Broke & Hungry? Try This

We've all been there: A few days before pay day or a big trip, and there's just no time or money for groceries. But that doesn't mean you have to go hungry (or eat peanut butter for every meal).

Of course, if your fridge really is completely empty, we can't help you (we're not magicians). But, provided you have some odds and ends left lying around, and a reasonably stocked pantry, you can eat well till you hit up the grocery store again. Hey, you might even discover your new favorite weeknight meal.

Click through to see our ten tips for cooking like a pro even with an empty fridge.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Breakfast is the best meal of the day, but it also might be the easiest. Many of the ingredients for our favorite dishes are made almost entirely with items that can be found in a reasonably stocked pantry. Eggs, some frozen bread, a bit of milk — you're practically making French toast or pancakes.

Heck, even if you don't have the stuff on hand to make regular pancakes, you can grab a banana and make a crazy-easy two-ingredient version.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
A fried egg can turn nearly anything into a balanced meal, even if it's not breakfast. Plus, this humble ingredient gets major bonus points because it stores well in the fridge and doesn't spoil quickly. Simple put a fried egg on prepared staples, like noodles or rice, toss in a favorite sauce or condiment, and you're on your way to a dinner masterpiece.
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3 of 10
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
If you already put an egg on everything, consider another twist: Put everything over potatoes. Roasting or sautéing produce is the perfect way to use it up once it's past its prime, but alone, it's not super filling.

Take potatoes, which also happen to store well. Boil and dice them up. Then toss with your cooked veggies or protein of choice, and bake until crispy. Top it with sauce, herbs, cheese, or even an egg (!) and you've got yourself a meal.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Channel your inner Sandra Lee and get creative with meals that are semi-homemade. If you've got a $1 can of soup or tuna from the store, try adding a protein or grain. Experiment with spices too!
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Whenever you've made a big batch meal like soups or roasts, set aside one or two individual portions to freeze and you'll have something in your back pocket for future empty-fridge days.

Vegetables and fruit just past their prime can also be frozen and defrosted later for sautés or smoothies.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
This won't help you if your fridge is empty right now, but make a rule for yourself to always keep all the ingredients for your favorite, pantry-friendly recipe on-hand. As one ingredient runs out, replace it immediately, even if you don't plan on making the recipe that week. That way, you'll always have at least one meal you to fall back on.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Yes, your fridge is empty, but don't ignore the nonperishables in the pantry. Aside from the obvious, like canned beans and pasta, you can probably throw together a delicious bowl of oatmeal topped off with your favorite nut butter and dried fruit. As with all of these suggestions, get creative and have fun!
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Takeout can get pricey, even if you're trying to keep it inexpensive. But here are a couple of hacks to keeping the costs reasonable if you are running really low on food and funds. Most pizzerias will sell you dough, which can be a great base for different flatbreads (to use up whatever veggies or you've already got in the fridge, of course) or even Stromboli.

Our senior food editor, Zoe, found out in college that some Chinese take-out places will give you just a side of rice for next to nothing, which can be a great base for a number of meals you can whip together using your pantry. (Just make sure to order pick-up instead of delivery because there's no way you'll meet the minimum.)
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Are you out of ingredients for your go-to favorite recipes? See if you can get creative. Starches and grains like rice, barley, and pasta can be swapped out (just be careful to prepare the new ingredient by the box instructions, not the recipe). Veggies tend to play nicely in all kinds of combinations, so you have plenty of room to experiment there as well.
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Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
There is but one way to avoid this situation — shop every day. It sounds strange at first, but try picking up perishables on your way home for dinner that night, which can then become leftovers the next day. This method will help you avoid buying anything more than what you really need to feed yourself for that night and maybe a couple more meals after. If you often find yourself running low on groceries by the end of the week, consider making a switch to your shopping schedule.
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