17 Pantry Meals When You Don’t Have Food in the House

I thought about calling this list of easy ideas made just with what you have on hand “pantry meals”, or maybe “clean out the pantry dinners”, and almost went with my favorite title:  “I don’t feel like grocery shopping but these kids need to eat something”.

Whatever you want to call it, the fact is we’ve all been there!

So what do you make when you don’t have “any” food in the house?  

In my working parents’ weeknight resource, Uncomplicated Kitchen, I share with my students a big fat list of 35 totally backup “pantry meals”. In fact, it’s a huge part of an entire section of the method dedicated to getting recipes ideas on backup… so you don’t have to turn to the takeout menu when you’re tired and rushed.


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But even with that huge file of recipes, I still stumble upon MORE ways to clean out my cupboards with pantry meals made with minimal fuss and maximum flavor.

And frankly, I absolutely love cooking pantry meals because it makes me feel like a forager, finding meals in the far reaches of my cupboards and returning to the family campfire victorious.

Or maybe that sense of victory only befalls to me?

Limited Time Only: Access to my super-helpful mini-resource Uncomplicated Backup Meals, filled with tutorials, tips, and kitchen hacks to streamline pantry meals cooking and freezer meals. Only $27, comes with 235+ freezer and pantry recipes!

Whatever it is, I’ve assembled here a new list of 17 brand-spanking new Clean Out the Pantry Meal Ideas, in addition to the big, fat list my students get.

I’ll start with a handful of pantry meal ideas from this very site that I adore, and then I’ll share what else I’ve found on the web.


  1. Black Bean Meatballs from Percolate Kitchen One of my personal favorite meal ideas, these black bean meatballs can be tossed together with a few cans and an onion, plus an easy marinara of canned tomatoes and oregano.

2. Chili Lime Tuna Salad Pita Pockets from Percolate Kitchen I make this easy salad with pre-flvaored tuna packets I get from SafeCatch, this incredible tasting canned tuna that’s 100% safe for pregnant women to eat. Since I lived on tuna melts through at least one of my pregnancies, I can’t tell you how much this meant to me! I love making this salad for lunches throughout the week.

2. One Pan Chickepea, Tomato, and Spinach Stew from Percolate Kitchen Literally everything in this recipe can be found in your cupboards, and it all keeps extraordinarily well. It’s a great vegan dinner for those who don’t feel like cooking, and it’s absolutel perfection when sopped up with a hunk of bread.

3. Sheet Pan Quesadillas These quesadillas include radishes, pulled chicken, etc- but I’m adding them here because we make quesadillas all the TIME, with basically whatever I have lying in the fridge, plus cheese.

4. Naan Pizza: My go-to, my subscribers and readers are well aware, and you will be, too, if you hang around this site for longer than 3 seconds. I add leftovers to my pizzas and let the kids put them together in a DIY Dinner Bar.

5. Kimchi and Leftover Vegetable Fried Rice One of my fave ways to use up what we have is by throwing is all together in a big fried rice. Rice and eggs and soy sauce are always on hand here, and I can improvise the rest.

Healthy, low-carb, super easy loaded cauliflower nachos recipe! Use cauliflower as a meat substitute on these simple vegetarian nachos; it's so good, I even surprised myself!

6. Loaded Sheet Pan Cauliflower Nachos Make these vegetarian, the way I did here, or just throw whatever you have in the fridge on top and add a shower of cheese and call it good! Pro-tip: if you don’t have tortilla chips, I bake corn tortillas cut into triangles and drizzled with olive oil and salt til they’re lightly brown. It’s SO much better than bagged chips!

From around the web:

7. Italian Grilled Cheese from Tastes Better From Scratch: I love how she jazzes this up with other common ingredients in the pantry to make it feel like special grilled cheese, instead of “I’m not going to the grocery store” grilled cheese.

8. Egg and Potato Breakfast Casserole from Ahead of Thyme Brinner, anyone? Eggs at dinner are a cheap, easy, and filling option when you’re trying to make do with what’s on hand.

9. Magnificent Minestrone from Kath Eats She throws tons of different veggies in here, so take heed: this is a really forgiving recipe, and as long as you’ve got noodles, tomatoes, and broth, you’ve got the goods on hand for the base of a great minestrone that uses up a lot of cupboard staples.

10. Easy Orange Chicken from Beauty and Bedlam She uses really common pantry staples to throw together this 10-minute orange chicken recipe. It’s a kid-friendly favorite!

11. Black Bean Tostada Recipe from Well Plated Corn tortillas have saved me many a “throw-it-together” dinner hour. They’re cheap, easy to stock up on, and have a wealth of ways you can use them in a recipe. Tostadas are a favorite, since you can pile them high with toppings and black beans as a base are super cheap. (I share a few more ways I use corn tortillas in15-Minute Dinner Ideas” in the Short and Sweet Kitchen Tips Video Series!)

12. Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Cheese from Martha Stewart 5 ingredients only, including salt, in this crazy simple baked dinner from the OG Homemaker

13. French Onion Soup from Bon Appetit Make this French staple as fancy (with fresh herbs and seasonings) or as basic (onions, broth, melty cheese) as you’d like. If it’s for you and not for the kids, I totally recommend adding a big fat splash of leftover red wine into the broth as it’s cooking. It ups the flavor exponentially.

14. Shakshuka from Tori Avey A GREAT basic to have on hand, and even better if you’ve got crusty bread.

15. State Fair Chili from Saveur I make chili a lot when we’re eating from the pantry. I can throw in all the beans, canned corn and veggies, and even sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and other stuff. Season it well, throw some sour cream on top and eat it with tortilla chips and you’ll feel like a king.

16. Black Bean Burgers from Project Meal Plan I love these burgers because they also double as a really easy freezer meal backup!

17. The Ultimate Snacky Dinner form Good Cheap Eats When all else fails, throw everything on a big platter and tell them it’s “snacky dinner”, or just a ton of snacks for dinner. The kids will be thrilled, promise.

And there you have it!

17 more ways to eat super cheap and super easy.

Whether you’re doing a pantry challenge or just trying to stay away from the store, eating from what we have is a great way to stay mindful of what we have to be thankful for, and keep our fingers off the “add to cart” button in the food delivery app 🙂

And, of course, for the nights when you REALLY need to pull a meal out of the air, there’s always FREEZER MEALS! Click the image below to learn about my super easy, affordable mini-resource that teaches all you need to know about pantry meals, freezer meals, and shares 235+ pantry and freezer recipes!

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With 65+ recipes made in 45 minutes or less, using only a single sheet pan… this is the cookbook busy people need to conquer their weeknights in the kitchen!