25 Frugal Pantry Meals Using What You’ve Got
Food is expensive these days, and it’s only continuing to get more expensive. Even though we’re constantly being told that inflation is going down overall, you may have noticed that this doesn’t mean that food costs are going down. In fact, it doesn’t even mean they’re levelling off! It just means that they’re going up a little more slowly than before.
For example, here in Canada where I call home, Canada’s Food Price Report 2024 forecasts that food prices will likely rise by 2.5% to 4.5% in 2024 compared to 5% to 7% in 2023. The average Canadian family is expected to pay just over $700 MORE in food costs in 2024 than they did in 2023! But this is down from an increase of $1,065 year over year in 2023, so I guess we’re doing… good?
And we’re not exactly unique here in Canada. Food costs are up all over the world! Many factors are contributing to this global trend, including climate/weather-related issues, supply chain problems, worker shortages, the war in Ukraine and now in the middle east, as well as high oil prices (which are technically starting to come down, but for how long?)
Indeed, there’s a lot going on in the world that is completely out of our control, but that has a very real impact on our wallets and daily lives. That being said, we’re not completely powerless when it comes to our spending, our grocery bill and our ability to put good, wholesome, nourishing food on the table for our families.
Despite high food prices, food is still relatively affordable and widely available. Plus, if you do any amount of growing and preserving of your own food (which, as a homesteader with a homesteading blog, I HIGHLY encourage you to do!), well then you’re most likely miles ahead of the “average” family on which these estimates are based.
Still, in the dead of winter, or even in the early spring when our seedlings are just starting to sprout, we tend to rely much more heavily on the grocery store to fill in the gaps, so I’m always looking for ways to cut down on our spending by getting creative with the foods we have on hand. We still have dozens of jars of home-canned food, a pantry full of versatile ingredients and a freezer full of meat (we purchased 1/4 side of beef from a local farm last fall).
Having a well-stocked pantry that you build over time is key to whipping up meals without having to make unnecessary trips to the grocery store. However, your pantry need not be as full as ours in order to apply the same approach and save a little money by making do with what you’ve got and planning your meals (and shopping list) around foods you already have in your pantry, fridge and freezer.
If you need some ideas to help get your creative juices flowing, I’ve got you covered with 25 pantry meals you can make using simple ingredients that you likely already have on hand. So skip the store and whip up one of these easy, frugal pantry meals instead!
*** For more help stocking and cooking from your pantry, you can check out the kitchen and pantry resources section of my Free Resource Library to find detailed checklists, inventory sheets, substitution charts and more to help you stock your pantry when the getting is good and make the most of what you’ve got at home. ***
Common Pantry Ingredients
Some common pantry items you’ll see pop up in these recipes can be broken down into groups, including:
Expect to see pasta, beans (white beans, black beans, chickpeas), canned coconut milk, canned tomatoes, tuna and spices. Assuming you have some onions, potatoes, carrots, and garlic on hand, you have more than enough to whip up a quick pantry meal from scratch. And, if you’re an avid canner and preserver, you’ll also have things like homemade pickles, jams, jellies and perhaps even pressure canned meats, vegetables and more, making it easy to whip up a delicious meal that will feed the whole family.
Frozen vegetables and frozen meats will come into play here and are always a good idea to have on hand. These are great options to stock up on when they’re on sale because they last so long (frozen meat can last up to a year before really degrading).
Ideally, you’ll have some eggs, cheese, and butter on hand to make do with. However, many of these pantry meals don’t require them.
Below you’ll find 25 easy pantry meals to whip up when you can’t (or don’t want to) hit a grocery store. Scroll through and find delicious dinners that make use of what you have on hand right now. (And remember, you can always adapt recipes by substituting or omitting ingredients you don’t have!)
The list of recipes below are full of comfort, humble ingredients, and great flavour! You’ll find simple soups to whip up no matter what you have on hand.
This lentil bacon soup is comforting yet healthy. Made with crushed tomatoes, carrots, lentils it’s a great way to get protein in (from both the lentils and the bacon), and makes for a fantastic pantry meal on chilly nights.
This cabbage and lentil soup is a great way to stretch a head of cabbage if you have one on hand! The recipe calls for lentils, cellar vegetables like onions, carrots and cabbage, and nourishing vegetable broth (or substitute chicken or beef broth instead)
A great way to use up canned tomatoes (whether store-bought or home-canned), this homemade tomato soup is ultra creamy, comforting, quick and easy to make, and made with healthy, all-natural ingredients. Say goodbye to those Campbell’s soup tins for good!
This bread soup is a filling meal that uses stale bread and meat from your freezer to come together. While it does call for fresh spinach, you could substitute kale if you have some growing in the garden (kale is cold hardy and grows well all year round), or you could just omit it altogether.
Use up that bag of split peas in your pantry with this classic split pea and ham soup. If you have a ham bone kicking around your freezer, you can use it to make a flavourful broth! Otherwise just use water as directed in this recipe, or substitute chicken broth instead.
This homemade mushroom soup recipe tastes just as good by itself as it does as a base for a casserole, and it’s so much healthier for you than sodium-filled mushroom soup in a can. Not a fan of mushrooms? Try this Homemade Cream of Chicken Soup instead!
Bone broth or meat stock in general is a pantry staple. Learning how to make your own broth using beef bones, chicken carcasses and/or vegetable scraps not only makes use of items that might otherwise be discarded, it’s also way healthier than anything you’ll find at the grocery store for a fraction of the price! This recipe for homemade broth also includes canning instructions so you can make a big batch and can it to keep on your pantry shelves for whenever you need it (no freezing and defrosting necessary!)
The following recipes feature various types of meats you may have in the freezer. They’re easy to make and call for very little in the way of additional ingredients, although they all pair well with simple sides like homemade fries, mashed potatoes or salad.
All you need to make your own homemade chicken fingers is an egg, some breadcrumbs, chicken and seasonings. This recipe is a good way to make a little bit of chicken stretch a long way! Serve your homemade chicken fingers with dip, homemade fries or with a side of kid-friendly carrots and peas.
This juicy, sweet and tangy chicken recipe goes well with all sorts of thing. Use this BBQ applesauce chicken on top of noodles, rice, or spooned over bread for a deliciously different sandwich.
Many of the ingredients in this beef stew recipe are things you may have preserved in your freezer or on your pantry shelves, which makes whipping up this stew really simple. It’s hearty and easy to adapt and customize when you’re in a pinch.
Chili is a great pantry meal to whip up because you can use any ground meat you have on hand and it always makes a big batch, which is means you’ll stretch your food (and budget) beyond just one meal. This venison chili is very basic, but you could add more fresh ingredients if you have them, or serve with tortilla chips or bread to make it stretch even further.
The easiest slow cooker recipe you’ll find! All you need for this dill pickle roast is a cheap cut of beef, pickles, salt, and pepper; A great way to make use of cheap cuts of beef AND those excess jars of dill pickles you’ve got hanging around your pantry!
Chicken drumsticks are often on sale so they’re easy to stock up on. If you’re not sure what to do with them, this slow cooker chicken legs recipe is perfect when paired with mashed potatoes and vegetables (fresh or frozen!).
This is the best way to meal prep and use up a whole chicken in your freezer. After your roast chicken is cooked, the bones can be made into stock and the leftover meat can be used in any chicken-based recipe, making this one of the best ways to stretch a buck.
If you’ve never had a Sloppy Joe, it’s simply ground meat (usually beef) cooked with onions, garlic and green peppers and then coated in ketchup and mustard. And it’s DELICIOUS! While the ground meat mixture is typically served on buns like a deconstructed hamburger, it also tastes great spooned over pasta or rice if you don’t have bread on hand.
Casserole and Pasta Recipes
These pasta dishes and casseroles are a great way to stretch a meal while still curbing hunger. Simple, frugal comfort food.
Just about everyone has a tin or two of canned tuna in their pantry, which makes tuna casserole a classic pantry meal that this list just wouldn’t be complete without! This casserole is made with egg noodles, vegetables (you can use frozen), and cream of mushroom soup (try making your own using the recipe above!) The result is a creamy, cheesy, rich casserole that will stick to your ribs long after the last bite is gone.
If you have ground beef, tomato sauce and dried pasta on hand, you can whip up this simple bolognese pasta in no time. Ground turkey and chicken can work too if that’s all you’ve got. This is a quick meal for when you’re in a pinch, so it saves you time as well as money!
This homemade mac and cheese recipe uses just three ingredients and comes together very quickly. Enjoy it on its own or as a side with one of the meat dishes listed above!
The recipes that follow include a little bit of everything. They’re all made from pantry staples and are wonderful recipes to have in your back pocket when you’re in a pinch for time or money (or both!)
Oatmeal makes for a filling, nourishing breakfast the whole family will enjoy. All you need for this maple and brown sugar oatmeal are a few simple pantry ingredients, however you could also add things like frozen berries or dried fruit, nuts or even a little jam if you have some canned.
This Ukrainian perogies recipe is a family recipe that has been passed down through generations. It’s super frugal and goes a very long way, which means you’ll likely have some to eat now and lots to fill your freezer with! Making homemade perogies can be a bit time-consuming, so be sure to block off an afternoon and enlist help if possible! This also makes for a frugal way to get together with friends and family and spend the day enjoying each others’ company before everyone takes their share of perogies home:)
This vegetarian chili calls for squash in place of meat, but thanks to the black beans it’s still packed with protein and hearty enough to keep you full!
If you’ve got some frozen salmon on the edge of being freezer burnt, or some canned salmon that’s been sitting a little too long in your pantry, these potato salmon cakes are the perfect way to use it up! All you need is the salmon, a couple eggs, some leftover mashed potatoes and a handful of seasonings.
These “poor man” burrito bowls are a great way to make a few simple ingredients stretch, making this dish perfect for large families. Made with just rice, seasonings, beans, salsa, and cheese it’s an easy meal to customize but also to whip up when you only have the basics.
Everyone needs a stir fry on hand and this garden stir fry is as basic as it gets. You can use up fresh produce from your garden haul with this stir fry or grab frozen vegetables from the freezer. It’s an easy one to add meat to or even an egg for protein. It’s basic and a staple recipe for any homesteader.
This recipe for easy, no-knead bread is pretty much as simple and frugal as homemade bread recipes get. All you need is flour, water, salt and a little yeast. And when I say “no-knead,” I mean you literally just have to mix the ingredients in a bowl and wait for it to rise! (Which is by far the hardest part of this recipe!)
More pantry meal ideas and tips
If you’re looking for ways to cut back on your grocery bill with simple, frugal pantry meal ideas, this list is a great place to start. But if you could use a little more help either building your pantry, organizing and inventorying what you’ve got, knowing what ingredients you can substitute in a pinch or you could just use some more meal ideas to help you make use of what you’ve got, be sure to check out the Kitchen & Pantry Resources section of my Free Resource Library for printable downloads to help you keep your family fed and your food budget on track!
You might also like:
- 8 Tips to Help You Eat From Your Pantry
- Healthy Grocery Shopping Tips (For When You Can’t Avoid the Grocery Store)
- 11 Creative Food Storage Ideas for Modern Homesteaders