Creative Ways to Cook with Pantry Staples

Last Update: March 19, 2020

Even if you’re usually pretty strategic when food shopping, your most recent grocery haul may have been anything but. During a time when we’re being encouraged to social distance and work from home, our pantry staples are becoming increasingly more relevant in our day-to-day lives. It’s perfectly understandable if your weekly stock-up has been more like a panicked dash through near-empty aisles. And now, you may be feeling less than confident that you’ll be able to sustain yourself until life returns to normal.

But no need to worry because making healthy, easy meals from trusty pantry staples is our specialty. And, because many of us are feeling the monotony of social distancing, we’ve decided to get a little creative with our suggestions. Prepare to be inspired because we’re going to give you ideas for how to use common ingredients in unexpected ways.

Dry Goods

Rolled Oats

Start your day on a comforting note with a warm bowl of oatmeal. Mix up your go-to recipe by adding in some dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. If you have fresh berries, stick some in the freezer to make them last longer. They’ll still taste great when added to a steaming bowl of oats—and as a bonus—they’ll help lower the temperature so you can dig in faster.

Another great way to use rolled oats is to make your own oat milk for cereal, smoothies, and coffee. All you really need is oats and water, but you can also add maple syrup and cinnamon to give it a subtle flavor.

Another great thing about having rolled oats on hand? If you run out of baking flour, you can use a coffee grinder or food processor to grind the oats into a powder to make oat flour.

Rolled Oat Recipes
Homemade Oat Milk
Apple Pie Overnight Oats
Savory Mushroom and Kale Oatmeal


Lentils are one of the most versatile legumes. They’re high in protein and fiber and deliver micronutrients like magnesium, iron, and zinc. Plus, they can easily be made on the stove, in a slow cooker, or in a rice cooker.

Lentil Recipes:
Yogi Lentil Bowl
Red Lentil Soup
Brown Rice and Lentil Salad


Pasta has evolved significantly over the past few years. From chickpea pasta to biodynamic pasta to kelp noodles, there’s an option for every diet. And for every type of pasta in your pantry, there’s an amazing recipe to accompany it.

Pasta Recipes:
Mac and Cheese 3 Ways
Drunken Pasta
Gluten-Free Fusilli Alla Vodka
No Boil Baked Penne


Quinoa is an ancient grain that packs a significant punch. Naturally gluten-free, high in protein and fiber, and full of vitamin B and potassium—we love quinoa for so many reasons. In addition to its nutritional value, it’s also great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Quinoa Recipes:
Quinoa Porridge
Quinoa Granola
Tri-Colored Quinoa Salad
Quinoa Tabbouleh


Brown, basmati, short-grain, and jasmine are just a few of the many rice varieties to choose from. And don’t overlook rice cakes, either. From savory bowls to sweet puddings, rice can be the foundation of a meal or added to other dishes to make them a bit more filling.

Rice Recipes:
Caramelized Pineapple Brown Rice Pudding
Brown Rice Porridge with Roasted Blueberries
Instant Pot Vegan Rice Pudding
Rice Cakes 4 Ways

Oils, Vinegars, and Sauces

Coconut aminos

Coconut aminos are a soy-free sauce that makes a tasty alternative to soy sauce, but with 14 times the amino acids. You can use coconut aminos in a stir-fry, as a dressing, or as a dipping sauce—the opportunities are endless.

Coconut Amino Recipes:
Sheet Pan Shrimp and Broccoli
Nutty Sesame Carrot Noodles
Gluten-Free Ramen
Brown Rice and Salmon Salad

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is something you can drink, eat, and even use in your beauty routine. The organic, raw, and unfiltered variety boasts proteins, enzymes, amino acids, and fiber from the pectin in apples. In addition to the recipes listed below, here are a few great general ways to use apple cider vinegar:

Make a salad dressing. The sparkly-sour taste of apple cider vinegar adds brightness to any dish. To make a salad dressing, whisk together ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 2 to 3 tablespoons mustard, and juice from ½ of a fresh lemon.

Add a little apple cider vinegar to your favorite soups and sauces for an extra flavor punch.

Make vegan buttermilk. Fill one cup with almond milk and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, and let sit for five to 10 minutes.

Apple Cider Vinegar Recipes:
Elderberry Switchel Elixir
Slow Cooker Bone Broth
Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic

Nut Butters

From almonds to peanuts and cashews, there is a plethora of nut butters on the market that can be used in some creative ways.

Almond Butter Recipes:
Honey Almond Popcorn Balls
Bonus: Uses popcorn kernels!
5 Ingredient Paleo Fudge
Almond Butter Raw Crunch Bars

Peanut Butter Recipes:
Sprouted Peanut Butter Cookies
Doggie Donuts
Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Bites

Cashew Butter Recipes:
Cashew Butter Coffee
Gluten-Free Date Cashew Cookies
Cashew Butter Cookies

Canned Goods


Canned beans come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their recipes! You can easily add protein to any dish—even desserts!—by incorporating beans from your pantry. Here are six great recipes that use chickpeas and black beans.

Chickpea Recipes:
Pumpkin Hummus
Bonus: Uses pumpkin puree!
Hot Wing Spice Chickpeas
Peanut Butter Blondies

Black Bean Recipes:
Black Bean Brownie Bites
Nachos 3 Ways
Gluten-Free Migas

Coconut Milk

Canned coconut milk is a great way to add creaminess without the dairy. Plus, it’s a great source of lauric acid, which is a medium-chain triglyceride that’s been shown to have antimicrobial properties. Use coconut milk to elevate vegetable dishes and to thicken drinks.

Coconut Milk Recipes:
Coconut Creamed Spinach
Bonus: Uses frozen spinach!
Paleo Coconut Chai Latte
Thai Red Curry Salmon Bowl

Canned Meat

It’s time for canned tuna, salmon, sardines, and anchovies to shine! These recipes are tasty, easy, and use other pantry staples that you likely have on hand.

Canned Tuna Recipes:
Blackened Canned Fish Tacos
Tuna Cakes with Spicy Remoulade Sauce
Tuna Salad 3 Ways

Canned Salmon Recipes:
Salmon Cakes
Salmon Burger with Avocado Salsa
Salmon Sushi Stacks

Canned Sardine and Anchovies Recipes:
Anchovy and Onion Flatbread
Lemon Sardine Pate
Sardine, Arugula, and Artichoke Spaghetti

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Lily Comba

Lily Comba has never met a baked good she didn't like. When she's not baking, you'll find her writing, taking a Pilates class, or collaborating with the editorial and social team as a Senior Content Writer at Thrive Market.

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