Our country and world are in a bit of a crisis mode right now, and because I don’t have useful skills as a healthcare professional, mask seamstress, or 3d-printed ventilator expert, I decided to use my practical cooking skills to help people the best way I know how: with food. I’ve compiled a collection of meal ideas and recipes that consist entirely of products that can be found in your pantry or freezer, things you are likely to have on hand anyway (like milk), or things that have a fairly long shelf life (like onions and potatoes).
My personal goal is to shop for groceries as infrequently as possible to limit potential Coronavirus exposure for myself and others, and hopefully this post will help you to do the same. If you are anything like me, then it’s also important for mental health to have some assurance that you are not going to be stuck eating canned soup every day. Besides, if you’re able to continue eating a healthy variety of foods, your immune system will be that much stronger if you do end up being exposed to the virus.
Pantry Breakfast Ideas
My family has been enjoying the boxed protein pancake mixes from Aldi’s for a bit more nutritional value than standard pancakes. If you don’t have an Aldi store nearby, the brand Kodiak Cakes makes a more expensive version that can be found at other grocers. (This is something that can normally be found easily on Amazon too, but has been in short supply since the Covid-19 panic buying.)
Of course, if you don’t have a boxed pancake mix, it’s easy to make your own. The New York Times’ Everyday Pancakes recipe is a popular, simple option. You can use this base recipe and add in any extras that strike your fancy, such as blueberries (fresh or frozen) or chocolate chips. Pumpkin pancakes are great any time of year, too!
Muffins are another great pantry breakfast option. You can use a boxed mix if you have access to one (again, Kodiak Cakes has a selection– I recently made their blueberry muffins with toddler-approved success).
Here are some from-scratch recipes that I have tried with success:
Maple Pumpkin Muffins by Cookie and Kate (I added chocolate chips)
Healthy Blueberry Muffins by Well Plated
P.S. I promise this post is not sponsored by Kodiak Cakes; they just have some great healthy options that are tasty! (If you’re reading this, Kodiak Cakes Marketing Person who wants to send me some free pancake and/or muffin mix, then it’s very easy for me to edit this post. XD)
A healthy breakfast staple, there are practically unlimited options when it comes to eating oatmeal. If I’m making it in the morning, then I like to use steel-cut oatmeal with cardamom and cinnamon, a bit of honey, and optionally, whatever fruit is on hand. If I have time (and importantly: motivation) to prep the night before, I enjoy cold overnight oats. The following are my favorite recipes:
Vanilla Chai Overnight Oats
Vanilla Matcha Overnight Oats
Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats
Other Long(ish) Shelf-Life Breakfast Items
Breakfast Meats (Sausage, bacon, etc)
Most breakfast meats are smoked and/or cured so they have a fairly long shelf life. My family has been loving the Never Any! Apple Maple Chicken Breakfast Sausage from Aldi’s. Its expiration is usually about 2 months from when we buy it so we’ve eaten it before I have gotten the chance to freeze any, but it would freeze well if needed! Bacon is another great option. Note that my family generally tries to avoid cured meat, but we are making some temporary exceptions for quality of life.
I try to keep eggs stocked in the fridge at all times, because they are so versatile as a protein source by themselves, but also used in many baking recipes. Freshness varies, but the expiration date is usually about a month out from purchase date when purchased from a supermarket.
Pantry Dinner (or Lunch) Recipe Ideas
Try using Irish butter for an extra decadent treat if you can find it on your next grocery outing!
Sweet and spicy tuna salad
Skip the green onions to make it more pantry friendly!
I couldn’t leave pepperoni rolls off of this list. WV represent!
Cold Cut Sandwich
Try a Croque Monsieur if you are feeling fancy! (use whatever cheese you have on hand)
Use whatever fillings you like. If you want to try something other than the traditional Mexican flavors, try this kid-friendly recipe for Pizza Quesadillas.
Soups and Beans
Slow Cooker Vegetarian Lentil Chili
This is my go-to chili recipe, even when I am not limited to using pantry items! Budget Bytes is one of my favorite sources for weeknight recipes.
Vegetable Barley Soup
This is another recipe from Budget Bytes! As Beth states, you can substitute another grain (like farro) or small pasta (like ditalini) for the barley, or honestly whatever you have available. Beth also gives lots of options for including other veggies you might have on hand.
Rice and Beans
Rice and beans is a pantry staple dish that achieves the perfect trifecta of being healthy, delicious, and cheap. You can make it with just rice and beans if your pantry is severely limited– black beans, red beans, garbanzo…. whatever you’ve got! I like to add the following if available: onion, bell pepper (I always keep a bag or two of chopped bell peppers in the freezer), garlic, diced canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, corn (frozen or canned), lime juice, cumin, fajita or taco seasoning.
Protein Packed Black Bean Lentil Soup
Impromptu Crock Pot Tomato Soup
Realistically, use whatever type of canned tomatoes you have on hand. You can also substitute rice for the orzo.
Wintertime French Style Split Pea Soup
I’ve not made this recipe yet, but am planning to this weekend. It’s perfect because you can use leftover ham in sandwiches!
Tuna Noodle Casserole
One Pan Spanish Rice Bake
This recipe is a bit of a stretch on the pantry recipe idea, but it’s great if you have beef. You could substitute whatever meat you have available (frozen), or possibly even lentils in a pinch (I have not tested this).
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
My friend Nate introduced me to this red sauce recipe that seems too simple to possibly work. But it’s amazing, and I am pretty sure my toddler would eat it for every meal if she could. Use whatever canned tomatoes you have in the pantry in a pinch. Cook some dried pasta and add some frozen meatballs to make it a true pantry meal staple.
Macaroni and Cheese
I could eat Velveeta’s Shells and Cheese by the ladle; it’s a guilty pleasure. Sometimes I add a drained can of tuna or a bag of steamed broccoli (a freezer staple) to incorporate some actual nutritional value. I’m happy to report that the addition of broccoli is even toddler-approved in our house!
Chicken Broccoli Alfredo
This recipe is easy: pasta + canned chicken + frozen steamable broccoli + your jarrred alfredo sauce of choice. If you’re feeling really fancy and you have the ingredients, you can make your own Alfredo sauce from scratch. Top with grated Parmesan cheese if you want to feel like you actually put in some effort. 😉
Quick Chili Mac
Use ground beef if you have it, or whatever meat you have on hand. Cooked lentils could work, too.