these 10 favorite items enhance flavor, texture and nutrient-density of even the simplest meals.


1.     Lemon juice. My go-to for from-scratch salad dressings, banana bread, smoothies and even lemon water. It’s extra nice when I have a real lemon for zest in tasty pancakes, muffins and coconut whipped cream!

2.     Dijon mustard. The perfect emulsifier for homemade salad dressings and sauces for otherwise boring meals. A certain dad calls Dijon “the secret ingredient” in Mac & Cheese (I still think the peas, broccoli & canned salmon are the secret ingredients, but hey...).

3.     Raw honey. Ingredient 3 of 4 in my simple salad dressing, a tiny touch of honey goes a long way in pretty much any dish. Besides the prebiotic and immune-boosting benefits, raw, local honey is the ideal “sweetness” in the five foundational flavors – sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. 

4.     Fresh ginger root. A staple. Grate ginger into Asian sauces and stir-frys, green or berry smoothies and baked goods. And it’s easy to boil a few pieces in water for a potent anti-inflammatory for aches and pains, or digestive tea for an upset tummy.

5.     Fresh garlic. So good for your immune system, gut, cardiovascular wellbeing, hormone balance and detoxification support. You’ve got to eat ample amounts, though. If your gastrointestinal tract can handle garlic, it enlivens almost any savory meal from most ethnic cuisines. If you hate prepping fresh garlic, pre-chopped will do.

6.     Sauerkraut. Not only a traditional super food packed with gut-friendly bacteria (saving you tons of money on probiotic supplements), but locally made varieties of lacto-fermented kraut are typically both flavorful and versatile. Add kraut to your morning eggs with kale, chopped into tuna salad, and atop the obvious fave: hand crafted brats.

7.     Plain yogurt. Another probiotic powerhouse, plain yogurt is… just plain awesome as a dipping “sauce” for quesadillas, a perfect accompaniment for spicy lentil curry, a quick base for creamy tzatziki or (my own invention) a kraut and yogurt dip with fresh herbs.

8.     Cardamom. Magic to my taste buds. Cardamom pairs well with orange or grapefruit in waffles or artisan breads, adds a punch to brownies and fruit compotes, and is lovely just sprinkled atop apple slices. Try grinding pods with coffee beans!

9.     Nuts & seeds. A wide variety, of course. Add some to almost every meal – overnight oats, muffins, simple green salads, pesto and “dragon” bowls (aka “Buddha” bowls) – a great way to diversify regular intake of so many powerful nutrients!

10. Seasonal vegetables and fruits. Beautiful when displayed on your kitchen counter and, quite simply, anyone can become a better cook by creating a meal around extra flavorful and nutritious seasonal abundances. 

Oh, my - am I already at 10? Let me add just two more: fresh herbs (especially parsley) and sea salt, of course…

I hope this list of staples inspires you for your own healthy and tasty cuisine!