You’ve probably heard of pantry dishes, or “Shelf Cooking” (thank you, Jordan Page for coining the phrase). At the time that this blog is being written, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and are actively self-quarantining. That means we are going to the grocery store less, using what we have on hand, and trying to use shelf staples to create great meals. As someone who finds comfort in cooking, and also does not enjoy eating the same meal two days in a row, I’ve taken it as a personal challenge to come up with creative ways to use simple ingredients. Or ingredients that I wouldn’t normally pick up, but opted for due to grocery store shortages.
The first recommendation I have before you begin putting together your pantry dishes, is to take a full inventory of your food. That means: Pull every item out of your fridge, freezer, pantry and snack stash (don’t pretend you don’t have one) and make note of the items you have. I did this originally to put together a grocery list, and ended up realizing I had so much more than I thought. As you use your ingredients, cross them off so you can quickly look back at this list and pull together a meal with what you have, rather than finding a recipe and thinking about what you need to go out and purchase to complete the dish.
Using this list, I was able to come up with the below meal ideas. These are all modifiable, so you can swap out your protein, your vegetable, your base, based on whatever you have on hand. Don’t have a tortilla? Use bread and make a panini. Don’t have rice? Use potatoes (or make cauliflower rice – yum). Don’t have chicken? Use pork, steak, ground beef or no meat at all. I definitely found us experimenting with vegetarian meals, which isn’t something I branch out to very often.
– Chicken breasts in a spinach cream sauce
– Broccoli and cheddar stuffed chicken breasts
– Sausage and vegetable sheet pan dinner
– Sausage and cheese quesadillas (add bell peppers if you have them!)
– Stromboli stuffed with ground beef, ham and pepperoni (also makes a great pizza)
– Gnocchi with shredded rotisserie chicken and brown butter (or Alfredo sauce)
– Homemade KFC bowls (popcorn chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, cheese and gravy)
– Chicken stir-fry with frozen fried rice
– Cheese ravioli in Alfredo sauce and spinach
– Kielbasa with boxed pasta-roni (basically just a shells/white cheddar side)
– Chicken parmesan
– BBQ chicken stuffed sweet potatoes (shredded chicken tossed in BBQ sauce, stuffed in a baked potato)
– Bowtie pasta with Alfredo sauce and buffalo chicken
– Pepperoni pizza chicken (chicken breasts baked in a dish topped with mozzarella and pepperoni)
– Chicken/ranch wraps (even better if you have bacon to add!)
– Stir fry noodles with peanut sauce
– Aglio e olio (sounds fancy, but it’s spaghetti in a sauce of sautéed garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes)
– BBQ meatballs on mashed potatoes
– Chicken & refried beans rollups
– Cacio e pepe (AKA spaghetti tossed in butter, black pepper, pasta water and parmesan)
Outside of these meals, you always have the classics: Spaghetti and marinara, chicken and rice, chicken and cheese quesadillas, tacos, or any combination of protein and vegetable.
No matter what you have in your pantry, I promise you can create a delicious meal. I hope this helps to spark some cooking inspiration for you.