Eat Well, Spend Less: Recipes From The Pantry

This week, the nine bloggers in the Eat Well, Spend Less series are sharing our favorite meals to make from the pantry.  I’ve already showed you how to feed your family off your pantry without spending anything; today I’m just going to give you a few meal ideas that many of us can make from the ingredients we already have in our pantry.

For me, the key to cooking frugally is to be willing to experiment: there aren’t very many recipes in my house that are set in stone.  I try not to let the lack of one or two ingredients keep me from making a meal, so I often experiment with different substitutions!  Sometimes we find that the experimenting leads to new favorite dishes; other times we learn we really prefer the “old way” better.

But, here’s a few meals that I find to be very versatile and can often be made primarily from ingredients I keep on hand in our pantry:


I love Alton Brown’s pancake mix recipe, and aside from the fact that I personally will not use anything other than fresh buttermilk in this recipe (no milk+vinegar substitutes!), it’s very versatile!

We only use real maple syrup, and it’s expensive (though, much cheaper at Sam’s Club or on Amazon than buying it at the grocery store).  So, we often to things in addition to, or instead of, maple syrup, like:

  • Adding chocolate chips to the pancakes.  The chocolate gives it enough sweetness that much less syrup is necessary, or you can even skip it completely!
  • Make a fruit topping by simmering fresh or frozen berries and whisking in corn starch to thicken it up.
  • Make “Pearberry Sauce” by cooking pears and cranberries until soft, then adding a little sugar and pureeing – delicious on its own or as a pancake topping.
  • Top with softened butter (you could even make honey butter) and brown sugar


If you’re very traditional in the kitchen or have to follow a recipe exactly, you may not like the way I make chili – it’s a little different every time!  I’m very free with how I make chili, so it’s the ultimate clean-out-the-pantry meal!  Sometimes I…

  • Use ground pork or sausage in place of some of the ground beef.
  • Use any kind of beans – from pinto to garbanzo.  The key is to use a variety!  (I didn’t love the garbanzo beans in chili, but Jeremy didn’t mind them too much, and I’d use them again in a pinch.)
  • Puree chipotle chiles in adobo sauce for spice, or use fresh jalapenos.
  • Use tomato sauce, or puree whole or diced tomatoes – any kind of canned tomatoes will do!


Not a meal that makes it on very many frugal meal lists, but again, if you’re willing to experiment a bit and break away from the traditional, you can make it frugal.  When I first made gumbo, I based it off this recipe from Paula Deen, but it’s morphed quite a bit since then!

When I make gumbo, I…

  • Rarely use shrimp – I usually use a combination of smoked sausage and cajun pork or chicken sausage.  Chicken breasts can work well in this, too, or even leftover shredded chicken.
  • Use a variety of vegetables.  Celery, green bell pepper, and onion are the “holy grail” of gumbo, and I usually try to use those, but I’ve also added in carrots, colored bell peppers, or a can of diced tomatoes.  Sometimes all of the above if I have just a little of each!
  • Serve over a heaping helping of rice to make it very filling.


Burgers are another meal that’s endlessly customizable if you’re willing to experiment a little.  I used to think that you had to have cheese on your burgers – and yes, I’d still prefer them that way.

But if you think outside the box, you come up with all sorts of different burger toppings so that even if you don’t have bacon and cheese, you can still pull items from your pantry and fix delicious burgers!  Why not try…

  • Sliced avocados or guacamole
  • Grilled or fried onions
  • Barbecue sauce or steak sauce
  • Roasted bell peppers or chiles


I am not terribly good at cooking with beans, but I am determined to learn how, as they’re a great way to add protein to a meal.  We pretty much have to have meat at every meal, but Jeremy is OK with eating somewhat smaller portions of meat if there is enough other good, filling food.  I’m working on adding in more grains and beans as side dishes in our diet, which leads me to a brief commercial for another Eat Well, Spend Less blogger’s ebook:

Katie from Kitchen Stewardship is offering a special discount on her Everything Beans ebook for the Eating Well, Spending Less series – you can use coupon code SPENDLESS to take 40% off the cover price of $9.95 through Wednesday night!

I’ve had an opportunity to check out the book, and I’m looking forward to getting into it more in-depth – she covers a huge amount of information on how to cook and store beans, their nutrition, and a bunch of recipes.

I love that she includes ideas for substitutions on every recipe – that is exactly my philosophy for cooking from the pantry, and she has laid it out right in the recipe, so you don’t even have to think it all up on your own! Go here to read more about the ebook.


  1. What a great list, Carrie! I’d love to be a guest on any of these nights. =)

  2. As a bean lover who continually failed at making beans, my pressure cooker has been a life saver. Beans are no match for the pressure cooker and we have tasty, well-cooked beans once a week.