Easy Ways to Use Up the Random Ingredients in Your Kitchen Pantry

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.

March is National Nutrition Month, and Connecticut Children’s pediatric dietitians are bringing your family the advice you need to eat well! Scroll to the bottom for more healthy eating resources.

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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.

> Related: Meal Planning Made Easy: Advice From a Pediatric Dietitian

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

Parent uses a ladle to serve chili to son who is holding a bowl

  • 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.

Related Links

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