Cooking from the Pantry

— Written By Alyssa Anderson
en Español / em Português

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Based on conversations with class participants and reflection on my own personal habits, it appears a lot of changes related to eating have happened over the last six months. Some people are cooking more at home, shopping at the store less frequently, and even growing their own food in a home garden. Others find that they are eating more due to stress and the added convenience of having food readily available when working from home. I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your own eating habits. What habits do you hope to keep? What are some goals you can set for the upcoming year?

One habit I hope to keep involves keeping close inventory of my pantry. In the past, I have been guilty of buying foods that get pushed to the back of the pantry, only to be rediscovered a few years past the expiration date. Since I started visiting the grocery store less frequently, I started looking to my pantry for staple meals to hold me over until my next trip. What is great about these foods is that they are shelf-stable, which makes them practical to stock up on. Many pantry items are nourishing for our bodies and can be incorporated into recipes in various ways. Some of my favorites to always have on hand include canned beans, canned tuna, canned tomatoes, whole grain pasta, canned pumpkin, and oats. What recipes can you think of based on these ingredients?

You may find that these foods can be paired together to create numerous meal possibilities! Dried seasoning and spices can transform the flavor profiles while allowing you to be creative. Some quick ideas that come to mind for me are:

  • Spaghetti: Puree canned tomatoes with Italian seasonings and serve on top of whole-grain pasta.
  • Tuna noodle casserole: Bake together tuna, cream of mushroom soup, and cooked pasta.
  • Chickpea curry: Add canned tomatoes, chickpeas, rice, and coconut milk and flavor with warm spices such as cinnamon and curry powder.
  • Baked pumpkin bars: Endless recipes can be found online that use a combination of pumpkin and oats. This high fiber treat will keep you feeling full!
  • White bean tuna salad: Try adding smashed white beans to canned tuna with a little lemon juice and season to taste. This makes a great dip or can be made into a sandwich.

You may notice that these ideas are not complete recipes. For some, this is an opportunity for creativity! Others may not feel as comfortable in creating meals on a whim. If having a complete recipe helps you, try searching different recipes online using your base ingredients and compare them with the additional ingredients you have available. With practice, you may find that your cooking style becomes more flexible. One fun way to involve kids in the kitchen is to create a cooking challenge where they help to plan and prepare a meal based on a few pantry ingredients. It is amazing all the ways a can of beans can be used in a recipe, from creating black bean burgers to black bean brownies!

The N.C. Cooperative Extension, Lee County Center’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on food safety, wellness, and nutrition please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Alyssa Anderson, MS, RDN, LDN at 919-775-5624.