By: Haley Duscha, RDN, CDN

The challenge: Preparing nutritious meals that your kids will actually eat… even if your pantry is looking a little empty. 

Haley Duscha, RDN, CDN, a pediatric dietitian in Connecticut Children’s Division of Obesity & Weight Management, shares tips to use up those last random items – plus stocking your pantry well in the first place.

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1. Your canned goods or pantry item doesn’t have to be the star of the show.

Use your pantry item as an addition or side dish to add nutritional value to a meal or a snack.

Some side dish ideas:

  • Mixed bean salad: Mix canned veggies, carrots, green beans and chickpeas together with Italian dressing.
  • Homemade hummus: Blend chickpeas with lemon and olive oil.
  • Canned tuna: Serve with crackers, on salad, on sandwiches, to make tuna burgers, etc.
  • Canned fruit salad: Mix various canned fruits together or purchase pre-made.
  • Olive tapenade: Finely chop olives and mix with Mediterranean seasonings and olive oil for a fun dip.

2. Stick with the classics – plus healthy add-ins.

  • You can’t go wrong with making family favorites. For example, chili, pasta and casseroles use up several pantry items and are often easily on hand.
  • Consider some easy healthy swaps or additions. Think: whole grain pastas, “no sugar added” pasta sauce, and doubling the veggies.
A child accepting a bowl of food

3. Try something new! Mix it up several different ways.

  • Substitute a pantry item with a similar recipe ingredient. For example? Swap canned green beans for the fresh version.
  • Make something from scratch. Although it may take longer, the basics – flour, sugar, beans, etc. – deserve to be used up as well. Make it a family affair and work together to make whole wheat bread, pasta or even hummus from scratch.
  • Add something new into a family recipe. For example:
    • For chili, use white beans instead of red beans, and turkey or chicken as a protein source (AKA white bean chicken chili).
    • Put chopped pickles (or canned relish) into egg salads or tuna salad for flavor.
    • Add extra veggies into meat sauce or marinara, like making spinach lasagna.
  • Try a whole new recipe. For example:
    • Salmon or tuna burgers: Use canned fish to grill up homemade burgers for a heart healthy swap.
    • Pancake muffins: Use regular pancake mix but add in your own fruit and flavors.
    • Corn salsa: Use up your canned corn and mix into salsa for a fun addition to taco night.
    • Shakshuka: Use canned tomatoes and eggs.
    • Curried chickpeas: Use canned or dried chickpeas or lentils for a fun plant-based protein option.

4. Think outside the box.

You may not need to use pantry items to cook, or even for your own family.

  • Donate to those in need. Take your extra cans to a pantry, church or local canned food drive.
  • Make pet food. Yes, we said pet food! Some canned things can go great in meals for your furry friends, but make sure to check with your vet first.
  • Make a freezer meal. Making food ahead of time can be a time saver and your pantry goods can be used for a meal down the line.

5. When it’s time to restock your pantry, read the labels for the healthiest option.

  • Choose canned fruit “in 100% juice” or “in water” instead of “in syrup” for any meal or snack time.
  • Choose “low sodium” canned vegetables or rinse regular ones to lower the salt content.
  • Choose canned meats or fish “in water” rather than oil.