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April 23, 2020 / Thomas Ngo Aquino

10 Virtual Dinner Pantry Recipes

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We are all doing our part to stay inside and stay safe during this quarantine, but being indoors all day has its challenges. With gyms closed, we are learning to navigate ways to maintain our physical health with at-home workouts. With limited stock on shelves, we are getting creative with quarantine cooking and meal preparation. But what are we doing to stay connected with our loved ones and to take care of our personal well-being? Social distancing can quickly become social isolation without our regular, daily human interaction, especially when living alone. This loneliness can increase levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.

The good news is that seeing friends and spending time with loved ones under quarantine is possible with some creativity. Whether a phone call or a video chat, you can add a jolt of happiness and sanity to your day without having to leave our home. You do not have to be together physically to celebrate life’s milestones like birthdays, graduations, and even weddings! You can be social via virtual video calls.

To take your virtual hangouts to the next level, why not try hosting a virtual dinner party? Scheduling a virtual dinner party or cooking date can recreate how we normally catch up with loved ones over food. It may seem like a lot of work to host a virtual pantry dinner, but it can be simple if you know what resources to use. Whether you are joining friends for something more casual like a digital happy hour, or you are celebrating an important family anniversary, we have easy tips to ensure you have a stress-free and fun time making a delicious meal using what you already have in your kitchen.

How to Host a Virtual Dinner Party

Whether you are six-feet or 600 miles away from your friends, hosting a virtual dinner party has some of the same requirements as an in-person one. Once you agree on your communication medium, pick from any of PlateJoy's delicious recipes to incorporate healthy meal planning into your online get-together. This is a great time to think outside of the box and get creative with what you already have to entertain dinner guests. You can add to the festive mood with fun decorations, music, and games

Choose Your Connection

There are many options to help you connect with loved ones virtually. You can use apps like Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Hangouts to connect with people on your phone, tablet, or computer. Some of these apps even allow you to share your screen, which makes it extremely helpful when following the same recipe while cooking.

Set the Table

To break from the regular vibe of your weeknight meals at home, make your virtual dinner party a bit more special by taking a few steps to make it feel like you are eating at a restaurant.

Pick a place of your home that you do not normally use (like your patio), and set the table with flowers. Light a candle and put on some light music in the background to add to the ambience. Changing your clothes and putting on something you would wear out to dinner may help change your mindset, and make your virtual dinner party feel more like a special event. If you are celebrating a special occasion like a birthday, put up decorations or a banner. All of this will transport you into a different mindset and make it feel like you are not at home, and it’s a great way to use your creativity to combat cabin fever.

Play Virtual Party Games

Playing party games can be a great activity to pass the time while you wait for dinner to finish cooking or after you are done eating. You can stick to the classics like pictionary or charades, or choose digital games like Heads Up! and Houseparty. It is a sure-fire activity to make you laugh, have fun, and flex your brain muscle by working on your game strategy.

Plan Your Pantry Dinner Menu

Whether you are making one course or multiple dishes, the star of your virtual dinner party is your menu, so make sure to discuss this with family and friends before the video call. If you plan to cook together during the digital date, pick a menu that uses pantry staples and ingredients that everyone has on hand. Also check your fridge and freezer to use your full arsenal of kitchen ingredients. You can choose a new recipe or follow one that you already love. If you're looking for inspiration, try one of our top 10 pantry recipes below.

1. Italian pasta primavera casserole

Italian-pasta-primavera-with-broccoli-and-basil-in-red-sauce

This Italian pasta primavera casserole is the perfect one-baking-dish recipe that people at every cooking level can make, which makes it a great choice for a virtual dinner party. The magic of casseroles is that you can utilize anything you already have in your pantry (pasta, rice, and beans), refrigerator (items about to expire or spoil), or in your freezer (homemade sauce and vegetables).

2. Quick black bean and corn enchiladas

Black-bean-and-corn-enchiladas-are-an-easy-and-cost-effective-pantry-dinner

Did you find a long-forgotten can of beans in the back of your pantry? Toss them into this easy recipe for black bean and corn enchiladas. It is a delicious and versatile dish that allows you to use fresh or frozen vegetables. Top it using canned enchilada sauce or jarred salsa.

3. Southwestern vegetable noodle soup

Southwester-vegetable-noodle-soup-in-a-bowl-with-a-spoon

During this uncertain time, food can be a source of comfort. Soup is the ultimate heart-warming pantry dinner to cook and enjoy. Make an old favorite or try a new one like this southwest vegetable noodle soup, which is great to use up any canned or dried goods (like pasta). It can be made in advance using an Instant Pot or Dutch oven for ease of cooking. Plus, it can be stored in the freezer and defrosted in the future when you need a quick meal.

4. Sheet pan nachos with turkey, cheddar and romaine

Sheet-pan-nachos-with-turkey-cheddar-and-romaine

Celebrating something special like a birthday or graduation? These sheet pan nachos are the quintessential party food that anyone can make using either a bag of chips or cut up fresh tortillas. These nachos are also easy to customize to any food preferences or allergies. For example, if you eat a vegetarian diet, you can exclude the ground meat and add your favorite plant-based protein instead. You can use anything you have in your pantry or fridge for the toppings like pre-shredded cheese, canned beans, and spices. If you have any extra tortillas left over, you can freeze them (just like any other bread and grain products) so they stay fresh.

5. Quick white turkey chili

Quick-white-turkey-chili-in-a-bowl

This quick white turkey chili is a winning dish as a starter or the main entree. The best part is that it is a batch recipe. This allows you to have healthy and delicious meals made ahead of time, which is helpful during quarantine when you may not want to cook at home every night. You can use any remaining vegetables, canned or homemade chicken stock, and frozen turkey in this recipe.

6. Penne arrabbiata

Penne arrabbiata pasta with tomatoes basil and parsley in a bowl

Dry goods like pasta can be stored at home for long periods of time, which helps to reduce frequent trips to the grocery store. This also makes them the perfect ingredient when making batch recipes for the weeks ahead. Our penne arrabbiata is a customizable dish to which you can add more vegetables or your favorite protein depending on what you have on hand. We recommend trying it with leftover chicken or a poached egg.

7. Make-ahead Greek pasta salad

Greek pasta salad with olives, cucumber, tomato, feta in a white bowl

Another great pantry dinner recipe that uses shelf-stable goods is this Greek pasta salad, which contains canned olives and garbanzo beans. You can make it earlier in the day and store it in the refrigerator, which helps to reduce cooking time when serving multiple courses or cooking batch meals. Because it has international flavors, it can really add to the theme and specialness of any virtual dinner party.

8. 30-minute skillet lasagna

Skillet lasagna topped with basil and cheese in a cast iron pan

Balancing work, chores, and family can make time a more precious commodity during quarantine. Quick and simple recipes like this 30-minute skillet lasagna is a time saving one-pan dish to cook for your virtual dinner party and celebration.

9. Rice & white bean soup

Two bowls of rice and white bean soup with spinach and side salad on counter

Sometimes, the best menu is one full of appetizers, like this rice and white bean soup. Use up kitchen pantry staples like stock, beans, rice, and frozen spinach to create a cozy bowl of soup that is packed with fiber and protein. Pair it with another simple starter or a side of mixed greens with your favorite salad dressing.

10. Instant Pot Sticky Chicken and Broccoli with Quinoa

Sticky chicken and broccoli with quinoa in a bowl with chopsticks

If you are short on time for your virtual dinner party, you can create this sticky chicken and broccoli with quinoa dish by combining grains and frozen vegetables in an Instant Pot. A multi-function cooker like the Instant Pot is easy to use and can whip up this dish in a short amount of time. With less time spent cooking, you will have more time to socialize with your friends and family before it is time to eat.

The Takeaway

Living under quarantine can feel isolating, but with some out of the box planning, you can safely put the “social” back into “social distancing”. By following our tips and tricks, you can host a stress-free hangout and create memories that last beyond the current quarantine.

Make your virtual dinner party stand out and go the extra mile by setting the table, getting dressed up, and picking a fun game to play. Pick any of the delicious recipes above that help you use kitchen staples you already have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. If you are short on time, batch cook meals so you have ready-made options that require simple heating. Remember, if you need help with meal planning, PlateJoy can personalize any of your meal plans and recipes to any specific diet.

We hope that we have inspired you to stay in touch during life’s small moments or special milestone celebrations by hosting a virtual dinner party or cooking date. Sharing a meal is one of the traditions you can continue doing under these special circumstances, and it can bring some semblance of normalcy to your schedule. These virtual gatherings hopefully brighten your day, boost your mood, and remind you that even when we are living apart, we are all in this together.

Thomas Ngo Aquino
Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics

Thomas Ngo Aquino is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics with over a decade of experience in fitness, food-service, and tech industries. He teaches clients about gentle nutrition, science-based practices, and body positivity. In his spare time, Thomas volunteers at a local animal shelter walking dogs and helping them get adopted. He is also an avid baker and is learning how to bake bread regularly.

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