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April 17, 2020 / Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN

Maximize Your Cupboard with These Simple Pantry Recipes


During these challenging times of sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all been presented with new challenges - cooking being one of them. With social distancing and a stay-at-home order in effect around the country, the process of meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking meals has shifted into a new paradigm. That’s where pantry recipes come into play.

While it’s no longer as easy as it used to be to go grocery shopping, that doesn’t mean you can’t create delicious pantry meals with ingredients you likely already have.

Meal planning services can make it easier to maximize the ingredients you have in stock, stretch your food further with pantry meals, and minimize grocery store visits. You can make the most of your cupboards, freezer, and refrigerator staples with PlateJoy’s delicious and nutritious pantry recipes.

To help you use pantry ingredients to their maximum potential, we’ll go over essential staples to have on hand and how to maximize these ingredients. We hope to inspire you to get creative with your cooking with these simple, delicious, and nutritious pantry recipes.

Essential Pantry Staples

Pantry recipes make use of shelf-stable ingredients in your cupboard, as well as long-lasting ingredients in your refrigerator and freezer. Here is a helpful list of pantry ingredients that are convenient to have on hand to prepare quick pantry meals.




How to Maximize Pantry Staples

To maximize your pantry staples, here are a few tips and tricks we recommend:

1. Take inventory of what you already have on hand


Take some time to look through your kitchen. Create a list of what you have in your cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer. Taking inventory can make you more aware of what you already have and what you might need. It can also prevent you from buying unnecessary multiples of the same food, which can in turn lead to less food waste and cost-savings.

2. Practice First In, First Out (FIFO)

FIFO is an effective food storage method that encourages you to move older foods to the front and place newer foods behind them. By doing this, older foods are more accessible and you can use them sooner than newer foods. When you are taking inventory of your pantry, check the expiration dates and best-by dates to determine how to best organize your food.

3. Personalize your meal plan with the ingredients you already have


Personalize your meal plan to your specific diet and items you already have in your pantry to help you maximize what’s available and avoid any unnecessary grocery buying. This will save you time and money, will reduce food waste, and help you cook delicious pantry meals.

4. Freeze bread to make it last longer

While fresh bread lasts for less than one week on the counter, freezing bread can make it last for up to six months. Make sure your bread is sliced before you freeze it, then when you’re ready to eat it, you can toast the bread and it will taste the same as fresh bread. Want to use the bread in a sandwich for lunch? Simply make your sandwich with frozen bread in the morning; wrap it up (we like using a reusable beeswax wrap or silicon bag); and by lunchtime the bread will be perfectly defrosted and ready to consume.

5. Thaw frozen meats and seafood appropriately

Frozen meats and seafood are convenient when it comes to creating pantry recipes, however thawing them requires some planning. Defrost frozen meat or seafood in the refrigerator overnight, or until it is completely thawed. Make sure you defrost it on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator on a plate or in a container; that way, if there are juices that leak from the meat, they will be caught on the plate and not contaminate other food. Keep these proteins out of the food safety danger zone and avoid thawing on your kitchen counter.

6. Store nuts and seeds in the freezer to help them stay fresh even longer

While nuts and seeds are technically shelf-stable, you can maximize their freshness by storing them in a cold place. Because nuts and seeds contain fat, they can become rancid if they are exposed to oxygen or heat for long periods of time.

In an airtight container, they can stay fresh for up to six months in the refrigerator or up to one year in the freezer. You don’t have to thaw nuts or seeds, and they can be used to add heart-healthy fats to many pantry recipes.

7. Keep broth and stocks on hand to make soup in an instant

Soups and stews are easy and versatile pantry meals that can be made primarily with ingredients you can find in your pantry. If you have vegetable or chicken broth, you can quickly make a soup that will last you multiple servings. You can follow one of the delicious recipes below or get creative with your own soup concoction.

8 Delicious Time-Saving Pantry Recipes

We have compiled our favorite pantry meals to help inspire you to cook from your pantry staples.

1. Hearty lentil & vegetable soup


This wholesome soup pairs canned tomatoes and broth with lentils to make a high-fiber, high-protein soup. The lentils in this soup are not only high in protein, but they are also an excellent source of folate and iron.

Feel free to use any frozen vegetables you have on hand in this vegan recipe or any of the other pantry recipes to increase the fiber content and make them even more satiating. You can find similar recipes to this in our vegan meal planner.

2. Black bean & green chile polenta casserole


Casserole dishes are a great way to prepare pantry meals for the week, and they can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days to enjoy leftovers at a later time. A creative use of beans, polenta, and frozen vegetables, this Southwestern-inspired dish is also a hit in our vegetarian meal plan service and is also gluten-free. While this recipe calls for frozen spinach, you can use any frozen vegetables you’re stocked up on.

3. Coconut spinach, chickpeas & sweet potatoes


Canned coconut milk is an often under-utilized ingredient, but can transform pantry recipes and provide richness and flavor. In this vegetarian pantry meal, coconut milk adds depth and flavor to chickpeas and spinach, and comes together with roasted sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are very nutritious and an excellent source of vitamin A, which is important for vision health and immunity.

If you don’t have fresh spinach on hand, you can substitute it with frozen spinach or other frozen vegetables like broccoli or green beans. Since batch meals can be made ahead of time, they can make meal time convenient and quick.

4. Shakshuka (eggs in tomato sauce) with chickpeas & avocado


You can recreate a delicious brunch dish in the comfort of your home with this deceptively simple baked egg dish. Canned tomatoes, chickpeas, and spices transform eggs into a flavorful, nutrient-packed pantry meal that can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

5. Savory edamame fried rice


This healthy fried rice dish can be made with any frozen vegetables you have in your kitchen. The eggs in this pantry meal provide a good source of protein, as well as vitamins A, B12, and D. They also contain choline, an essential nutrient that helps regulate memory and mood. You can store this batch meal in an airtight container in the refrigerator for the week, and heat it up when you’re ready to eat.

6. Tomato, orzo & white bean soup


This cozy vegan soup comes together with canned tomatoes, beans, and pasta. Canned tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help lower your risk of heart disease. In fact, cooked and canned tomatoes actually contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes.

Soups are easily customizable pantry recipes. You can customize this soup with any small pasta or legumes based on your preferences or what you have stocked in your kitchen.

7. Tortilla soup with chicken & corn


This flavorful, classic soup comes together with quintessential staples like chicken broth, canned crushed tomatoes, and frozen corn. Rotisserie chicken can give pantry meals a protein boost, providing over 30 grams of protein per serving. Make the soup ahead of time and add the chips when you’re ready to serve.

8. Savory chickpea salad toasts


Filled with fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fat, these chickpea toasts can keep you full and satiated for hours. This flavorful pantry meal can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can make the chickpea salad ahead of time and top your toasted bread whenever you’re ready to eat.

The Takeaway

Pantry recipes are convenient and can help you and your family save time and money. Since they last longer than fresh ingredients, pantry staples are also effective at reducing food waste. An added bonus is that pantry recipes are surprisingly versatile and delicious.

Pantry staples include shelf-stable foods in your cupboard, frozen foods, and long-lasting refrigerated foods. Common pantry ingredients include canned goods, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, frozen meats, eggs, and dairy products.

You can maximize your staples by applying some of the tips that we suggest, like taking an inventory of your pantry, practicing proper food storage guidelines, and thawing your frozen food appropriately.

PlateJoy’s meal planning service makes it easy and convenient to meal plan with staples by taking the stress out of trying to come up with pantry recipes on your own.

You can personalize your meal plan to your specific diet and items you already have in your pantry to help you avoid unnecessary grocery shopping and maximize what you have on hand to create delicious and nutritious pantry meals.

Alena Kharlamenko, MS, RD, CDN
Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant @ Alena Menko Nutrition

Alena Kharlamenko is the founder of Alena Menko Nutrition, a food and nutrition blog where she publishes healthful, plant-forward recipes and makes nutrition approachable with easily digestible information. She’s also passionate about gut health and is a Monash FODMAP-Trained Dietitian. When she's not cooking up a storm in the kitchen or behind her computer, she can be found exploring the vast culinary scene of NYC, traveling around the world, or hiking and spending time in nature. You can find Alena on Instagram @thebalancedbite or on Facebook @AlenaMenkoNutrition.

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