What to Eat When The Pantry is Empty


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Wondering what to eat when the pantry is empty? Hopefully, it’s not completely empty, just running low. Here are a few ideas for quick meals using ingredients you may find in the dregs in your pantry.

I was amused last week when I realized someone found my blog by googling “What to eat when the the pantry is empty.”

What to Eat When The Pantry is Empty

I pride myself on keeping a pretty stocked pantry. I have huge buckets that are normally full of beans, rice, wheat berries, sugar, oats, and popcorn. I try to keep butter in my freezer and oil in my cupboards. I use loss leaders to buy and freeze fresh produce for smoothies when things are at their rock-bottom prices (like avocados and pineapples).

But we’ve been eating all of that recently and my stash is actually quite low. I haven’t had any wheat berries for about 3 weeks now, for instance – something that is unheard of at my house. But, there’s still almost ALWAYS something in my pantry. So when I saw that someone found my blog by googling those few words, I started thinking hard about what TO EAT without going to the store.

It’s usually the less favorite choice. For instance:

  • Instead of grinding wheat berries for homemade bread, I could grind popcorn for corn bread. While I prefer corn bread with a bit of wheat flour, my mom makes pretty good corn bread with only corn meal.
  • Instead of making flour tortillas, I could make corn tortillas. Or, we could eat beans and rice instead of burritos.
  • Instead of using oil, I could use butter or apple sauce. Or, I could shred and use any number of veggies, if I remember correctly from the $3,000 pots & pans demonstration I saw last year.
  • Instead of pinto beans, we could eat black beans, or split peas.
  • Instead of maple syrup, I can make buttermilk syrup, or we could just use powdered sugar or jelly.
  • This list at Allrecipe is very chock full of common ingredient substitutions that has come in handy more than once for me!

These all use ingredients that are plentiful and free for the taking in a lot of areas! I have not been brave enough yet to try any of them, but I’m rolling the ideas around in my mind…

Bottom line for me: keeping a stocked pantry saves me money. And evidenced by our 3 meals out and countless little trips to the store the last couple of weeks, eating the less favorite option isn’t working so well for me right now. But it does sound good, eh? 🙂

Do share! What do YOU do when there’s no food in the pantry?

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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    1. Thanks for the link, Julia. I’ll take a look! Good luck with the allergies. That really stinks.

  1. Usually when the pantry/fridge/freezer feel empty it is because I don’t have any grab and go food. I usually still have ingredients, but nothing made from them. So I start cooking and it quickly feels like we have food again. Another thing is when it seems like we have no food it usually means we don’t have our favorite food or the food we feel like eating right now.

    1. That’s often my problem too. Despite best of intentions, some weeks I just can’t get it all together!

  2. Wow. I have so much work to do! Towards the end of the month when funds are low I take stock of what’s in my pantry and fridge/freezer to see how many meals I can make without having to buy anything. Some months I do a great job finding creative meals that we all love, and other times – not so much. Ugh. I need to take it a step further and start buying grains whole to grind my own flour. I like to pre-cook meats and certain dishes to freeze in the beginning of the month because sometimes I get lazy and I just don’t want to make something from scratch at night and yet I don’t want preservatives. So much to think about!

    1. All of that’s very helpful and saves me big time. The bad thing about cooking from scratch is that it can take sooooo long to prepare a meal if I am an unorganized mess – which seems to be happening a lot lately. But, when I get on my game and prepare extras to freeze, cooking from scratch is no big deal.

  3. I make bread pretty much every day (when we have berries in the buckets!) and we often have a slice or two of bread left over from toast or sandwiches that may be wasted if we don’t find a way to use them. I keep a bag of bread pieces in the freezer to be added to almost daily. On Sunday evenings before going to church we pull this bag of bread fragments out of the freezer to defrost. Our children (we have 13) love bread and milk. When we get home everyone gets a few slices of bread or biscuits and breaks them up into a bowl. Some like to pour a bit of maple flavoring or syrup on at this point before putting milk over the bread. Some prefer Sorghum Molasses for their sweetening. This is a great way to fill the gap when there’s nothing in the pantry for a quick supper.

    Val Colvin
    The Farmer’s Wife

    1. That’s a great idea! Thanks so much for sharing. 13 children! That’s awesome. 🙂 I just took a look at your CSA program! Too bad we aren’t closer. I love the picture of your family.

  4. So this is pretty much an awesome post:) We’re all about pantry talk this week, huh! I love it…I have to share it! Thank you so much for linking up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

  5. Slightly off topic, but relating to pantry. Is the photo your own? Just curious about your storage methods. I see the sunflower seeds in a Ball jar vs the clasp lid container. Do you find certain things work better in one vs the other? I’m slowly moving toward airtight storage to preserve my dried items longer. Please share! 🙂

  6. We’re lucky in that we have chickens, so at the very least, we have eggs to work with…and that ingredient can be spun into so many different variations!! But when we run out of onions, it’s time for the store. That’s the one ingredient we really HAVE to have. 🙂

    1. I made some eggless pancakes last week and they were pretty gross! I can’t wait to get chickens.

  7. Love this post. Yup when the pantry gets bare we start eating the least favorite things, LOL! The last couple weeks I have been really working on only shopping every two weeks, and it has helped with the ‘quick’ stop that busts the budget. But that can also lead to some creative meals. Visiting from WFMW. ~Kimberlee, The Spunky Diva

  8. Hi there – I have visited your blog many times. The concept of a completely empty pantry is foreign to me, but I can relate to feeling like I have nothing when I’m not properly prepared because cooking from scratch can be quite time consuming – usually because I’ve been too distracted or lazy to make things work out! Thanks for sharing your links and for visiting my blog.