Whether you’re planning meals to save money or preparing for a pandemic, having a well-stocked pantry and freezer makes it so much easier to cook from home. Stock up on a few basics, and you can easily make two weeks’ worth of easy meals.
Here are 14 ideas for you, and at the end of the article I’ve included lists of items you can tuck in your freezer and pantry so you have lots of options.
When I was a broke college student, my roommate and I often made spaghetti with butter, a little milk and Parmesan cheese. Little did we know that our frugal meal was close to a traditional Cacio e Pepe, which is simply pasta, melted butter, Parmesan cheese and ground black pepper.
Pasta is filling, inexpensive and family-friendly. Stock up on your favorite varieties plus a few jars of your favorite sauce, or make some from scratch like Grandpa Frank’s Spaghetti Sauce from my friend Kathleen’s blog The Fresh Cooky. You can also make a simple Pasta Carbonara with beaten eggs, crumbled bacon, and Parmesan.
2. Fried Rice
Cook some rice until fluffy. In a large skillet, heat some oil or butter and stir-fry the rice, adding some frozen veggies, a beaten egg or two, some soy sauce, and you’re good to go.
Or try the same technique with quinoa, a nutty grain that’s full of nutrients and a good source of protein. From the Happy Simple Living archive, here’s my recipe for Fried Rice Quinoa.
Soup is the ultimate easy meal to make with what you have on hand. You can use leftover meat bones and veggie scraps to make your own homemade soup stock, or start with canned or frozen broth and enhance it with veggies from the freezer, beans, or whatever you can scrounge up.
Make your own and freeze them, or buy a bag of pre-made frozen meatballs. You can put them over pasta or slice to top a pizza or make a meatball sandwich with rolls and marinara sauce.
In its simplest form, pizza dough is just flour, yeast, water and salt combined to make a perfect crispy crust. Top with jarred or frozen pizza sauce or spaghetti sauce, whatever veggies or meats you have on hand, and a sprinkling of cheese for a meal the whole family will love. Here’s my homemade pizza recipe.
6. Salsa Chicken
Pull out your slow cooker and add a few boneless chicken breasts and a jar of salsa. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-5 hours. Shred the chicken with two forks and put in a flour tortilla for burritos or over corn chips with cheese for nachos.
7. Burrito Bowl with Beans and Rice
The classic combination of rice and beans is a great choice for a pantry meal, and together these two staples make a complete protein. Serve with toppings such as with veggies, salsa, cheese and sour cream.
My family also loves Cuban black beans and rice, like this Congri recipe from Leite’s Culinaria.
Make a big batch of chili and you can eat some now and freeze the rest for later. My favorite preparation is the easy Chili Con Carne recipe printed on the label of the Gebhardt’s chili powder bottle, which you can adapt to your tastebuds. I always add a can or two of Kuner’s chili beans to the mix. For a vegetarian version, try Hurry the Food Up’s Meatless Chili.
Bread freezes well, so you can remove the number of slices you need to make a simple sandwich and store the rest. Try a classic grilled cheese, or layer whatever meats or veggies you have on ciabatta rolls, or make an open-face sandwich like The Pioneer Woman’s Welsh Rarebit.
10. Macaroni and Cheese
Good old macaroni and cheese is a family-friendly standby that can be accompanied by veggies for a simple meal. Add some drained canned tuna (and perhaps some cooked frozen peas), and you’ll have Tuna Mac, another family favorite.
11. Breakfast for Dinner
Pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, hash browns, homemade muffins and biscuits are all good candidates for a fun, filling dinner.
12. Loaded Baked Potatoes
Potatoes store well and are very versatile. Bake large potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees for an hour, or prick them all over with a fork, microwave each potato for about 5 minutes (your cooking time may vary depending on your microwave) and wrap in foil to finish cooking.
You can top baked potatoes with cooked veggies, cheese, crumbled cooked bacon, or whatever you have on hand.
13. Smoked Sausage
Kielbasa, Polish sausage and smoked bratwurst store well in the refrigerator, and can be easily cooked in a pan of simmering water or sliced and fried. Serve with a rice mix, beans or veggies for an easy meal.
Use whatever you have on hand to enhance this easy, inexpensive staple. I like to use homemade broth or stock instead of the little flavor packet whenever possible. Top the noodles with veggies and a soft boiled egg for Restaurant Style Ramen.
Super Simple Meals
If you’re the main meal-maker of your household, you may want to tuck a couple of super simple frozen meals in your freezer that are super-duper easy for non-cooks to prepare — just in case.
Here are a few ideas:
- Marie Callender’s Pot pies
- A frozen bagged dinner (my family likes Bertolli Chicken Parmigiana and Penne)
- Frozen burritos or taquitos
- White Castle baby cheeseburgers
- Amy’s frozen entrees (we’re partial to the cheese enchiladas)
- Stouffer’s French bread pizza
Pantry Staples for Meal Making
- Flour, yeast, sugar
- Rice and quinoa
- Ramen noodles
- Macaroni and cheese mix
- Beans (canned or dried)
- Marinara sauce or tomato sauce
- Wild-caught tuna
- Canned fruit like mandarin oranges or pineapple
- Canned broth
- Frozen vegetables
- Frozen fruit
- Bread and rolls
- Grated cheese
- Ground beef, ground turkey or meatless crumbles
- Bacon, sausage, hot dogs
- Chicken breasts or pieces
- Broth or stock
How About You?
What meals do you make from things in your freezer and cupboards? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions in the Comments section of this post. I hope you stay well, my friends.
P.S. If you use Pinterest to save ideas, here’s a handy pin: