How to Cook with the Food in Your Pantry

dried food goods in glass jars
  • 2 hours
  • Beginner

Whether quarantine has you stuck inside or you’re trying to eat through your pantry before a big move, there is a method to the madness of munching your way through shelves of food.

Clean It Out

If you have space, start by pulling everything out of your pantry and food cupboards. Place everything on the table and begin putting things into categories. Place cans together, noodles together, boxed dinners together, and so on. As you sort, look at expiration dates on food. Unless you keep your pantry lean, chances are you have expired food hiding in there.

Clear out your expired goods and stale items and then place the rest of your food back into your pantry in an organized manner. This will help you remember all of the food that you do have in your pantry. If you have items that are close to expiration, keep them near the front.

Call in a Sub

When cooking with things in your pantry, things like premade boxed meals will be pretty simple. Cooking with some of the items in your pantry will be a little trickier. It helps to know a little bit about basic food substitutions.

Applesauce and mashed bananas can be substituted for eggs. The ratio is three tablespoons of mashed fruit per egg.

apples and banana mixed into smooth food

Baking soda and cream of tartar can be used in place of baking powder. The ratio is a quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda to a teaspoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon of cream of tartar to a teaspoon of baking powder.

Swap breadcrumbs for crushed crackers at a one to one ratio and use plain yogurt in place of sour cream, also at a one to one ratio.

If you need tomato paste and don’t have any, you can put double the amount of tomato sauce in a pan and cook it uncovered until it reduces down to the amount of tomato paste you need.

More widely known, butter can be swapped for shortening at a one to one ratio. In a pinch, you can also swap butter for half of the amount of vegetable oil. So if your recipe calls for a cup of butter, you could use a half cup of oil.

Cook it Up

There are several simple meals you can whip up in a pinch that come solely from your pantry and cupboards. It is often helpful to meal plan a week at a time so you can gauge what you need to use from your pantry and when. When you cook in a scramble, sometimes you find yourself in a bind without ingredients or you accidentally use something that you need for another recipe. As you try to cook only using things found in your pantry, try some of these fast and easy ideas out.

Homemade Refried Beans

Bags of pinto beans can sit in your pantry for years but making homemade beans is easy. Take your crockpot and fill it with water. Dump a pound of pinto beans into the water and let them soak overnight. In the morning, drain all of the water off the beans, fill the pot with new water and cook on low for eight hours. You can season the beans any way you’d like, but we recommend using chicken bullion and onion and garlic salt. Once the beans are nice and soft, drain all but a quarter cup of liquid and mix the beans together with an electric mixer.

The fridge upgrade: You can break the pantry-only rules and add butter and cheese if you’d like.

refried beans in a bowl with lime cheese and parsley

Potato Mash

Take potatoes and peel and slice them in thin slices. Drain a can of corn and set it aside with the potatoes as well. Place the potatoes and the corn in a hot skillet with a quarter cup of water and let them cook and get soft. As they soften, add a can of cream of mushroom soup to the mash and let the mixture thicken together. Add steak seasoning for an extra kick and eat nice and hot.

The fridge upgrade: add meat, carrots, any other vegetables or mushrooms to the mix as well.

Cake in a Cup

Take four tablespoons of cake mix and mix it with two tablespoons of water in a mug. Microwave the mug for forty-five seconds and let the cake cool for a minute, then enjoy.

Freezer upgrade: add a scoop of ice cream to your baked creation.

Ready to take on your next big kitchen project? Learn how to bake on the BBQ or tackle outdoor cooking with the kids.