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Piece Together An Impressive Meal With What You Find In Your Pantry And Refrigerator

That feeling you have when everyone is hungry and demanding dinner, but you don’t know if you even have ingredients to make a decent meal. Sound familiar? It’s a problem I have all too often and I’m not alone. Between work, school, kid’s sports, lessons, and activities, some days making it to the grocery store just isn’t an option. Sure, you could order takeout, but you would feel better if you could just “throw something together” from what you have in your kitchen. It doesn’t take culinary training or a fully stocked pantry and refrigerator to create a tasty, healthy dinner. All you need is a little imagination, a few versatile basic ingredients, and a little spice, and in no time you will serve up a meal that leaves them speechless and wanting seconds!


Basics That Never Fail

When trying to piece together a meal from what you find in your own pantry and refrigerator, try your best to keep some of these common, basic ingredients in stock. They will bring more meal combinations than you realize:

  • Tortillas – Who doesn’t love tacos? And you can put just about anything into a taco: fish, chicken, beans, beef, etc
  • Pasta – Most people love pasta, especially kids, and pasta is a great foundation to build on. You can add protein, veggies, make a quick sauce with canned tomatoes and spices, toss in olive oil. There is no end to pasta’s possibilities
  • Rice – Another fantastic foundation to build a meal with. You can serve stir fry meat and veggies over rice, put it in a baking dish with chicken, season it up to go with your tacos, mix it in with broccoli and cheese to make a side dish casserole, endless variations
  • Salad options (lettuce, salad dressings) – Salads are healthy and easy meal options. If you make it a habit to keep some lettuce at most all times, there are a number of meal possibilities. You can top salads with chicken, steak, fish, shrimp, meatless patties, and just about any vegetable you have mixes in well. If you run out of salad dressing, a well stocked oil and seasoning cabinet give you numerous dressing options that you can make yourself
  • Cheese – Cheese is always a favorite and goes with many meal ideas. Sliced cheese makes any sandwich better, shredded cheese tops anything from tacos to pasta, casseroles, burgers, and a lot of other great meals
  • Chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock – Stock is always a crucial base for any sauce, gravy, or soup and comes in handy quite often
  • Olive oil, canola oil, vegetable oil – Whether you are sauteeing your veggies, tossing with your pasta noodles, creating your own salad dressing, or cooking some meat, oil is an essential ingredient. Always be sure to have some on hand


Spices Make The Meal

No matter what meal you decide to make, the taste and flavor will invariably hinge on what spices you add. Spices and seasonings are ESSENTIAL to a delicious meal and take it from basic to gourmet. The spices you should always keep on hand should be your favorite ones, of course, and a combination of the following:

  • Salt and pepper – The two necessary ingredients for flavor and seasoning. Always keep both in your pantry. Always
  • Garlic – powder, minced, flakes, salt, it all works. Garlic just makes everything taste better and serves as your main flavor for most sauces. Also works wonders when marinating meat or vegetables
  • Onion – powder or dried, it adds great flavor to ALL dishes. Pairs well with garlic and mot all other spices
  • Season salt – A good, neutral seasoning that brings added zing to any dish
  • Italian seasoning – Good for your italian dishes and sauces, also good on garlic bread
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Crushed red pepper flakes – Gives a little bit of heat to a dish
  • Old Bay seasoning – for seafood and creole flavors, enhances their natural taste
  • Chili powder – Essential for your favorite chili recipe and adds a kick to mexican dishes and sauces
  • Cilantro – Great for your Mexican dishes and good for using in marinating meats, fresh cilantro is great but the dried herb version works just as well


Proteins And Produce

Adding proteins and produce to your meals is a MUST. Freezing different varieties of meat is always a good idea, it brings you more options. But, when it runs out, canned meat is always a good go-to. Everyone needs veggies, but what happens when they’ve all turned brown, molded, or run out? Canned or frozen vegetables to the rescue. Here’s some ideas to ponder:

  • Frozen meats – Chicken, ground beef, seafood (fish, shrimp), pork
  • Canned meats (tuna, salmon, chicken, etc)
  • Canned vegetables – beans and peas, tomatoes, corn
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Lettuce – Salads, sandwich, burger, and taco topper, it’s good to have on hand, but your meal isn’t a bust if you don’t have some
  • Tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, green bell peppers, red and yellow peppers, jalapenos, onions,
  • Fresh herbs – Great for flavor in most dishes, these can also be washed and frozen for later use. Fresh herbs aren’t completely essential, dried herbs work just as well you just don’t need to use quite as much with dried because the flavor is stronger
  • Tomato paste – Another good canned item to keep handy, works great as base for your marinara sauce, chili, and tomato based soups


Your Favorites, Your Flavors, Your Way

These “scavenger meals,” as I like to call them, may sound daunting, but they are actually quite fun. Turn it into a legitimate scavenger hunt. Make a list of what you do have, let your kids pick their favorite things, find them together then decide what kind of meal you can make from those ingredients. It shows them that cooking can be fun, creative, and that they have a choice in what you make. Scavenger meals may just turn out to be your favorite kind to make, much more fun than those boring, old “planned” meals. 



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