11 Dinners Already Hanging Out in Your Pantry

Quick and easy meals to make tonight.

March  1, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.

I once believed that Kalamata olives were a staple in everyone’s pantries. They certainly were in mine growing up. My mom would go through jars almost weekly, adding the briney bites to salads and roasted chicken and fish. Often, my sister and I would steal two or three as pre-dinner snacks straight from the jar. It wasn’t until I casually brought it up to my coworkers that I realized not everyone kept Kalamatas on standby.

All of this is to say: “Pantry staples” are relative. You might never be without a can of tomatoes or a bag of kidney beans, while your best friend swears that every kitchen needs cans and cans of tuna. (You bet I always have my Kalamatas.) But no matter how different our pantries might look, chances are, we all have a satisfying meal or two hanging out in there. And what's important is being resourceful, right? Especially now at a time when we need our pantries the most.

In case you're looking for some inspiration, here are 11 dinners I think most pantries can make—even ones without olives. (And let me know any great pantry meals I might've missed; the more we can share with each other, the better.)

This rice porridge is the perfect canvas for all sorts of toppings. Recipe author edamame2003 recommends a version with ground meat, fried crispy shallots, a poached egg, fresh cilantro, grated ginger, green onion, and white pepper. But, hey, it’s also a great with just a dash of fish sauce.

When Food Writer & Recipe Developer Emma Laperruque doesn’t want to cook, she makes pasta. Specifically, this pasta. Made with capers, anchovies, and (my fave) olives, it’s an easy dish packed with flavor.

A salad where all you need is a can opener. Really.

Okay, yes, eggs aren’t in the pantry (in the U.S., at least). But this minty riff on shakshuka makes an ideal weeknight dinner. It’s fast, cheap, and flavorful enough to feel special.

Cookbook author Heidi Swanson makes eating well glamorous yet attainable with this warm, feel-good soup. Don’t have green lentils? You can also use green split peas.

Senior Lifestyle Editor Hana Asbrink makes these cheddary waffles with the help of her daughter, Lana. “They’re unassuming but memorable, rich, and just plain delicious,” she says. “You can customize each one however your heart desires.”

Creamtea came up with this complex chili that’s beautifully hands-off. Plus it’s flexible, adapting to whatever beans you have around (yes, even you, Anasazi beans).

I won’t stop talking about how much I love this recipe. Not only is Merrill’s tomato rice buttery and slightly sweet, it all comes together in one pot. Swoon.

We met this comforting soup during our Best Umami-Centric Recipe Contest. Dymnyno caught our eye with her two clever uses for farro: first, as a thickener for the soup, and second, as a garnish to dollop on top.

I agree with CrepesofWrath that mustard makes everything better. Although, if you’re not a fan of mustard greens, feel free to sub in whatever droopy leaf is hanging out in your crisper drawer.

This 20-minute salad gets even better as it sits, allowing the fragrant spices, zippy lemon, and caramelized onions to get acquainted. Stuff them in a pita for extra oomph.

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Top Comment:
“Must haves in my pantry, not in any special order are, canned tomatoes, canned beans, many sizes and shapes of De Cecco dried pasta( made in Italy), anchovies and tuna (Italian packed in olive oil) and of course various vinegars and good Italian olive oil. ”
— Noelle

What is your favorite pantry staple? Share in the comments below!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sarina Smith
    Sarina Smith
  • Noelle
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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


Sarina S. March 24, 2020
I grew up extremely poor and until very recently I've had to stretch foods to fill the bellies of my foodie teen and my autistic toddler with a food aversion
Asian and Mediterranean cuisine are the best foods to turn to in a crisis
I know so many young people who don't even have a pantry or know where to start that are panicking and either spending all of their money on takeout or worse shopping every single day
For anyone in search of pantry building ideas, look to the East
With just a few interchangeable spices and rice, pastas, meats/substitute, and veggies you can feed yourself interesting, healthy, soulful meals for less than $100/month

A tip from the poorest of poor: Almost everything is easily stretched over potatoes from sloppy joe mix over roasted potatoes to shakshuka over roasted purple potatoes with challah
You can feed large families with almost nothing so please don't waste your money in times of uncertainty
Hope you're all well and staying safe
Hugs from us to all who need them
Noelle March 20, 2020
Must haves in my pantry, not in any special order are, canned tomatoes, canned beans, many sizes and shapes of De Cecco dried pasta( made in Italy), anchovies and tuna (Italian packed in olive oil) and of course various vinegars and good Italian olive oil.
MegW March 15, 2020
Those waffles sound delicious! I will definitely check them out in my heart-shaped waffle maker.