Food

14 Meals You Can Make from Your Pantry and Freezer

Pasta with butter

 

Dear friends,

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.

1. Pasta

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.

3. Soup

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.

4. Meatballs

 

Meatball Recipe

 

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.

5. Pizza

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.

8. Chili

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

9. Sandwiches

 

Sandwich from the pantry

 

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

 

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.

14. Ramen

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

  • Oatmeal
  • Flour, yeast, sugar
  • Rice and quinoa
  • Pasta
  • 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
  • Salsa
  • Potatoes

Freezer Staples

  • Frozen vegetables
  • Frozen fruit
  • Bread and rolls
  • Tortillas
  • 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.

Best always,

Signature for Eliza Cross

 

 

 

P.S. If you use Pinterest to save ideas, here’s a handy pin:

Tasty Pantry Meals

 

Grateful thanks to Yoppy for the use of the spaghetti image, Dale Cruse for the use of the sandwich image, and the Hungry Dudes for the use of the potato image above.

Eliza Cross is the author of 15 books, including recent titles like Bacon Beans and Beer and Small Bites. She blogs at ElizaCross.com and is the founder of the BENSA Bacon Lovers Society. Her articles have appeared in publications like Sunset, Parents and Writers' Digest. Eliza lives near Denver with her family.

6 Comments

  • Gerald Jers McDonad

    Gosh, you were only Black Pepper away from making Cacio e Pepe Pasta in your college starvation days. I hope you squired some away when you went home to see the parentals. :-)

    Some mouth waterin’ photos this month. Fortunately I am reading this around lunch time. Thanks for throwing these recipes together. I have a few of them planned.

    Gerald Jers

    • Eliza Cross

      Jerry, our even-more-broke college friends used to make spaghetti topped with ketchup from free fast-food packets. I believe that is known as Pasta a la Frugali. I’d love to hear what you’re cooking up this month!

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