Like the rest of the world, many of us will be staying home a lot more, reducing the number of meals we eat out, and stocking up for a couple weeks’ worth of meals. Planning to feed and nourish our families with what we have on hand however is not as challenging as you might think. Staples offer an array of meals that are both satisfying, nutritious, and flavorful. Another big plus is that most staples and pantry items are economical and have a long shelf life, so little is wasted if not used up. You probably have a lot more meal options then you realize!
Here are some easy everyday meal ideas that use the staples you have on hand.
First, take a quick inventory of what you have so you don’t buy more than you need. Most of us have odds and ends we’ve never gotten around to using: the dried fruit from a gift basket, a sample bottle of BBQ sauce, a can of pumpkin left over from holiday baking, and various portions of rice, pasta, and grains. Your freezer probably contains similar items: a half bag of frozen corn, a single chicken breast, half a bag of ravioli, and a handful of meatballs. Glance over the jams, sauces, condiments, jars of pickles and peppers, and dressings hanging out in your fridge; check your spices, oils, and vinegars for anything that might be running low. Get creative with putting this inventory to use and identify the staples you need to stock up on.
For more information on recommended items to purchase during the COVID-19 pandemic, see our blog from Courtney Puidk, registered dietitian.
Build Meals with Beans
Canned beans are some of the most versatile foods in your pantry. They are filling, inexpensive, nutritious, and give a protein punch to your meal. While chili may be the most obvious use, there are other creative ways to take advantage of them:
- Sauté a chopped onion, stir in chopped fresh, frozen, or jarred red pepper, add a can of black beans and season with cumin, and a squirt of lime juice. Serve over a baked yam or sweet potato.
- Brown ground beef or turkey, add a can of beans then simmer with salsa or Mexican seasonings, mash beans slightly and serve in wrapped up tortillas or crunchy shells as enchiladas, burritos, or tacos.
- Sauté minced garlic and canned tomatoes, add a can of white beans, season with salt, pepper, and basil. Stir in fresh greens such as spinach or arugula. Toss with cooked pasta and top with Parmesan cheese for a delicious main dish.
- Puree chickpeas for hummus or creamy base for comforting soup.
- Red beans and rice are a classic combination. Simmer kidney beans, canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, chopped onion, peppers, a little spice with paprika, cumin or hot sauce in broth. Add shredded chicken, pork, or Andouille sausage for a smokey taste.
Create Comfort Food with Canned Meat
Canned meats can make delicious meals and are economical choices. They are also easy and quick to cook with.
- Salmon patties, a dinner time staple a couple generations ago, are just as tasty today! Mix together a can of drained salmon (reserve some of the juice) with a beaten egg, chopped onion, cracker or bread crumbs, and seasoning. Moisten with some of the reserved juice, then fry until gold brown.
- Canned clams make an easy pasta sauce to pour over linguine. Drain clams, reserving the juice. Sauté minced garlic in a bit of butter, add a tablespoon or so of flour to form a thick paste, pour in reserved clam juice (add bottled clam juice if you have it), and bring to a simmer to thicken. Add clams, season with salt, pepper, and parsley. Pour over hot cooked linguine and top with Parmesan.
- Canned tuna is not only for sandwiches but also creates a comforting tuna casserole! Canned soups, broth, or an easily-made white sauce can serve as the binder. Then add fresh, frozen, or canned peas, red peppers, celery, onions, green beans, or mushrooms, fold into cooked egg noodles—cooked rice will work, too! Before baking, top with cheddar cheese or Parmesan and something crispy and crunchy like bread or cracker crumbs, even broken potato chips.
Add Protein with Eggs
Eggs are excellent sources of protein and like beans, versatile. They can be boiled, fried, scrambled, or baked. They work as a main dish, a side dish, or a snack. Refrigerated, they can keep in the refrigerator for three to five weeks.
- Keep a few boiled eggs in the fridge. Think egg salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, chopped in a green salad, or mix with your favorite potato salad ingredients.
- Whip up a frittata for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Whisk eggs and evaporated milk together, sauté preferred vegetables in an oven-proof skillet, add cooked meat such as ham, bacon, or smoked salmon if desired, pour eggs over mixture in skillet, sprinkle in desired cheese. When eggs are partially set, finish cooking in a 350°F oven.
- A lightly fried egg on top of a dish of fried rice, a bowl of oats, or plate of spaghetti sautéed in garlic and topped with Parmesan give these simple dishes an extra rich and creamy goodness, plus added protein.
- Scramble up eggs, sausage, hash browns, onions, and peppers together in a skillet. Top with salsa, ketchup, or hot sauce. This is a great way to stretch those ingredients.
Add Sweetness with Canned or Frozen Fruit
Canned or frozen fruits such as peaches, blueberries, or even fruit cocktail are easy ways to incorporate fruit and a little sweetness.
- Make a cobbler or crisp with frozen or canned fruit. Use baking mix or assemble a topping with flour, sugar, and melted butter to make a biscuit-style topping. Make it a crisp by crumbling together a streusel-type topping of oats, nuts, butter, sugar, and spices. Bake until bubbly.
- Frozen and canned fruit works well in smoothies.
- Simmer peaches, apples, or pears with a little cinnamon and brown sugar, then serve over pancakes, waffles, or pound cake.
- Canned peaches, berries, or apricots combined with barbeque sauce and simmered together with onion and a little spice make a wickedly delicious sauce for pork chops, ribs, or chicken.
- Use canned pineapple for a sweet and sour dish. Stir-fry pork, chicken, or tofu and vegetables in minced garlic and ginger. Add a can of pineapple and its juice, 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, and couple tablespoons ketchup, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Thicken with cornstarch if needed.
Find a Place for Miscellaneous Items
Use up those odds and ends in the cupboard, fridge, and freezer.
- If you are staring at a lone applesauce cup, a handful of nuts, dried fruits, a can of pumpkin, or too-ripe banana, think about making a heartily loaded muffin or quick bread.
- A handful of dried fruits and nuts can liven up green salads, add flavor and texture to all kinds of pilafs or grain-based dishes, or can be piled on a bowl of oatmeal to make a filling meal.
- A good use of those miscellaneous vegetables is a stir fry. This also stretches a small amount of protein such as chicken, shrimp or tofu. Sauté garlic and ginger in a bit of oil, stir fry protein, then toss in a combination of vegetables such as onions, celery, bok choy, cabbage, mushrooms, peppers, carrots, zucchini, asparagus, pea pods, spinach, or Brussels sprouts. (You’ll want to toss in any leafy greens near the end.) Frozen vegetables work, too, as does that can of water chestnuts or miniature corn you found in back of the cupboard. Look to your condiments for added flavor, a splash of soy sauce, sriracha, an Asian chili paste, or even a little of that sweet and sour dipping sauce can add the spice or sweetness you like.
- Add frozen corn, canned diced tomatoes, and canned chopped green chilis to a can of chicken noodle soup then ladle over tortillas chips. Grated cheddar and avocado is a nice touch. (Have tortillas but no chips? Spray tortillas with cooking spray, cut into wedges, and bake in a 350°F oven for 7 to 10 minutes.)
- Stir a few frozen ravioli and fresh spinach into canned minestrone soup, then top with Parmesan to make a meal.
- Toss that handful of frozen meatballs you found in the freezer with a can of tomato soup, coconut milk, and a few veggies for a yummy lunch.
- To make a quick peanut sauce, heat bottled salsa in a sauce pan, add peanut butter and honey, thin to desired consistency with orange juice or broth. Use as dipping sauce for chicken, stir into a mixture of stir-fried vegetables and pasta for a Thai-style dish or make a spicy peanut soup by sautéing a chopped onion, adding broth, simmering with a yam and carrot, pureeing and stirring in peanut sauce.
- Bottled barbeque sauce heated up with shredded or canned chicken, beef, or pork can make a pulled meat meal. Serve on a bun or over a baked potato.
While these ideas and suggestions are by no means comprehensive, we hope that as you shop and plan for cooking at home for an extended period of time, they give some guidance and encouragement. There are plenty of choices for healthy, nutritious, and delicious meals!