Survive on Food Pantry Staples With These Easy Recipes

Missy Crystal

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Canned corn sucks, especially when all you do is dump it into a pot and heat it for a few minutes.

Some of you are reading this and going, “No way! Canned corn is delicious.” That’s probably because you’ve never been broke to the point where you were stuck eating canned corn day after day for months — possibly even years.

I hate to sound ungrateful, but after a poverty-filled childhood and a rough patch as an adult, I can barely bring myself to touch canned corn. Same goes for canned peas and those cans of mixed veggies with the rectangle-shaped carrots. Disgusting. All of them.

But when you’re broke to the point where you rely on the kindness of others for food, you eat a lot of canned goods. They’re a food pantry staple, and if you’re stuck eating them, you may as well learn to love them. Same goes for beans, macaroni and cheese, soup, and rice.

I thought I could find helpful recipes online, but it seems most people don’t truly understand people who visit food pantries are broke. A quick Google search reveals that many bloggers think food pantry recipients have plenty of fresh kale, butchered meat, and fragrant herbs on hand to jazz up their food pantry staples. I'm sure these bloggers mean well, but they certainly aren’t helpful.

That’s why I’ve created this list of easy recipes you can make with food pantry staples. I based it on the products local food pantries distribute, but after speaking with friends across the country, it seems many of us have spent a lot of time eating canned corn. I can’t make the corn go away, but I can show you how to make it more bearable.

I don't need help from food pantries anymore, but I still make some of the recipes below. They're great for anyone who's on a tight budget or looking to cut grocery costs.

Here are some simple meal ideas made from food pantry goods:

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Combine black beans and canned corn in a small bowl and mix gently. Voila! You’re done.

Add some canned tomatoes if you want, but the corn and beans taste okay on their own.

Mexican-Style Soup

Dump canned tomatoes, pasta sauce, or tomato soup in a pot. Add canned corn and black beans, plus a cup or two of water, then simmer until hot.

This recipe also works with chicken noodle soup if you don’t have any form of tomatoes, but it won’t taste as good.

Quick Chili

Dump whatever beans you have into a pot, then stir in tomatoes or pasta sauce. Add canned chicken if you’ve got some.

Chili Mac

Prepare a box of macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the package. Stir in beans and tomatoes or tomato sauce, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Macaroni and Cheese With Veggies

Hide veggies you hate in a pot of macaroni and cheese. This is a great way to get rid of canned peas.

You can also add carrots, mixed veggies, or green beans. You may want to chop the green beans first.

Fruity Oatmeal

Prepare oatmeal as usual, then stir in canned peaches, applesauce, mixed fruit, pears, or whatever you else you have on hand.

Chickpea Salad

Combine chickpeas, sometimes called garbanzo beans, with diced tomatoes.

Serve cold.

Tuna Surprise

Add tuna to macaroni and cheese, egg noodles, rice, or whatever other grain you received from your last food pantry visit.

This recipe also works well with canned chicken or spam.

Peanut Butter Green Beans

I don’t know why this combo works, but it does. Add a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter to a pot of green beans, then heat until melted.

Eat straight from the pot, or pour over rice or noodles.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal

Stir peanut butter into cooked oatmeal. Top with a handful of crunchy cereal, like corn flakes or generic Raisin Bran, if you have any.

Chicken, Noodles, and Veggies

Prepare noodles, then stir in canned chicken, peas, carrots, and corn. Green beans also go well with this recipe.

Add some powdered milk if you’ve got it. That will make this recipe extra creamy.

Ramen Noodles and Veggies

Add canned veggies, such as corn or peas, to a pot of cooked Ramen Noodles. You can turn the combo into a soup by adding water or an Asian-inspired dish by frying the ingredients.

Veggies With Crunchy Topping

Crush uncooked Ramen noodles, then pour them over cooked green beans or carrots for a satisfying crunch. You can also add crushed Ramen to macaroni and cheese for a casserole-inspired meal.

Soup and Veggies

Dump canned veggies into whatever canned soup you have on hand. You can also combine them with pasta sauce and a cup or two of water to make homemade soup.

Dessert Rice

Stir canned fruit into cooked rice for a sweet treat. Serve hot or cold.

Canned Ravioli and Tomatoes

Combine canned ravioli with canned tomatoes. Ravioli already has tomato sauce, but diced tomatoes somehow make Chef Boyardee taste better.

Chicken, Tomatoes, and Pasta

Simmer canned chicken with a can of diced tomatoes, then pour over cooked spaghetti noodles.

Canned Fruit Smoothie

Got a blender? Combine whatever canned fruit you’ve got on your shelf and turn it into a tasty smoothie. Stick it in the freezer for a bit so it tastes better.

Got a Few Extra Bucks?

This article is geared toward people who rely solely on food pantry staples, but if you’ve got a few extra bucks this month, grab these ingredients:

  • Salt and pepper — so you can season the heck out of your meals
  • Garlic powder — it makes everything taste better
  • Eggs — great for stir fry dishes or two-ingredient peanut butter cookies
  • Cooking oil — any kind will do, including whatever the dollar store carries
  • A jug of milk — a luxurious alternative to that powdered stuff in the box
  • Tortilla chips — Walmart has them for less than a buck, and they go great with your black beans and corn recipes
  • Cream cheese — cheaper than shredded cheese and makes almost anything taste better
  • Cinnamon — sprinkle it on canned fruit or oatmeal

Just because you’re thankful for food pantry staples doesn’t mean they always taste delicious. Make the most of your next haul with these easy recipes, whether you live alone or have a house full of hungry kids.

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Full-time mom, student, and writer. I cover everything from parenting and personal finance to relationships and health.

O Fallon, MO
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