The Pantry Meals Real People Are Cooking Right Now

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
As coronavirus continues to spread, many are making the smart decision to practice social distancing and stay at home. That means we're skipping the weekend brunches and after-work happy hours with friends — many bars and restaurants are canceling or limiting service anyway — and instead opting to cook our own meals using ingredients we have on hand. Of course, having to cook every single meal comes with the extra challenge of finding creative recipes that call for mostly pantry staples, which we all dutifully stocked up on what feels like ages ago. That can be especially difficult after the first week or so of being stuck at home, so we rounded up the pantry meals that real home cooks are making right now.
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Read on for dish ideas that self-quarantined people all over the country are actually cooking up in their kitchens during the coronavirus pandemic that's happening right now. With a few additional ingredients and substitutions, these recipes will keep you satisfied for a while.
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Vegan Coconut Curry

Name: Jamie
Age: 31

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Canned coconut milk, lentils (red, but whatever color), canned chickpeas, canned diced tomatoes, curry spices, onion (I've used dehydrated onion that you would buy in the spice aisle, or fresh), potatoes (sweet or otherwise, optional!), water/broth

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
No specific recipe now, but there are 1,000s of versions across the internet. I found a few versions of the recipe when I was looking for easy vegan meals.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
I eat this dish a few times a month. The only ingredients you NEED need are tomatoes, lentils, coconut milk, and spices. Otherwise, there are a lot of variations. Also flexible in how you eat it! Over rice, over toast, etc.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Lentils, beans (canned and dry), frozen veggies, Fritos
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Mac & Cheese with Roasted Veggies

Name: Emily
Age: 26

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Macaroni & cheese (boxed or frozen) and any vegetables

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Nope!

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
I made it this past week! I switch up the veggies I use depending on what I have on hand.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Soup, beans, frozen veggies, and frozen fruit
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Chilaquiles

Name: Rachel
Age: 29

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Tortilla chips (can be old/stale), enchilada sauce (can use tomato sauce with chili powder, garlic, onion, paprika, cumin, salt), chopped onions, mushrooms (or literally any veggies you have lying around), protein optional (shredded chicken, sliced sausage, etc), eggs, cilantro (optional), shredded cheese

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
It's a recipe my Aunt — who is an ER nurse AND a chef — came up with it. It's healthy and filling.
1. Set oven to BROIL
2. Toast the tortilla chips in a cast-iron skillet on low heat for about 2 minutes (don't want chips to burn)
3. In a separate skillet, sautee onions, garlic, mushrooms/whatever veggies, and meat. (pro-tip, mushrooms have a lot of water so I would sautee them first to make sure the water is sauteed out, then add other ingredients). Make sure to season your veggies! (can use the seasonings mentioned in the ingredients list above)
4. (keep in cast-iron skillet to do this) Toss tortilla chips in enchilada sauce, add sauce little by little so you don't make chips soggy. You just want to coat them — usually, half a can will do if using 2-3 handfuls of chips.
5. Press chips down on the bottom of the skillet to make a "crust"
6. Layer sauteed veggies/meat on top of chips
7. In the sautee skillet, fry eggs (1 egg per person eating). DO NOT FLIP, you want the bottom fried and top to be sunny-side up/runny. Season egg with salt and pepper.
8. Put eggs on top of layered veggies/chips (careful not to break the yolk). Cover white part of eggs with shredded cheese (be generous here people, cheese is our friend!)
9. Pop that bad boy into the oven for 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly (which was about 45 seconds in my oven so pay attention!)
10. Sprinkle with a little paprika and chopped cilantro and serve!
*If you find the dish is still a little dry/you didn't add enough sauce to the chips, you can put some of the excess sauce on the bottom of the plate then place the chilaquiles on top of it before serving.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Twice! You can literally use any combination of veggies and meat, the most important part is the tortilla chips and eggs.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Eggs, cheese, butter, fresh produce (whatever is seasonal), mushrooms, carrots, red/golden/russet potatoes (great for making soup!), rice, pasta, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and garlic.

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"Glop"

Name: Jennifer
Age: 41
Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Elbow macaroni, a brick of extra sharp cheddar, ragu meat sauce, canned diced tomatoes, and onion

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
My family invented it. It's easy. Boil the elbow noodles until soft. Once they're ready, drain the noodles in a strainer. Pour noodles back in the pot, put back on the stove, and set to low. Grate the entire brick of cheese and mix in. Chop your onion into small pieces. Add a can of diced tomatoes and your onions. Heat ragu meat sauce in a separate pot on low. Mix your noodle concoction until the cheese is melted and mixed well. Continue mixing to prevent burning. Check your sauce and if it's warm enough, pour over the noodles. Mix well. Taste and enjoy!

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Twice this week.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Pasta, pasta sauce, canned veggies and fruits, crackers, cheese, potatoes, onions, garlic, bread, Manwich, Bread crumbs, canned soup, and cereal.
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Roasted Chickpeas

Name: Hannah
Age: 24

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
One can of chickpeas, olive oil, sea salt, and a shit ton of smoked paprika (or whatever seasoning you prefer and have on hand).

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
The recipe came from when I was a faux vegan in college and living off of "buddha bowls." This is the staple ingredient in the many varieties I would make. But as I got busier, lazier, etc, it became an easy protein-packed meal.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Add it to anything you already have on hand! I like to add to salads or roast alongside other veggies.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Canned chickpeas but also oatmeal.
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Fancy Instant Ramen

Name: Connie
Age: 32

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Package of instant ramen, butter, a slice of American cheese, canned corn, leftover vegetables/kimchi.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Nope!

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Every other day! Since the magic of this dish really comes through from the dairy (butter in the broth, and a slice of American cheese on top), you can mix and match the veggies to your liking, make it spicier, add meat if you'd like.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Instant ramen — it's a godsend!
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Spaghetti Marinara

Name: Lorena
Age: 29

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Canned tomatoes, dried spaghetti, tomato paste, dried oregano, garlic, carrots (for sweetness — can be substituted for some brown sugar), dried basil, Parmigiano Reggiano.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
I use Serious Eats' marinara recipe

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Use the sauce over bread and top with cheese to make a pizza, put it over eggplant for eggplant parm. If you have eggs you can turn it into shakshuka.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Canned tomatoes and dry pasta.
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Vegan Burrito Bowls

Name: Jacqueline
Age: 24

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Rice, beans, corn, cashews (to make vegan cheese), salsa, chips.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
No, it's DIY!

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Purchase different kinds of beans, rice, chips, salsa, to switch things up! You can also make this into a burrito or keep it as a bowl.

What is the most important pantry staple you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Cans of garbanzo beans! I love roasting and seasoning these for an easy, crunchy snack.
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Fried Rice with Spam

Name: Brendan
Age: 33

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Jasmin rice, Spam, eggs, olive oil, veggies, sriracha, soy sauce.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
My SO's mother taught it to me.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Maybe four times. To prevent getting tired of this, switch out the meats and veggies or eat it with something else as a side. Common substitutes are hot dogs, ham, Vienna sausages, etc. For veggies, it's literally what is left over in your pantry.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Beer was first but that isn't a pantry item sooooooo.... probably rice...
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Cannellini Beans

Name: Sue
Age: 28

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Cannellini beans, boxed pasta, and red pepper flakes OR canned tomatoes and breadcrumbs OR red wine vinegar, coconut sugar, and salt.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Bon Appetit has a ton of recipes to stretch beans out with pantry items or fresh ones if you have access to them.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Cannellini beans are so versatile. Toss in some olive oil with boxed pasta + red pepper flakes (lemon and kale if you have on hand) for an easy warm pasta salad. Swap olive oil and red pepper flakes for some mayo, a little bit of mustard, pickle juice, chopped pickles with canned tuna for a creamy cold pasta salad. Saute with canned crushed tomatoes and top it with some bread crumbs. Also can toss with pasta for that. Or throw in some chicken broth and make it a stew with frozen veg. Mash with some red wine vinegar, water, salt, coconut sugar for a really yummy mash side. OR use it as a spread on a sandwich OR a dip!

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Frozen spinach, tofu (easily frozen), canned beans of all kinds, rice, boxed pasta, canned crushed tomatoes, and the seasoning + sauces that would stretch out across variations of flavor: tomato paste, harissa paste, fish sauce, soy sauce (or coconut aminos), vinegars, mustard, mayo, green and red curry paste, chile de arbol, gochujang, gochugaru.
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Chicken Taco Chili

Name: Vanessa
Age: 36

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Black beans, kidney beans (drained), corn, taco seasoning, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
YES! It's Slap Dash Mom's Instant Pot Chicken Taco Soup recipe.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
I made three batches and froze some. I add condiments like cheese, sour cream, some rice to make it a little more hearty, etc

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Canned beans, corn, and rice.
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Lentil Stew with Porcini Mushrooms & Crunchy Vegan Dumplings

Name: Marie
Age: 29

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Lentils, beans, vegetable stock cubes, plain flour, tomato puree, garlic, dried herbs, onions, carrots or whatever vegetables you have.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
The exact recipe is on my blog, Try This Recipe. This recipe of mine can be adapted using whatever you have on hand

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
It goes even further when you use it again in pasta sauce or lasagne sheets for a vegetable lentil lasagne. Make it into chili non-carne with a few spices, make it into a pasta bake, or add more stock for a soup.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Soy mince, beans, pulses — all nutritious, full of fiber and protein, and filling.
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Stir Fry

Name: Mia
Age: 31

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Frozen veggies, eggs/tofu for protein, rice, soy sauce, chicken stock, hoisin sauce (or swap in a combo of soy sauce, honey, white wine vinegar, peanut butter, and garlic powder in a pinch), cornstarch, sesame oil, vegetable oil for frying, garlic, ginger.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Basic sauce and technique are from Just Add Sauce by America's Test Kitchen.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
I made it earlier this week, and usually at least once per week! This recipe is extremely versatile; the basic sauce can be modified by adding things like peanut butter (peanut satay!), hot sauce, and other seasonings. Switch to rice noodles, change up the veggies and protein you use whenever. It's super easy to make these swaps as needed.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Rice, potatoes, garlic, onions, chicken broth, shelf-stable milk.
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Black Beans & Rice

Name: Dayane
Age: 25

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Black beans, any type of rice, and whatever seasonings you have in your pantry it's that easy.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Not really, you can add anything you have on hand to the dish.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
You can definitely switch out the ingredients and the seasonings — you can pair it with chickpeas or different types of rice or you can eat the beans with toast and avocados. Add ingredients like avocados, cheese, green peppers, or any vegetables you have, if you don't have those things it can be as simple as black beans and rice. Be creative with it you cannot go wrong.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
We made sure we stocked up on can goods and lots of fruits and vegetables that we can pair with any food we want to cook for the week just so we don't get bored with what we were eating.
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Puttanesca Pasta

Name: Keturah
Age: 39

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
Tomato sauce, tuna (or anchovies), capers, spaghetti, olives, garlic.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
I use Serious Eats' Spaghetti Puttanesca recipe.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Four times.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Proteins and bread that you can break up into portions and freeze. Also frozen veggies.
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Mac & Cheese with Hot Dogs

Name: Alyssa
Age: 32

Pantry staples this meal calls for:
A box of mac and cheese, hot dogs, milk, and butter if you're fancy.

Do you use a specific recipe for this dish?
Usually, I use the one on the side of the box of mac and cheese, but then I cut up the hot dog pieces and fry them in a pan.

How many times have you made this dish recently? Do you have any tricks to prevent from getting tired of eating this meal over and over?
Twice in the last week. You can add real cheese if you want to really strut. Throw in peas to be "health-conscious." It pairs nicely with any type of alcohol you have.

What are the most important pantry staples you were sure to stock up on during this time?
Potatoes and butter. I weirdly went for butter.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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