10+ Thrifty Post-Vacay Meals, Courtesy of Your Pantry

Before heading out on a nice, relaxing vacation, I always try to remember that I don’t want to return home to spoiled milk, dead lettuce, and mystery leftovers from who knows when. That's why a fridge clean out is always on my pre-vacay to-do list. However, I have become strategic about my clean outs because the last place I want to be when I’m coming down from my post-vacation high is the grocery store.

With a well-stocked pantry and a few longer-life fridge items, I can avoid a mad dash to the supermarket when I still have the sand between my toes. Instead, I can save it for the next day and still get a great meal on the table for my family shortly after I get back. Here are the strategies and pantry-friendly dishes I lean on to soften the return back to reality—no takeout required!

Pasta is a true pantry hero and always comes to the rescue when I'm tired from the return flight, hungry and without many fresh ingredients on hand. As a good Italian girl, I always have some frozen sauce from the last big batch I made; but if you don’t, just make sure to keep a good, store-bought option around for a quick pasta pomodoro.

Another great post-vacation pasta meal is Cacio e Pepe. A nice wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino can live in the fridge for weeks and it’s one of the main (of already very few) ingredients needed for this dish. All you need is the cheese, some freshly cracked black pepper, and the very cooking liquid the pasta makes to get this one the table.

Need a bit of protein with your pasta? My mamma taught me to keep high quality, olive oil-packed tuna fish in the pantry for quick meals. Make your favorite pasta, toss with the olive oil tuna, and throw in some canned peas. You’ll be amazed at how easy and satisfying this pasta dish is! Or, just make an awesome tuna salad by adding canned artichokes, a jar of olives, and some capers, either with olive oil or a generous dollop of mayo; it’s delicious and quick to make.

Another great trick that I learned from my mom is pantry soup. It's exactly what it sounds like: I head into the pantry and grab a box of stock and whatever beans I have on hand to make a quick and light dinner after all of those carefree vacation meals. Chickpeas, cannellini, even black beans will do for an ad hoc minestrone soup that comes together in minutes. I’ll throw in some dried oregano and thyme, or if it’s summer, head out to my little herb garden for a snip of the fresh variety. You can even grab a can of corn or some frozen green beans to throw in there. It’s a kitchen sink kind of soup, so have fun with it.

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Don’t have stock? No problem. Add some tomato sauce instead, a few teaspoons of cumin and chili powder, and you have a veggie chili that will make you forget all of your post-travel woes.

Couscous can also be a dinner hero when you’re low on supplies. It’s a great foundation for so many other pantry staples. I love adding butter-toasted nuts, dried fruits, olives, and a few herbs. It also tastes great at room temperature the next day, so the leftovers will make your first day back at work a little more exciting, too. Double win.

Finally, before I head out on the road, I buy a fresh carton of eggs. Eggs have a long life in the fridge, and I know they'll be waiting for me when I get home. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner (or all those times in between), they can provide us with a quick meal. With all-purpose baking mix in the pantry, pancakes or waffles can be on the table in no time.

If it’s a noon arrival back to home base, I’ll grab some mayo and mustard from the pantry and throw together a delicious egg salad that we can eat with a big bag of pita or tortilla chips I find in the back of the cupboard. If we get in late, it's all about a nice shakshuka with some rice or other grains before we all fall into bed realizing, Maybe we need a vacation from our vacation...

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What do you normally eat after getting home from vacation? Whether it's a homemade meal or takeout, let us know below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nancy
  • BerryBaby
  • Anna Francese Gass
    Anna Francese Gass
Cookbook Author. Heirloom Kitchen.Food52 contributing editor & Recipe Tester.


Nancy June 1, 2018
This recipe - pasta from the pantry - may also be appealing to members returning from vacation. Can be made from the dry pantry, fridge & freezer. Or use fresh vegetables in season.
Anna F. June 6, 2018
Love this! Thank you!!
BerryBaby May 29, 2018
Pasta, lemon, butter, black pepper.