Pantry Cooking

Whether we are waiting for that grocery delivery, stretching until the next paycheck, or just avoiding a stop at the store on the way home, knowing we can pull together dinner with what’s already in the cabinet and fridge allows us to take charge without take out.  Most of these are not actual recipes, but ideas to keep in mind when figuring out what to put on the table.

If you have eggs…

There are of course breakfast-for-dinner options in the form of omelets and such.  But consider using them as the protein in fried rice along with a few frozen vegetables, soy sauce, and sesame or vegetable oil.  You could also poach those eggs in tomato sauce with peppers, onions, and spices for shakshuka, or make egg foo young with some veggies and an easy gravy of chicken broth, cornstarch, and soy sauce.

If you have spaghetti…

All spaghetti really needs to shine is a little garlic and olive oil, but if you go with marinara sauce, consider adding olives or diced salami to liven up that jar.  Spaghetti carbonara is delicious if you have a little bacon and a couple of eggs, and cacio e pepe needs only grated cheese and black pepper. Thinking beyond Italian, spaghetti can easily become lo mein with a few veggies and some soy sauce and sesame oil.  Or, grab your peanut butter and add red pepper flakes and soy sauce for spicy Thai peanut noodles.  

If you have a few sad vegetables about to go bad in the fridge…

Make soup!  All you need is some broth or bouillon.  Chop everything up, and simmer away with a few spices.  Puree at the end if you’re in the mood for creamy, or add beans, rice, or macaroni to bulk up a brothy soup.  If you have stale bread, you can make Tuscan bread soup. You can also sauté up those veggies for a pasta primavera with jarred sauce or just garlic and olive oil.

If you have boxed mac and cheese…

Add frozen peas or broccoli and/or a little ham, chicken, salami, or chopped frozen fish sticks.  You can prepare as usual, except undercook the pasta and add a little extra milk, then transfer to a buttered baking dish with your add-ins and bake with a little shredded cheese and breadcrumbs on top.  

Got a box of stuffing or cornbread mix?

Turn it into a casserole!  Add frozen veggies and a little protein to the stuffing (maybe leftover rotisserie chicken, lunchmeat turkey, or breakfast sausage), top with a jar of gravy, cover and bake.  Cornbread mix can be combined with a can of creamed corn, some canned or frozen corn, and a protein like ham, bacon, or sausage, and baked into a hearty bread pudding.

If you have tuna…

Good old tuna noodle casserole is a recipe composed mostly of pantry staples, but also consider tuna macaroni salad, tuna with pasta and white beans, tuna melts, or tuna cakes.  

If you have beans…

Vegetarian chili is basically beans, spices, and tomato sauce.  Once when I was out of bell peppers and onions, I used jarred salsa instead.  Worked like a charm. There is of course beans and rice, black bean burgers, pasta e fagioli (my family makes a super simple version with just cannellini beans, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and pasta), and cold bean salad dressed with a little oil and vinegar.  Bean soups (like black bean, lentil, white bean and ham) are another idea. They are easy and typically contain very few ingredients. Or you can channel your inner Brit and try baked beans on toast. Top with a little shredded cheddar and broil. Then there’s my childhood favorite, hot dogs and beans, which is just cut-up hot dogs cooked in a little butter and chopped onion and then simmered with canned pork and beans.  I’ve also made this one with chunked ham.  

Speaking of childhood favorites…

My mom made these little pizzas for us because her mom, on a shoestring budget, made them for her.  We loved them. She just took flour, thinned it with water until it was about the consistency of pancake batter, added some salt, pepper, garlic powder and a dash of baking powder, and fried little silver dollar pancakes in hot vegetable oil.  We would top with a little marinara and mozzarella or sometimes just parmesan. It was a crispy, salty, perfect little something-out-of-nothing. Pizza can also be created out of English muffins, bagels, French bread, pitas, wraps (think pizza roll-ups) or naan. I sometimes use frozen broccoli to make broccoli cheese toasts for my kids.


If you have kids, chances are your freezer contains frozen waffles and chicken nuggets.  How about marrying them for chicken and waffles? Heat up a little honey to drizzle on top.  Or think about using Bisquick or pancake/waffle mix to make savory waffles with cheese and herbs like rosemary. Let's not forget the power of nachos for dinner, or the fact that pretty much anything goes on top of a baked potato or a bed of tater tots.

The Food Network has another great list of pantry recipes.  This is a chance to be creative and resourceful. We've got this.


Kelly writes:
Aug 2, 2022 0:33am
Yes! Pantry cooking is so handy! Awesome ideas!
Heather Walsh writes:
Aug 6, 2022 10:29am
Sometimes I even though I *could* go out to the store, I challenge myself to see what I can make with what I have! It's a great feeling to use things up in a delicious way. Thanks for reading!

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